CLASSIC ACTS

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The Independent Culture
ELVIS COSTELLO

The great balladeer's foray into the world of classical music began in 1989, when he heard the flamboyant Brodsky Quartet perform Shostakovich at the Wigmore Hall. Together they produced The Juliet Letters, a song sequence for voice and string quartet that headed the Meltdown Festival in 1995. The resulting album took the form of 20 imaginary letters, including an aunt's vicious riposte to a scrounging nephew, a junk letter called This Offer is Unrepeatable and a heart-felt suicide note. Despite his classical leanings, the bespectacled rocker still has his fingers firmly in the pop-music pie: he has recently worked with Tricky and Sleeper.

BILLY JOEL

Gone are Joel's "Uptown Girl" days - he parted with the girl in question, Christie Brinkley, and has abandoned upbeat rock for classical music. It's not such a departure: Joel had a classical upbringing and studied piano as a child; his brother Alex is an opera conductor. Billy has talked of his "disgust" at the lack of talent in contemporary rock; so now he puts his money into discovering classical talent, funding the Billy Joel Keyboard Scholarship for young pianists at Tanglewood. He is writing a book about the similarities between rock and classical music. His own classical recordings have yet to be released.

PAUL SIMON

Seasoned singer-songwriter Paul Simon - whose hits include Sounds of Silence (with Garfunkel) and Graceland - has moved on from his AOR days and is seemingly set to usurp Sondheim. He has written a much-anticipated Broadway musical called The Capeman, a collaboration with Nobel prize- winning poet Derek Walcott and choreographer Mark Morris. Based on a true story, it concerns the nefarious activities a teenage Puerto Rican killer in New York who found salvation in poetry during his time in prison. The Capeman previews on Broadway from December.

PASSENGERS

A loose collective formed in 1995, the Passengers were the members of U2 - Bono, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jnr and The Edge - and Brian Eno. They recorded an album of Original Soundtracks, including a recording with Luciano Pavarotti, "Miss Sarajevo". What starts out as a rock song - sung by Bono - turns into an operatic piece when Pavarotti takes over the vocal. The single was released in aid of War Child, the charity Eno set up to help children in Bosnia. U2 later appeared in the maestro's "Pavarotti and Friends" concert in Modena, also in aid of War Child.

THE DIVINE COMEDY

Neil Hannon grew up with classical music since his father, the Bishop of Clogher, was a keen pianist. The first Divine Comedy album, Liberation, contained a handful of mournful string arrangements, as well as quixotic references to Wordsworth. Hannon's most recent project, A Short Album About Love, fully reveals his predilection for classical arrangements. Hannon took a 30-piece orchestra on tour (as well as some farmyard animals), with dire financial consequences. Pop met classical again at this year's Edinburgh Festival when the band paired up with Michael Nyman.

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