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Oh! Pears: Bittersweet symphony

For Oh! Pears frontman Corey Duncan, a full-time, 13-member ensemble would be ideal.

Corey Duncan, the mastermind behind Philly's 13-piece rock ensemble, Oh! Pears, has a confession to make: He never intended to create an orchestra. The orchestra thing happened accidentally while he was working on his first EP, "Fill Your Lungs."

"It was going to be just guitar and drums, and I was going to sing all of these harmony parts," says Duncan. "The harmonies sounded weird as vocals, but I knew the arrangements were cool. So I had a couple string players come in, and it worked out really well. They liked doing it, and it was really successful. It sort of grew from there."

Duncan's compositions are inspired as much by Tchaikovsky as Grizzly Bear, making full use of the subtle variation a large ensemble provides. But on two successive European tours, he's learned to find subtlety in smaller numbers with Pears light: Duncan plus Pattern Is Movement drummer Chris Ward.

"At first I felt really naked. I've always had backup before. It was scary. But it changes the way you think about performing your songs and your singing, and the energy and emotion you're bringing to it," he explains.

On Saturday, Pears will play Johnny Brenda's as a quartet with a guitar, viola and cello, plus Ward on drums. "In a perfect world, I'd probably have 13 people play with me all the time. I love the grandness of the sound. But it took 100 e-mails to get one practice together," says Duncan. "For me, the four-piece is perfect. The essentials are there. The strings have this wonderful dexterity: Notes can sustain for an infinite amount of time, and the way they relate is just magical."

If you go



Oh! Pears

with Alex Winston

and Octant

Saturday, 8 p.m.

Johnny Brenda's

1201 N. Frankford Ave.

$10, 215-739-9684

www.johnnybrendas.com