Nashville-based rocker Ben Folds harbors no illusions about the originality of his new piano concerto. "I suspect that people who analyze piano concertos for a living will absolutely hate my new concerto," says Folds, who spoke with wry humor about his latest project during a recent interview at his spacious Music Row studio. "The piece is proudly and overtly derivative."
And yet Folds believes he may have more in common with Beethoven and Brahms than many contemporary classical composers, who wield Ph.D.'s but mostly write what the critic Terry Teachout refers to as faculty-lounge music. "The great composers from Mozart to Gershwin were also celebrity pianists who wrote piano concertos to sell tickets and put butts in seats," says Folds. "In writing my new concerto, I'm basically picking up the musical conversation where George Gershwin left off."
One thing's for sure: Folds and his new concerto are adept at getting keisters into concert hall seats. All three of Folds' performances this weekend with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center are sold out. Folds fans without tickets can still hear the concerto performed live this spring, when the rocker joins the Nashville Symphony and Nashville Ballet for "The Ben Folds Project" May 2-4 at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center.