Dream Theater recently performed two very special shows in Luna Park in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The set lists—which changed from night to night—included four songs ("The Silent Man," "Beneath the Surface," "Wait for Sleep" and "Far from Heaven") performed with a string quartet. We emailed guitarist John Petrucci and keyboardist Jordan Rudess to get their thoughts on these special shows.
You played four songs with a string quartet over the two nights—who did the arrangements?
Jordan Rudess: All the string parts were written by Eren Başbuğ, the young and talented Turkish musician that I discovered online through his beautiful orchestrations of Dream Theater's music and then his great work orchestrating and conducting the premiere of my own composition, Explorations for Keyboard and Orchestra! For two of the songs we did live with the quartet ("Beneath the Surface" and "Far from Heaven") I had originally arranged and recorded quartet-like string parts from my keyboard, and that is what you hear on A Dramatic Turn of Events. Eren was able to take those two songs and really make sure what I wrote worked for real players, as well as add some nice touches! For the other two songs, "The Silent Man" and "Wait for Sleep," he created original quartet arrangements!
How much rehearsal time did you have with the quartet?
John Petrucci: We played through each song with them a couple of times at soundcheck. We probably spent about an hour in total making sure they were comfortable and that they knew certain cues, etc.
JR: We had one rehearsal before the first show. I had sent all the music to coordinator Luis Gorelik (who is a well known conductor in South America) and he helped organize the players!
How did their presence alter the way you guys in the band played those songs? Obviously they weren’t just sawing away in the background; they were integral to the music, so…in what ways?
JP: Honestly, we played the songs just as we have been and they followed us. On "Beneath the Surface" and "Far from Heaven," they basically played the arrangements that are on the album. Original arrangements were created for "The Silent Man" and "Wait for Sleep."
JR: In our rehearsal I was literally conducting them and we all worked quickly to get things into shape and make sure the players really understood the music and what was going to happen in the chain of events on stage. The good thing was that these four songs all really are totally suitable for real strings, so it was an easy conceptual/musical addition to our presentation.
Other than the new album (which was played almost in its entirety each night), the albums you played the most material from were Images and Words, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence and Awake—why those albums, from your perspective?
JP: We try to create a show that has a certain curve to it. The way that it begins, unfolds and concludes are all carefully thought about. We have so much material at this point that it's difficult to fit in songs from each album. Based on what we played on past tours as well as the flow and arc of the show, we thought theses were the strongest choices.
JR: There are so many factors that are in play to create a setlist. Generally we all felt that we offered a night of music that was a well balanced, mixture of our material that not only spanned a lot of our albums but also flowed really well for the course of the evening.
On the second night, you guys played “Pull Me Under” as the encore, which you’ve been playing a lot more on tour this year than in the past few years…but only outside the US. Is that a song foreign audiences want to hear more than fans at home?
JP: "Pull Me Under" always goes over, no matter what country we are in. It just has that kind of power and familiarity, I guess. We really thought that it sounded great with Mike Mangini playing it and wanted to share that with our listeners.
JR: I don't know—but I will tell you that they literally were trying to rush the stage in Buenos Aires when we played it. It was nuts!
The band has made several live DVDs over the years—have you ever found the presence of cameras a distraction to the point that it impacted your playing?
JP: Yes. Absolutely. As much as you try not to think about it or let it, the presence of cameras and the notion that you are filming for a DVD inevitably works its way into your mental chatter during the show. Having said that, all the cameramen on this shoot were incredibly respectful of the performance environment and made us feel as comfortable as possible.
JR: Yes. It's fun in a way for sure but when you start seeing things out of the corner of your eye that you are not used to and don't expect, it can be distracting. The other part of it is that there is added pressure that in one way can make you focus more intensely but from the other angle adds stress. It's a great life learning experience to do these amazing, important events because it offers us a chance to really grow and keep learning how to have control, to be the best musicians possible under any circumstance!