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Brooklyn Rundfunk Orkestrata: 'Alive' With New Sounds

Peter Kiesewalter (second from left) reminds listeners that Brooklyn Rundfunk Orkestrata is a band, not a theater troupe — repertoire aside.
Jeff Fasano
Courtesy of the artist
Peter Kiesewalter (second from left) reminds listeners that Brooklyn Rundfunk Orkestrata is a band, not a theater troupe — repertoire aside.

As sung by Julie Andrews in the movie musical of the same name, "The Sound of Music" is one of the most familiar songs in musical history. But when it's performed by Brooklyn Rundfunk Orkestrata, a handful of other familiar songs bubble up under the melody — including Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady," The Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up" and Aerosmith's "Walk This Way" — as does as a theory about the meaning of the song itself.

"[Andrews' character] Maria, in real life and in the film, is a conduit for music," says Peter Kiesewalter, the group's leader, producer and keyboard player. "In reinterpreting that song I imagined her sitting in front of a radio, and every two bars you hear a different iconic rock riff, as if she were flipping through the radio dials."

On their new album, The Hills Are Alive, Brooklyn Rundfunk Orkestrata rearranges the entire score of The Sound of Music. As he told Weekend Morning Edition host Scott Simon, Kiesewalter often relied on the message of the lyrics to guide him in crafting the new arrangements. That's how he decided to give the song "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" a hip-hop makeover, featuring some original verses from the young Brooklyn rapper TK Wonder.

"The lyric just jumped out at me — it's a brilliant lyric, very contemporary, and all about positivity and overcoming obstacles," says Kiesewalter. "To me it sounded like a contemporary R&B tune that would not sound out of place on a Mary J. Blige record, for example."

The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization oversees the works of the hallowed songwriting duo behind The Sound of Music. Kiesewalter says he didn't need to contact the organization when he started the project — it found him first. "They have some souped-up version of Google Alerts or something," he says, chuckling. "If you sing more than four songs in the shower, they will turn off your hot water."

Kiesewalter says he didn't know what to expect when he went to meet with the notoriously protective organization, but that once representatives heard his progress, they didn't need much convincing: "Within a tune and a half, they said, 'Listen, we love what you're doing and your timing couldn't be better. Go as crazy as you want with these arrangements.' And here I am, 12 months later."

Despite the roots of The Hills Are Alive, Kiesewalter says people shouldn't come expecting a theatrical production. "We aren't bringing sets; there aren't seven kids; there are no lederhosen," he warns. "This is a rock band."

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