Collaboration and reinvention are nothing new to Winston-Salem native Ben Folds.
He’s led a rock trio who went global with an unlikely hit about an abortion. He lampooned angst-ridden nu-metal and rap rock on “Rockin’ the Suburbs.” He’s worked with the Bens (himself, Ben Kweller and Ben Lee), author Nick Hornby, Amanda Palmer, Sara Bareilles, William Shatner and Weird “Al” Yankovic, and judged “The Sing-Off.”
In 2014 he premiered a three-part concerto commissioned by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and continued to perform his pop music with orchestras around the country. His latest project – a collaboration with progressive New York City chamber sextet yMusic – is the next logical step.
The pairing’s first album, “So There,” debuted at No. 1 on the classical charts. Folds and yMusic bring the refreshing live mix of pop and classical to Belk Theater Tuesday.
“Whether it’s a rock band or whether it’s an orchestra, you’re arranging on a lot of the same concepts,” Folds explains, calling from his home in Nashville, Tenn. “It’s all about here are my tools and I’m expressing something. You can change that on a dime.”
Folds cut his teeth in the N.C. School of the Arts Youth Symphony as a kid. He studied composition and music theory there, laying the foundation for this foray into classical music.
“I always thought I would make some music that was specifically for the orchestra rather than just always showing up with charts of my songs. The orchestra would get an exclusive that way,” he explains.
Folds was commissioned to write a concerto to accompany the Nashville Ballet. The pre-ballet warmup shows of the music alone were an unexpected success, with six sold-out shows.
“It became a pretty big thing. Ten thousands tickets just for a piano concerto is a pretty unique situation,” he says.
Folds figured he should record it, but on its own the classical piece was only 21 minutes long. He began looking into chamber groups, percussion ensembles and other classical musicians to help flesh out the record.
“I came across yMusic and it took off. They proved to be some kind of latent rock band. It encouraged me to make these pop songs in a chamber setting. And to put the voice and the lyrics in. It didn’t turn out to be the kind of record I expected,” says Folds.
“So There” is a beautiful, concise achievement that finds the classical instruments taking on more than what’s typical of horns and strings added to punch up a pop arrangement. The true collaboration is evident, as is the omission of synthesized strings and horns in favor of live, human musicians.
“It’s very organic,” says Folds, who can’t say enough about yMusic. “There’s a lot of craft involved in making a record like that.”
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Where: Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.
Details: 704-372-1000; www.blumenthalarts.org.