If anything, in
1999, you would have known William Orbit
for his production work on pretty much every pop hit of the year. Yes, they all
had pretty much the same synth arpeggio on them – he loves synth arpeggios –
but Madonna, All Saints, and plenty of others had benefitted from his work.
What you almost
certainly didn’t know was that four years earlier, he had released an album of
updated classical music, called Pieces in a
Modern Style. Originally credited to The
Electric Chamber, it had been speedily deleted following complaints from
the estate of one of the composers. But now, with his new-found fame as a
producer, Orbit was able to revisit the album, remove the two problem pieces,
and replace them with some new ones. And, because he was now a mega-star, he
also got two singles, the first of which came out twenty years ago this week.
That opening single
was Barber’s Adagio for Strings, taking Samuel Barber‘s dramatic piece and bringing it
to life in a modern way. The irony, of course, with Pieces in a Modern Style, was that they weren’t particularly –
but with Ferry Corsten‘s intervention,
the single version becomes huge. It opens with William
Orbit‘s synth string work, just fattened a little, but then suddenly,
after the first minute, it just ignites, with beats and a trance lead line. To
describe it as anything other than explosive would be underselling it.
ATB takes much the same approach, opening with
effect-laden strings, and bringing in his own trademark sounds after a minute
or so. His reworkings only ended up being released in Germany, perhaps because
they didn’t fit as well for the UK audience, or perhaps they just weren’t ready
in time. ATB‘s sound was already well
known at this time, and honestly his mix does sound very like everything else
he had released. It’s nice enough, but does feel a little surplus to
Finally, it’s time
to hear the original, cut down somehow from its nine-minute album form to be a
four-minute radio-friendly version. I doubt this received much airplay, even on
classical radio, but it’s good that the single gets the original in some form
here. It’s a challenge for the listener, in a way, as many people buying this
release would have done so for the first track, but you have to acknowledge
that it’s a beautiful piece of music, realised perfectly here. If, perhaps, a
The fourth track on
the German single – and actually the lead track on the UK CD single – was Ferry Corsten‘s full 12″ mix. It’s great
to hear him take his elements to a full club mix, but it’s also a little
disappointing that he chose to open with a fairly dull introduction, with a bit
of trance synth work, and a lot of beats. After the first couple of minutes, he
just switches us straight into the radio version, which is entirely as it
should be, but I could honestly have dispensed with the introduction there.
Finally, we get ATB‘s 12″ mix, and as with the previous
track, it’s a little surprising that a piece of music that started off life
with a duration of nine minutes seems so forced when turned into an extended
dance mix. It’s a reminder, in a way, of how different the forms of classical
and dance music have to be. Opening with a rhythm section just feels very dull,
in this context.
Even if he didn’t create the single version himself, it was with Barber’s Adagio for Strings that William Orbit cemented his position as one of the finest producers and multi-instrumentalists of our time, and for that, we all owe it a lot.
We reviewed the German CD single, which is no longer available new, but can be found through various second-hand retailers.