By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Jan 18, 2024 at 12:01 PM

This content is in partnership with Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Get your tickets now - and see you there! 

Peanut butter and chocolate. Tom and Jerry. Hall and Oates. Some cultural combinations are so obvious and iconic that you can't imagine one without the other. (You hear me, Hall and Oates? Figure your stuff out.) 

But Ludwig van Beethoven ... and Coldplay? An iconic classical composer from centuries ago and a modern alt-rock band selling out stadiums today? The famously hot-tempered Beethoven meeting the famously mellow-spoken, Goop-adjacent Chris Martin? It's a pairing that doesn't immediately make the most sense on paper – but it'll make a lot more sonic sense on stage, as the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will bring the special harmonious hybrid Beethoven x Coldplay to the Bradley Symphony Center on Saturday, Jan. 20. 

Before this classical-meets-Coldplay collab parachutes into Milwaukee next weekend, I got to chat with Steve Hackman, the mad maestro behind this musical mash-up – and many others – to find out more about how one combines two seemingly disparate artists across genre and time, his favorite Coldplay songs both within the show and without, and if Beethoven would've been a Coldplay fan if the two existed at the same time. (I wasn't able to ask what Beethoven would've made of the phrase "conscious uncoupling.")

OnMilwaukee: For people who’ve never seen a show like this, what can people expect from Beethoven x Coldplay?

Steve Hackman: I would say this is a reimagination of Coldplay’s music seen through the lens of Beethoven. It’s transforming many of Coldplay’s most beloved songs and combining them with Beethoven’s “Eroica” symphony. Of course, it is therefore a transformation of Beethoven’s music as well. It alternates between Beethoven’s sound world but then we seamlessly segue into this fusion sound world where what the orchestra’s playing is still reminiscent of Beethoven but then vocals come in over top and start to sing the melodies and lyrics of Coldplay. So it’s truly a fusion of both and reimagination of both.

What came first: Did you have Coldplay and wondered which composer would mesh with them, or did you have Beethoven and wondered which band would mesh with him?

I have a running list on both sides that I’m always adding to, of the music that I think is essential and that I really want to share with audiences – the classical composers and the contemporary artists. Sometimes it could start with, “Gosh, I really want to do something with Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ symphony. I want my friends and my peers that didn’t grow up with classical music to hear it.” 

In the case of Beethoven x Coldplay, I wanted to do something with Coldplay, so I chose them first – but Beethoven’s “Eroica,” as a piece, was already on that other list as a perfect piece for a fusion and that I thought was essential. Beethoven, for me, was the obvious choice to combine with Coldplay because I think there’s this shared universality in their music. It doesn’t matter if you are an aficionado of the respective genres – classical or I guess alternative rock – somehow you hear it and it speaks to you. And it just feels right and it speaks to that human in all of us and it tells this human story and evokes those basic emotions of triumph versus tragedy, love and loss. And that’s why I wanted to combine them.

In the composer’s notes, you say that you think Beethoven would’ve been a Coldplay fan.

I do! That’s really a question that’s at the heart of this piece. I know, for a fact, that Beethoven would’ve related to the lyrics of Coldplay. With Beethoven’s music, he doesn’t leave you guessing at what he’s trying to evoke. There’s somehow this universal quality where you just, at a very base level, understand the emotion he’s portraying and understand how he was feeling when he wrote it and that aspect of the human condition that he was looking to articulate. And I really think Coldplay shares that genius skill.

Coldplay is this universal band, where they’re bigger globally than they are here in America because their lyricism are so simple in their universality, in a way. 

Agreed. You take a song like “Fix You” that is, I think, profound and meaningful and impactful on the level of a Beethoven symphony. And some people might think that’s sacrilege to say that, but I’m sorry: If you ask everyone in the world what their favorite song is, you’re going to get a lot of answers there, but “Fix You” is so many people’s favorite song, globally. And that is something that is very stunning – and that’s because it speaks to us. It tells our story. 

It’s a very relatable and cathartic song. For “Eroica,” was it the music itself that made it a natural fit with Coldplay, or the themes behind the composition?

First of all, it was Beethoven in general who was the right fit. But just because they have this shared universality, that didn’t mean it was going to be an easy fit to combine them – because they are very dissimilar. 

With the “Eroica,” first of all, I think it’s some of the most ingenious music Beethoven ever wrote. It’s a piece that kind of indelibly changed classical music forever. But there’s this deeper layer that makes it work. It’s emblematic of what they call his Heroic period of writing, his middle period, and it was originally dedicated to Napoleon – but more the Napoleon that represented a more egalitarian spirit. And when Napoleon declared himself emperor, Beethoven famously ripped the dedication page of the score and instead it said, “To the memory of a great man.” And then you think of the album “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay, which has the famous Delacroix painting on its cover that is – of course – the French revolution. So there’s this almost uncanny through line and connection point between this specific piece of Beethoven and Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” the album. Almost as though if you were to chose a painting that represented the original intention of this symphony in Beethoven’s mind, it very well could’ve been that Delacroix painting.

Is there a Coldplay song you were hoping to get into this collaboration but it didn’t quite gel?

These fusion works are sometimes tricky because these artists continue to evolve. With Beethoven, unless we uncover a lost score, Beethoven’s output is complete. Coldplay keeps writing great songs and getting hit records, so fans are most familiar sometimes with those most recent hits. I’ve updated Beethoven x Coldplay a couple times, and I very well might update it again to get some more current songs. “Magic” is a really good one, “A Sky Full of Stars” is a really good one and “Yellow”: Those are three in a rewrite I might fit in. 

What is your favorite Coldplay album or song?

Interestingly, it’s a song that’s not in Beethoven x Coldplay: “Death and All His Friends,” the last song on “Viva La Vida.” My favorite Coldplay album would probably be “Viva La Vida,” though I love the next album, “Mylo Xyloto.” The way “A Rush of Blood to the Head” starts is maybe one of my favorite Coldplay moments. I also really love “Reign of Love” which is the little button song at the end of “Lovers in Japan.”

“Death and All His Friends” is kind of a more deep cut track for a pick. Why that one?

Oh, I just love the journey of that song. It opens with this beautiful piano and vocal, then has an instrumental section, and then it almost gets orchestral. To me, it’s everything Coldplay is: It’s the intimate, it’s the epic build and it’s the grandiose finale. 

Beethoven x Coldplay will take the stage at the Bradley Symphony Center on Saturday, Jan. 20 at 7:30 p.m. For more information and to buy tickets, visit the MSO's website

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.