The orchestra has played Carnegie Hall, the Royal Albert Hall, the Sydney Opera House and for the British royal family -- on ukuleles.
That’s right, playing the Hawaiian four-stringed guitar-like instrument which, until it was embraced by the likes of Eddie Vedder and Matthew Sweet, got zero respect in the music world for 140 years.
But, for the last 34 years, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain has been having a little fun at the expense of the cultural elite and entertaining audiences around the world with its entertaining mix of deadpan British humor, a repertoire that ranges from Bach and Beethoven to the Sex Pistols and Lady Gaga, and, obviously, the unique sounds of the ukulele.
The “Ukes,” as the orchestra is known, play the Lied Center for Performing Arts Sunday afternoon, the final date on its perfectly titled 2019 North American tour -- “Heresy II Heritage.”
The former comes from the group’s founding notion -- George Hinchcliffe, who put the “orchestra” together with his friend Kitty Lux, aimed at the opposite of what the word orchestra implies.
“The idea was for the orchestra to actually be the antidote to pomposity, egomania, cults of personality, rip-offs, music-business-standard operational nonsense and prima donnas,” Hinchliffe told the Houston Chronicle, adding that there was no aim for commercial success. They just didn’t want to lose a lot of money.
In fact, the opposite occurred. Their first gig, in 1985, was an instant sellout. By 1988, they’d released an album, appeared on BBC-TV and recorded a BBC Radio 1 session -- taking over England on their way to conquering the world.
The orchestra, which has seen its music used in movies and on television shows, has now played thousands of concerts from Poland to New Zealand and continues to tour with three of the founding members joining five others in an ensemble which has been together for two decades.
That makes the heritage part -- a recognition of the group’s enduring legacy, and the quality of the performance of its mind-boggling repertoire.
The orchestra utilizes bass, baritone, treble, tenor and soprano ukuleles -- you can identify them by their size, the smaller the uke, the higher the pitch -- then creates arrangements for songs that range from punk and hard rock to pop and soul, and classical.
“The classical pieces we play take a lot of sit-down arranging,” Peter Brooke Turner told the Santa Fe New Mexican. “When we do pop pieces, it’s less formal. There’s the melody and the rhythm. We all fill in with our own textures. Vocals play a role. We’ve all known each other for so long that we can anticipate what the others will do. And we all harmonize very well.”
The Ukes have more than 120 songs to draw from, but it’s a near certainty they’ll do “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” while entertaining the Lincoln audience with the little instrument that’s now getting its due.
Tickets for Sunday’s 4 p.m. show are $15 to $40 and available at the Lied Center box office, liedcenter.org and by phone at 402-472-4747.