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CSO gives texture and depth to Queen catalog


Over 7,000 fans attended the merging of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Windborne, a Queen cover band, for The Music of Queen concert on June 12 at the Columbus Commons. But Windborne front man MiG Ayesa couldn't find the one fan he was looking for.

Ayesa explained to the audience he works for a company when he is not touring, and has a contact named Russell, who works here in Columbus.

"He's become one of my best friends, but we've never met face-to-face," said Ayesa, a native Australian. "So when I found out we were going to be here tonight, I was excited to meet him. He scheduled a family vacation for this weekend.

"If you guys could do me a huge favor, I am going to send him a video message and I want all of you to scream 'Where are you, Russell?'"

Russell, as it turned out, missed one helluva show. Windborne, which has been performing with symphonies across the United States, combined their talents with those of the CSO for a wonderful pairing of the songs of Queen with a symphonic sound. Their 16-song collaboration covered a lot more than just the hits in the Queen playlist.

For Windborne, the gig was a welcomed coming out party after being sidelined by COVID most of last year.

"Is this real life? Or is this just fantasy?" Ayesa said, referencing the opening lines of Bohemian Rhapsody. "We've been waiting so long for this, so now Columbus, it's your time to party."

Ayesa had the unenviable task of trying to match the late Freddie Mercury, a wild, enigmatic singer who is considered one of the best front men of all time. Ayesa decided to be himself rather than donning a white tank top and sporting a Mercury-styled fake mustache. Wearing a colonial waistcoat that appeared to be stolen from an Adam and the Ants video shoot, Ayesa was able to carry off some of Mercury's vocal gymnastics and energy on stage without losing himself in the process.

When it came time to do Under Pressure, bassist Dan Clemens was able to channel his inner David Bowie while guitarist George Cintron recreated Queen guitarist Brian Mays' unique sound. The rollicking first half featured royal gems like Play the Game, Another One Bites the Dust, Under Pressure, Killer Queen and dusted off deep tracks Melancholy Blues, Stone Cold Crazy and The Show Must Go On.

After the band opened the second half of its set with Fat Bottom Girls, a 70-something year old woman sitting behind me asked in astonishment, "That's a Queen song?"

The Columbus Symphony Orchestra did a fine job of not making Queen's A Night At The Opera sound like an actual night at the opera. Conducted by Stuart Chafetz, the CSO opened the show with John Williams' Summon the Heroes and Ludwig Goransson's theme to The Mandalorian before launching into the Queen catalog. Rather than covering up the Queen songs with a honey-coated layer of strings, the CSO gave texture and depth to many of the pieces in the second half, including Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Hammer to Fall and a gospely reading of Somebody to Love.

For the night cap, the show closed with two Queen standards, Bohemian Rhapsody and We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions. Before beginning the former, Ayesa said, "This is the most dangerous song in the world. Please don't try this at home." Windborne handled the fluctuations and falsettos of Bohemian Rhapsody with much aplomb. By the time the song reached its explosive guitar pinnacle, several members of the audience turned the front of the stage into a rowdy, but well-dressed mosh pit.

It was something one had to be there to believe it. Perhaps next time, Russell won't miss out.

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