For the past six years, Rachael Worby has been reinventing the way classical music is presented through her inventive orchestra MUSE/IQUE. As its founder and conductor, she’s teamed her musicians with an eclectic array of artists ranging from singers Patti Austin, Michael Martin Murphey and Barenaked Ladies lead vocalist Steven Page to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea and tap-dancing legend Savion Glover.
This summer, she’ll be spotlighting an unexpected influence on her career, when she pays tribute to the magic of Motown with her latest Summer Concert Series, “Motown/Miracle,” onthe Beckman Hall Lawn. The three-part, monthly showcase will reveal how the musical forms of Afro-Cuban rhythms, gospel and jazz combined to create the sounds of America’s most iconic pop music record label.
The series kicks off Saturday with “Ritmo/Town,” in which MUSE/IQUE will team with three special guests: Cuban jazz pianist Alfredo Rodriguez, musical theater star Paulette Ivory and America’s premier Latino dance organization, Ballet Hispanico. For Worby, the collaborations represent an exciting way to combine music and history in one entertaining evening.
“Musicologists have long held that Afro-Cuban rhythms and the songs of slaves and urban American jazz and Western music and movement all played a significant role in shaping what we now identify as the ‘Motown sound,’’ says Worby. “So it was clear to me from the beginning that we would turn to Alfredo Rodriguez and Ballet Hispánico as partners.
“Bringing Ballet Hispánico to Pasadena is a long-held dream of mine and one at which I have worked for many years,” she continues. “Their work inspires the heart and the mind simultaneously and their artistic director, Eduardo Vilaro, a native Cuban, creates dances which speak directly to the soul.”
The Grammy-nominated Rodriguez was discovered by legendary producer Quincy Jones at the 2006 Montreux Jazz Festival and will perform two original compositions as well as a “mash-up” of classic Motown tunes. The orchestra will also be joined by Ivory, who starred in the US national tour of the hit musical “Aida” and as Nala in the London production of “The Lion King,” as she belts out songs including “Respect” and “Midnight Train to Georgia.”
Finally, a quartet of Ballet Hispanico’s dancers will add their interpretive touch to some of the numbers, aiding Worby’s long-standing quest to provide a “greater artistic adventure” for her audience. It’s also a perfect fit since the music of Motown has helped get dance floors moving for decades and been a major part of her own favorite memories.
“The music of Motown formed a central part of my own musical education,” says Worby. ”Just as the music of Bernstein and Gershwin shaped my musical and personal lives, the fervency and brilliance of Motown informs the way I hear and understand all music – and I would argue that Motown does the same for all of us. Motown is a fundamental component of our national cultural soul.”
The second show in the series, “Soul/Town,” takes place on July 22 and will highlight the influence of gospel music on Motown while featuring legendary singer Darlene Love on such songs as “He’s a Rebel,” “River Deep-Mountain High” and “Da Doo Ron Ron.” Finally, the Aug. 26 show “Glow/Town” will explore the influence on jazz on Motown, with singer Justin Henry from the San Francisco production of the hit play “Hamilton” adding his vocals to the fun and the return of tap dancing legend Glover.
“We tied in miracles because a miracle is the impossible actually happening before our eyes and ears, and like America, Motown is the impossible realized in the form of music that moves and includes everybody,” says Worby. “Motown seamlessly incorporates the best of America —optimism, wild creativity, entrepreneurial spirit, inclusion, integration and a brazen willingness to hope.”
MUSE/IQUE will present “Ritmo/Town” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Beckman Mall Lawn at Caltech, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Pasadena. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. for picnicking and mingling. Tickets are $25 to $120. Call (626) 539-7085 or visit muse-ique.com.