BYU Jazz Ensemble performs ‘The Bridge’ with lead singer of Fictionist

The BYU Jazz Ensemble and Andrew and Stewart Maxfield are combining their efforts to form a new rock opera, "The Bridge." The debut of the show will be Feb. 10 at 7:30 p.m. in the de Jong Concert Hall. (Cameron King)
The BYU Jazz Ensemble is teaming up with Andrew and Stewart Maxfield to perform a new rock opera: “The Bridge.” The concert is based on Ambrose Bierce’s short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” (Cameron King)

The product of a major collaborative effort between the BYU Jazz Ensemble and brothers Andrew and Stuart Maxfield, former manager and lead singer of Fictionist, will premier in a performance of “The Bridge” on Feb. 10 at 7:30 p.m in the de Jong Concert Hall.

“The Bridge” is a rock opera based on “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” a short story by Ambrose Bierce. The performance is a mixture of diverse genres and talents, featuring Stuart as lead vocalist, the BYU Jazz Ensemble, Jazz Voices, a string quartet and a small group of dancers.

“What really interests me is figuring out how to combine the stuff that I love about what Fictionist does in rock and roll venues with what I love about a sit-down concert performance experience that you’d expect in theater or musical theater or a concert,” said Andrew, producer of “The Bridge.”

BYU Jazz Ensemble Director Mark Ammons said “rock opera” often makes people think of rock operas from the 70s such as “Tommy” by The Who. He said that although these rock operas are great, “The Bridge” is “nothing like that.”

Andrew explained “The Bridge” is like a rock opera because it sounds like rock and roll, but it is different in that it also features a unique electronic aspect and an extended jazz orchestra.

“This is a very different, very unique approach,” Ammons said. “Everybody who has the opportunity to come and see it will not have had that experience before.”

The show will present an entirely new album with 13 new songs made to fit the short story. The audience will hear music from beginning to end with Stuart acting as a commentator from song to song, as a Greek narrator would, according to Andrew. In this way, the story will be communicated through music, dance and visuals, rather than through a spoken narration.

“Hopefully the story would be comprehensible the way that a silent movie would be comprehensible or like a ballet would be comprehensible,” Andrew said.

Stuart Maxfield as narrator and lead singer of "The Bridge." Stuart gives  commentary from song to song as a Greek narrator would throughout the concert. (Monika Ottehenning)
Stuart Maxfield is the narrator and lead singer in “The Bridge.” Throughout the concert, Stuart gives commentary from song to song as a Greek narrator would. (Monika Ottehenning)

The inspiration for “The Bridge” began in November 2014 after Fictionist performed with the BYU Jazz Ensemble for the first time in its fall concert, the Uncommon Variety Show. This annual variety show couples the Jazz Ensemble’s music with the talents of various other unique performers, such as tap dancers, jugglers and beatboxers. Mark said that he likes to collaborate with other performers outside of the jazz genre with the Jazz Ensemble.

“I think that it’s great for everybody to see the forms of music that they follow combined with jazz or other forms of music and just see the fun and unique way that those things can be blended,” Mark said.

Mark wanted to put something else together with Fictionist after the 2014 Uncommon Variety Show. Andrew and Stuart agreed to make it a solo project due to conflicts in Fictionist’s busy schedule and objectives.

Mark set out to book the venue and Andrew went to work creating a show. He said he was interested in the idea of taking a narrative approach to the concert from beginning to end. He explained he also wanted to use different performance elements and resources, such as music, dance, visual projections and lighting.

Andrew contacted best-selling writer Glen Nelson about finding a short story to use as the narration and base of the concert. They settled on Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” in part for its interesting story and unique style of storytelling according to Andrew.

“(The story) is heralded as one of the outstanding short story works of that time period and of literature in general,” Mark said. “We’re using something that’s a really good literary piece and then just enhancing it by adding music and visual and dancers.”

Glen Nelson wrote an adaption of the short story from scratch for the concert. Andrew then brought together the musical groups, dancers and visual elements of the concert. The collaboration that took place in preparation for this concert was a great opportunity according to Stuart.

Jon Rose and Katie Shepherd rehearse as dancers for "The Bridge" concert. Both dancers are BYU alumni. (Andrew Maxfield)
Jon Rose and Katie Shepherd rehearse as dancers for “The Bridge” concert. Both dancers are BYU alumni. (Andrew Maxfield)

“Dr. Ammons has been a friend to me and Fictionist, and I appreciate his enthusiasm for this project,” Stuart said. “The energy from the student ensembles has been really positive and encouraging too.”

Mark described the collaboration experience with Andrew and Stuart as “seamless.”

“We’ve been able to be creative and really imaginative with how we’re doing things, and that really only happens when everybody involved in the process is willing to look at how can we make a great end product for everybody and less concerned with their own little individual parts,” Mark said. “It’s been really a fabulous experience working with Stuart on that.”

“The Bridge” also forms a unique collaboration between on and off-campus music. Andrew said that in this way, he hopes the concert will “build bridges on and off of campus.”

“One of the things that I want the BYU community to see and feel is a more direct connection between BYU and the Provo music scene,” Andrew said.

Andrew and Mark hope the concert will be a new experience and “an invitation to think” for the audience.

“I hope they encounter a story that is intriguing and meaningful, and that their first instinct is that they want to tell a friend to come see it as soon as they can,” Andrew said.

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