Have you ever wondered how our orchestra transforms all your favourite pop and rock classics into stunning orchestral arrangements for our Amphitheatre concerts each year?

Kieran Hurley is DSO’s mastermind behind these wonderful arrangements. Read on to learn about Kieran’s job as a professional music arranger and the process involved in getting all this fantastic music ready for our musicians to perform at DSO Rhythm of the 90s concert!

Kieran Hurley – Professional Music Arranger

Can you please explain what you do? What is your job, how did you get into it, and what did you study at school? Has it always been a passion of yours?

My job, apart from being Director of Music at Guildford Grammar School, is that of Professional Music Arranger.  Think of it a bit like a colourist in comic books – where you take a piece of music and re-arrange or re-imagine it for a different context.  Through manipulation of instrumentation, feel, tempi, texture and many other factors you can bring new life to an old piece of music, or an entirely new audience to a genre of music that they may have never experienced before.  That is what I have tried to do with the Darwin Symphony Orchestra arrangements – make them accessible and yet different for the listener who may not have ever seen a live orchestra before.

Even though I studied music at school and then on through university (after a short-lived journalism detour) it was whilst working as a professional musician at Warner Brothers Movie World that my love of arranging and composing was really piqued. My friend and mentor, Mr Sean O’Boyle, got me to do some small arrangements for the group and the rest, as they say in the classics, is history!

Can you briefly explain your process? What is involved in turning a pop song usually performed by a band into an orchestral work?

The process that I go through usually starts with listening to the piece ad-nauseum for a number of weeks before I commit anything to paper.  I like to do this whilst walking as it gives me the opportunity to really listen and start to wonder “what if”.  What if this was written in a different time signature? What if it used a cello as the solo instrument instead of an electric guitar? (You will hear more of that idea in the concert!).  Basically, I try to amuse myself whilst still staying true to the essence of the song.  This is something that DSO Artistic Director/Chief Conductor Jonathan Tooby and I discuss at length – how to take pop and rock songs into the realm of Art Music whilst still staying true to the intent of the song.  Sometimes this is very easy – sometimes not so much!  It is also very important to ensure that the performing musicians enjoy playing the music as much as the audience enjoys listening to it.  A bored orchestra is not a happy orchestra!

When that is done I simply lock myself in my studio, with a bottle of Pepsi Max to keep me company and enjoy making music ready for performance!


What has been the most challenging aspect of this year’s concert preparations?

The 90’s is truly an eclectic decade!  With Grunge, Electro Pop, House Music, Rap Music, Boy Bands, Girl bands and the resurgence of Metal – it is an era that defies, or includes, all genres.  The most challenging aspect has been to turn music that is purely electronic into something that can be performed by the full orchestra. The other issues come from songs that are sampled, as the samples are usually played over and over again.  Creating something new out of a sampled song that everyone knows is an interesting challenge, but one that I hope the concertgoers feel that we have nailed!

DSO performing at the Darwin Botanic Gardens Amphitheatre for All Out 80s in 2022

What is your favourite piece from this year’s setlist?

I don’t know if I have a favourite, because all the arrangements are a little like my children; they are annoying at times, but deep down I enjoy them all.  I did enjoy writing “Nightclub Fodder” which contains tunes from Technotronic and Corona. Nirvana was a heap of fun on which to work, as was Radiohead, but the one that I cannot get out of my head is “Baby One More Time” by Britany Spears.  That really doesn’t say much about my taste in music!

Oh – and I had a LOT of fun with MC Hammer.  Just wait and see!

Who is your 90s outfit inspiration? Who’s style will you be channelling for this year’s Amphitheatre spectacular?

If I get up to the concert this year I feel that I will have to get the parachute pants out of hibernation.  Maybe an amalgam of styles – parachute pants on the bottom, grunge on the top and pigtails in the hair?  A terrifying look to be sure – but the 90’s were definitely a time to be bold!

Either that or I will dress like either Buzz Lightyear or Austin Powers.

Don’t miss out on this utterly spectacular throwback party featuring all your favourite 90s hits!

Click the button below to register for Rhythm of the 90s.

Saturday 24 June, 5.30pm // Darwin Botanic Gardens Amphitheatre

Entry by donation.