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R.E.M.'s Mike Mills & Violin Virtuoso Robert McDuffie On New Rock Concerto

Alt-Rock Bassist And Classical Violinist Step Into New Musical Territory Together
  • Photo: The Recording Academy

Mike Mills has kept busy in the years since R.E.M. announced their breakup in 2011. The bassist and co-founding member of the pioneering alternative rock act lent his talents to a collaboration with Patterson Hood & The Downtown 13 for a notable special release on Record Store Day 2012, and also has continued to play and tour as a member of idiosyncratic rock supergroup The Baseball Project.

In a bold step into new musical territory, Mills has teamed up with childhood friend and famed classical violinist Robert McDuffie to write and perform a full concerto in a project aimed at condensing the key elements of a symphonic orchestra performance with the raw live energy of a 4-piece rock band. The result of their collaboration - Concerto For Violin, Rock Band, and String Orchestra - was released on October 14 via Orange Mountain Music, and is currently touring the country with support from the Fifth House Ensemble chamber orchestra.

“Bobby presented this idea to me, and I said, ‘Okay, now that’s way outside my comfort zone. … if I don’t do it, I’ll probably regret it for the rest of my life.’ Mills says, speaking about the origins of the project. “I’d written some string [melodies] before, but never for an entire orchestra. … I just took it as an organic process.”

Watch Mills’ and McDuffie’s full interview with GRAMMY Pro during the rehearsal for their performance at the Aspen Music Festival.​

Alongside McDuffie, with whom Mills has been close friends since they were both twelve, Mills stacked the lineup of the four-piece band at the center of the project with strong talent hailing from his hometown of Athens, Georgia. “They’re all guys who I knew could do what I wanted them to do, and at the same time be receptive to what was going to be asked of them through the classical composition component of this,” Mills says of his thought process in selecting supporting members Patrick Ferguson (drums), William Tonks (guitar), and John Neff (guitar). “They’re great guys and we have a good time playing together.”

Violinist McDuffie feels very much at home joining the disparate energies of a classical symphony with a live rock performance. “I don’t feel it was out of my wheelhouse that much. I’m playing with great musicians,” he comments. “I make my living as a classical player, but I’ve always loved R.E.M.’s music, so it was not difficult for me to get there with them.”

Prior to the start of their tour, Mills and McDuffie teamed up for a special performance of their new concerto at the Aspen Music Festival on August 11, where they were joined by a 17-piece string ensemble comprised mainly of Aspen Music Festival and School students conducted by William Kunhardt.

Tour Dates:

November 3, 2016
Music Center at Strathmore
North Bethesda, Maryland

November 4, 2016
Byham Theater
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

November 5, 2016
Palladium Center for the Arts
Carmel, Indiana

November 6, 2016
Music Hall - Center for the Performing Arts
Detroit, Michigan

November 7, 2016
Harris Theatre
Chicago, Illinois 

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