Dev Hynes at his piano. Photography: courtesy of Sydney Opera House.

RECENTLY, DEV HYNES experienced a visceral flashback. He was on his way to rehearse some songs with his friend, the pianist Adam Tendler, and because the rehearsal fell right before Hynes’ soccer match – he plays in a weekly social competition – he was carrying his cleats with him. “I grew up playing a lot of football in Essex, like, academy football stuff,” explains the British-born artist from his studio in New York City – he moved stateside in 2007, when he was 21. “And so I was walking to the music school where Adam and I were rehearsing, with my sheet music and my football boots, and it completely threw me back. It was such an intense feeling of being 13 again.” 

Flashbacks like this have been happening to Hynes more regularly, because for the first time since he was 13, his musical output has been almost exclusively classical. In March 2023, backed by the London Symphony Orchestra, Hynes made his debut as a classical composer inside the Barbican. The Guardian gave the performance four out of stars – not bad for a first timer.

Since then, the musician has been travelling to play with orchestras all over the world. The week before we speak, he was in Venice for a one-night-only performance of a Julius Eastman work, which took place inside the classical halls of the Palazzo Grassi as part of Venice Biennale. A few weeks before that, ‘Naked Blue’, the third symphony Hynes has written, was performed by L’Orchestre national d’Île-de-France in Paris. 

Dev Hynes on stage with the London Symphony Orchestra in March 2023. Photography: @iamphotolaura

To fans of Blood Orange – the atmospheric, electro R&B project Hynes is best known for – as well as those who knew his previous outfits, the dance-punk band Test Icicles and his folk moniker, Lightspeed Champion, classical music might seem like an unconventional turn. Especially given the critical acclaim and popular success Hynes has experienced with Blood Orange. Songs from his albums and EPs, most notably 2013’s Cupid Deluxe and 2016’s Freetown Sound, feature ubiquitously on the playlists of cool clubs, cafes and shops all over the world; he’s toured with Florence and the Machine, played at Coachella and, in 2022, Blood Orange opened for Harry Styles on the singer’s sold out 15-concert run at Madison Square Garden.

And those are just some of his credentials as Blood Orange. Under his own name, Hynes has also written and produced songs for artists as varied as Solange Knowles, Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue and Blondie (on a recent trip Down Under, Debbie Harry played ‘Long Time’, the track she co-wrote with Hynes in 2017 as part of her setlist). He’s also written film scores – Gia Coppola’s 2013 drama Palo Alto was soundtracked by Hynes, as was Rebecca Hall’s 2021 directorial debut Passing, which stars Tessa Thompson and Alexander Skarsgård. 

In this sense, Hynes is the ultimate shapeshifter, which gives his segue into the classical music space slightly more context. But ultimately, it goes even deeper. Hynes picked up a cello when he was nine-years-old, and that wasn’t even his first instrument – the piano was.

“I know that I’m essentially this outsider in this world to a lot of people,” he acknowledges. “But then at the same time, I’m very confident in it because I know what I’m doing. I grew up doing it. And I’ve always done it . . . It’s this thing that’s always been a part of me. It wasn’t that I never wanted to do it, it’s just I didn’t think there was a space for me to do it. I didn’t think that there was a chance for it.” 

Another reason he’s enjoyed immersing himself in classical works is the purity of the genre. While writing music for Blood Orange is an extremely personal process – Hynes has always referred to the project as his emotional outlet – composing offers him some distance from the ‘thing’. “Similar to a commission, someone pays you to write the music, so you write it. And then you hand it to the orchestra and then it’s performed, and then people listen,” he says with a laugh. 

“There’s something so pure about that, especially now in how people consume music. Don’t you think?” 

Dev Hynes in New York. Photography: courtesy of the Sydney Opera House

It’s probably not entirely accurate to say that recently, Hynes’ musical output has been exclusively classical. As we’re chatting, he mentions he hasn’t shelved Blood Orange, nor has he abandoned his other creative outlets. “I’m still doing a lot of film and TV scoring, and then I’m also working on a Blood Orange album at the same time,” he says. Really? “I totally am,” he chuckles. “But it’s also continuous. Because of how I write and record, it never stops. I do it at home and in hotel rooms and I find studios and it’s kind of always happening . . . Yeah, I’m definitely working on an album. But I have no idea when it will exist. But it’s definitely something.” 

On May 29, in an Australian exclusive, Dev Hynes will bring a selection of his classical works to Sydney, to be performed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra as part of Vivid Live. The performance will be conducted by British/German conductor Matthew Lynch, who also conducted Hynes’ Barbican debut. “It will be two symphonies, and then there’ll be a bunch of piano work . . . they’re pretty wild pieces, but the piano stuff is more easily digestible, maybe,” he says with a grin.

Hynes will be sharing the keys with Adam Tendler – the pianist he was on the way to rehearse with when he had that flashback in New York. 

“I love playing piano with Adam because we can go off on tangents. It’s not as fully written down, that stuff is more memory based, and yeah, we just vibe out.” 

Just like it was at the Barbican, it’s no secret the majority of the audience at Hynes’ Vivid Live performance will be there because they’re fans of Blood Orange. For this, the musician is inherently grateful. 

“I always feel quite honoured, because, like 80 to 85 per cent of people there, I’m assuming, listen to my Blood Orange music. And I don’t ever want to put stuff on people, so there’s something quite nice about people feeling like checking this out, having not ever heard it. Especially in this day and age, those experiences are quite rare – going into something that you haven’t heard before and experiencing it with people. I’m extremely appreciative of that.” 

As for what the music will sound like, well, we can’t really tell you. “It’s funny, because I haven’t gotten round to recording a lot of it yet,” says Hynes. “Yeah, they don’t exist yet.” You’ll have to be there to find out. But the fact some of the world’s biggest orchestras are lining up to play his compositions – that tells you everything you need to know.

You can buy tickets to Devonté Hynes: Selected Classical Works with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, here


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