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Go-Go Symphony adds a classical note to Washington’s unique sound

Liza Figueroa Kravinsky, 52, is the founder and director of Go-Go Symphony, a 20-member ensemble mixing classical music with the go-go sound. (Joshua Cruse)
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From country-pop to techno-rap, genre-bending has allowed musicians to be creative with their craft for decades. Can that same experimentation work for go-go, Washington's unique dance beat?

Prince George's County native Liza Figueroa Kravinsky certainly thinks so. Two years ago, the 52-year-old composer and musician founded Go-Go Symphony, a 20-member ensemble that mixes classical music with go-go. It might sound like an odd combination, but audiences, critics and bloggers have been taking notice.

"Everything's kind of happening very quickly for us, much more quickly than I expected it would," says Kravinsky, who trained as a classical musician but also has ties to the R&B and pop world (she toured with Stacy Lattisaw in the 1980s). "And I think it's because we have a unique idea that fits with our surrounding culture.”

In advance of the ensemble’s show Friday at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, which Kravinsky describes as “a symphony you can dance and party to,” we spoke to her about how she got things rolling and her plans for the Go-Go Symphony.

How did you come up with the idea for the G0-Go Symphony?

I wrote a go-go symphony mixing go-go and classical because I was trying to be different ... and I wanted orchestras to play it. But I had been in the pop music world for so long, I didn't really have any connections in the classical world. ... I tried to have other ensembles play it and some people almost played it, but didn't do it because they had other priorities. But, not only that, you really have to have genuine go-go percussionists to play Go-Go symphony, so I had to start my own ensemble so that it would be played right. ... It didn't take long to get a small group together, and now … the Go-Go Symphony partners with other orchestras to perform go-go symphony and other works that incorporate classical and go-go.

Who would you say makes up a Go-Go Symphony audience? Are there more classical fans or more go-go lovers?

I think it's both. I think some hard go-go fans might not like it, because it's different from normal go-go, and then some hardcore classical fans might not like it either. But between one end of the spectrum and another is a bell curve of people who like it.

The group recently performed at the Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner. How was that experience?

According to Lisa Desjardins, who organized it, she's getting lots of e-mails from the people who attended ... and they're giving us lots of compliments. ... On the other side, the musicians had a great time. You know, they were excited and it was really fun. We were on CSPAN.

Do you have any plans to record Go-Go Symphony's music?

We're going to record the show [at Atlas] and put out an album with that. We recorded our performance last February, but it didn't work out. We're still trying to figure out how to record some really sweet violins along with the loud percussion, so we had some technical problems with that and we're working that out. ... But the only way to record go-go is to record it live, because it involves the audience; it is inspired by the audience.

What is your ultimate goal for the ensemble?

I'd like to keep creating new combinations of the go-go beat with symphonic music and keep experimenting with new ideas and keep pushing the boundaries. What I did is a start. I think there are more things to explore creatively with that, and maybe we'll be working more with some dancers like Da Originalz that have been dancing with us, maybe something more visual with like a ballet or a dance or something. Who knows? Maybe we'll write a musical. There's just so many artistic things we could
try. What I did was just started a little spark hopefully.

Go-Go Symphony will be joined by conductor John Devlin, Capital City Symphony, MC Head Roc and dance group Da Originalz  on Friday at 8 and 10 p.m. at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St NE. 202-399-7993. $30