Mozart was known for his sometimes eccentric and bizarre behavior, Beethoven created his greatest masterpieces when he was deaf and Reich composed music that consists solely of clapping hands – proof that classical music can be punk. the idea of punk music on classical instruments is unorthodox, but then again, the point of punk is to break the rules – even the ones it created.Playing punk music on classical instruments, The Punk Rock Orchestra is a forty-piece orchestra that hails from San Francisco, Calif. Their set list includes music by some of the more well-known punk bands, including Dead Kennedys, Sex Pistols, Suicidal Tendencies and Black Flag. All of the members of the Punk Orchestra are classically trained. Many of them are recognized as masters at their instruments. Members of the orchestra have played with local symphonies and ensembles including the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Opera. In addition, orchestra members have had the opportunity to perform with the Dead Kennedys, The Inciters and the Woodyz, independently of their involvement in the Punk Rock Orchestra.The Punk Rock Orchestra is the creation of David Ferguson, director of the Institute for Unpopular Culture. When he placed an online ad for classically trained musicians to play punk music, he got an overwhelming response.On his Web site, Ferguson says, “Hundreds of people – bassoon players, tympani players, violin – it was astonishing. They wanted to play punk rock.”In addition to the classically trained instrumentalists, classically trained vocalists sing on the orchestra’s punk arrangements. “It really comes alive with orchestral color, and when you have opera trained singers being your lead singers, you have a sound that’s more like Stravinsky than Johnny Rotten,” Ferguson said on the Web site.Currently, the Punk Rock Orchestra receives funding from outside sources, but Ferguson hopes that in time the orchestra will be able to sustain itself. What was once a local phenomenon is gaining recognition around the country. The Punk Rock has been praised by such press organizations as CBS News and Maximum Rock and Roll Magazine.Neither a punk purist nor a classical music snob can survive in this group. Orchestra members brag about their punk ethic and their ability to persuade the upper-class to give them money. In reality, the orchestra tries to avoid the “punker than though” clich. Members of the orchestra’s early incarnations found themselves at odds with the orchestra’s lack of hierarchy.When the Misfits wrote the lyrics “die die die my darling, don’t utter a single word, I’ll be seeing you in hell,” they never imagined that their song, “Die, Die My Darling,” would be sung by an opera singer, accompanied by a full orchestra. The Punk Rock Orchestra is a group of classical musicians who are non-conformists – they arrange and play the music that like, and throw away the stuffy notions of classical music – an idea that’s so, well, punk.Gorode can be reached at

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