Frank Zappa's '200 Motels' Gets Orchestral World Premiere

Frank Zappa's 200 Motels
GAB Archive/Redferns

UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: (AUSTRALIA OUT) Photo of Frank ZAPPA; Film poster for 200 Motels (Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns)

"I believe in my heart of hearts that someone on the board (of the L.A. Philharmonic) said it's about time," Zappa's widow Gail Zappa tells Billboard

The complete orchestral version of Frank Zappa's "200 Motels" will receive its world premiere on Oct. 23 at Walt Disney Concert Hall as the Los Angeles Philharmonic begins its 10th anniversary season in the venue. Conductor laureate Esa-Pekka Salonen will conduct.

Written mostly in motel rooms while Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were on tour, portions of the piece received a premiere in May 1970 at UCLA's Royce Hall with Zubin Mehta conducting the L.A. Philharmonic. Portions of the score were used in Zappa's film of the same name.

The Zappa family and its representatives have had ongoing conversations with the L.A. Philharmonic about presenting Zappa's orchestral music, which is heard far more often in Europe than in the are he lived his entire life, Southern California.

"I believe in my heart of hearts that someone on the board (of the Philharmonic) said it's about time," Zappa's widow Gail Zappa told Billboard. "This music was written before our children were even conceived and they have never had a chance to hear his music in a proper concert hall."

L.A. Philharmonic president and CEO Deborah Borda said "a lack of resources and imagination have kept it from getting to the concert hall. Esa-Pekka said the first person to call and welcome him (in 1992) was Frank Zappa. Beyond any Esa-Pekka connection, it's our connection to L.A." Zappa died in 1993.

An abridged version was premiered in Holland in 2000 under the title "200 Motels: The 13 Suites." It is written for a rock band with a full orchestra, chorale and 15 soloists. Gail Zappa says they have adapted the score to emphasize the orchestral elements and that the current musicians in symphonies are better equipped to play her husband's music than the musicians of four decades ago.

"Musicians now are very familiar with the composers of their time, which I am glad about," she said. "Frank wrote music that challenges your playing ability and I think musicians embrace that."

Zappa was aware of how challenging the music was and in the score he included came directions to focus on soloists during particular segments. Those video elements will be part of the concert as well.

After the L.A. premiere, BBC Concert Orchestra will perform "200 Motels" on Oct. 29 at the Royal Festival Hall with Jurjen Hempel conducting.