Sufjan’s BQE (Saturday Night)

Sufjan Stevens and his orchestra at BAM
Sufjan Stevens BQE at BAM

First off, I’d like to say to that I am an unabashed fan of Sufjan Stevens as a musician, songwriter, and performer. I also have to say that the scope of this show was so ambitious and the execution so flawless, that it is only with great hesitation that I speak out here at all. Well, now that that’s out of the way, I guess I can begin my review of the BQE performance I attended Saturday night at BAM. All in all, I thought it was a great show, highly entertaining and musically satisfying. But, and here’s the part where it gets tricky, I did have a couple qualms with the show. As a piece of music, I thought the BQE was enjoyable to listen to, but it didn’t feel like a real symphony to me. To me, it felt more like a bunch of Sufjan songs arranged for an orchestra, as opposed to something that was originally intended to be a symphony from the get go. I also felt, like some others, that the movie projected during the BQE was a bit distracting, I had a hard time watching both the orchestra and the film at the same time. After a while, I just kind of gave up on the movie, because I realized it was just all cars and buildings and I felt if I had to see one thing, I’d rather it be the players. I kind of wish they would have projected the entire movie in the back when the orchestra was playing, (like they did in the second half), it seemed a lot easier to synthesize both video and audio when it was done this way. Also, and here’s where I sound like a bit of a pain in the ass, enjoyable as it was, I think “The BQE” was still pretty much a gimmick, genius gimmick that it was though. I really can’t imagine that this work will find a significant place in the history of symphonic music, or that Sufjan will ever be mentioned in the same breath as such great modern American composers like Bernstein or Copland. (As a pop songwriter though, I do think his music will stand the test of time, but that’s not what I’m not talking about right now).

Oh yeah, but what about the second half? Sufjan with an orchestra can be magical, and songs like His Majesty Snowbird really work beautifully with all of those added instruments. The only problem I had with the second half, and I think it really only came up one or two times, was when I felt he used the orchestra gratuitously and consequently, the song suffered for it. I think it was during John Wayne Gacy where I found the orchestra kind of spoiled the mood, when it came in for a few, (in my opinion, unecessary), bars.

Sufjan Stevens and his brightest diamond Shara Worden at BAM
Sufjan Stevens BQE at BAM
Special thanks to rock star photographer Kathryn Yu for the use of her images.

Oh yeah, David Byrne was there on Saturday night. You can read what he had to say about the show here.