Arts

Mason Bates: Symphony Composer By Day, Electronica Disc Jockey By Night

Mason Bates, seen here performing with the San Francisco Symphony, blends the classical world with the electronic.
Mason Bates, seen here performing with the San Francisco Symphony, blends the classical world with the electronic.
Credit Mason Bates
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Symphonist Mason Bates is a master in merging musical genres with a fluidity that seems effortless.

The 37-year-old Chicago Symphony Orchestra composer-in-residence is known for dropping ambient electronica beats into an orchestral symphony.

His compositions such as “Alternative Energy” ─ a four movement symphony which recreates industrialist Henry Ford’s junkyard, a modern particle collider, a futuristic nuclear wasteland and a pristine rainforest ─ have earned him national recognition as a trailblazer in the classical music world.

But Bates can also be found spinning the turntables amidst the neon laser lights in some of San Francisco’s biggest clubs as DJ Masonic.

Bates’ dual career as a DJ informs his work as a Julliard-trained, classical composer and led him to create his rhythmic, completely acoustic work: “Violin Concerto.”

The concerto, written for acclaimed violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, tells the story of a prehistoric bird.

“I became so drawn to this imagery of the Archaeopteryx, which means ancient wing,” Bates said. “It’s kind of renowned missing link in paleontology, linking dinosaurs to birds.”

The echoing, teetering melodies and high flying lyricism simulate the creature’s initial flight.

The piece also is an exploration of soloist Meyers’ persona.

Mason Bates
Bates can also be found spinning the turntables amidst the neon laser lights in some of San Francisco’s biggest clubs. – CREDIT MASON BATES

“Anne has these two poles of her musical personality,” Bates said. “She’s got this incredible, fiery virtuosity filled with passion and then she’s got this ability to float a melody in the most lyrical and birdlike way over an orchestra. I really wanted to unite those two personalities and make a central part of the piece.”

The orchestral composition was Bates’ first soloist writing. He also had the special challenge of not having ever played a violin or written for one, which he equated to “learning a new language.”

Meyers, a fan of Bates for many years, commissioned the concerto and recorded it on her album “The American Masters,” which was released last September.

Bates, who has performed with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in recent years, has his “fingers crossed” for a prompt return to Atlanta.

Listen to the the YouTube Symphony Orchestra 2011 performs Bates’ “Mothership” below.