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‘Tonic’ to induce a trip

Expect a ‘transcendent experience’ from rocker and composer Steven Mackey at his upcoming PCO concerts.

Composer Steven Mackey is a self-professed prog rocker. The Princeton University professor proudly declares that King Crimson and Yes are among his greatest influences. He even plays in the prog-ish metal band, Big Farm, with famed playwright and opera singer Rinde Eckert.

But Mackey is far better known for his classical compositions, which have been performed around the world and have garnered multiple Grammy Awards.

His latest — “Tonic,” a commission by the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra — debuts Sunday at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater. And Mackey feels the work is just as accessible to the Tool-Rush-Procol Harum crowd as the Mahler-List-Mozart subscriber base of the PCO.

“I grew up in the ’70s. Music to me was you put on headphones at 1 a.m., you put on some colored lights, burned some incense and you let it take you on a trip,” says Mackey with a chuckle. “And that’s what I’m still doing. I encourage people to think of it that way. Just because some people are dressed up, and there’s all the formality, it’s still about finding a transcendent experience.”

Conducted by PCO’s Dirk Brosse, “Tonic” promises to use the full breadth of the chamber orchestra with “painterly strokes,” as Mackey puts it.

“I’m trying to use the whole orchestra as a canvas in a way I haven’t before. It’s a blended sound,” explains Mackey. “I think of this ‘Tonic’ as being invigorating to the soul. The harmonies sort of feel like you're clenching your fist, but it’s an invigorating tension.”

If you go

Steven Mackey’s ‘Tonic’ runs approximately 25 minutes. It will be featured alongside Mozart’s “Overture to Don Giovanni” and “Clarinet Concerto in A Major.”

‘Mozart/Mackey’: Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra

Sunday, 2:30 p.m.

Monday, 7:30 p.m.

Kimmel Center

260 S. Broad St.

$24-$81, 215-893-1709


Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.

Temple Performing Arts Center’s Lew Klein Hall

1837 N. Broad St.

$20, 215-204-9860


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