Natalie Merchant comes to the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, accompanied by the Hudson Valley Philharmonic Orchestra.
Natalie Merchant comes to the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, accompanied by the Hudson Valley Philharmonic Orchestra. (Courtesy photo)

GREAT BARRINGTON -- For Natalie Merchant, her latest national tour is, at least in part, about maturing; as a singer, as an artist and as a performer.

Merchant will appear at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center on Sunday at 7 p.m. with the Hudson Valley Philharmonic Orchestra. For her fans who remember her primarily as the lead singer for the former pop band 10,000 Maniacs, well, according to Merchant, that was a long time ago, both literally and artistically.

"It's completely different because of the scale, obviously," said Merchant of her orchestral venture in a recent telephone interview. "You have 30 musicians instead or four or five in a band.

"But it's more than that. The emotional range of an orchestra is so great. So much more is possible. There's a whole different texture with woodwinds and strings."

Merchant began her career 32 years ago with 10,000 Maniacs. She and the group released two platinum and four gold records between 1981-93. She launched a solo career in 1994 with the album "Tiger Lily".

That solo career has included critical, if not always popular, success. Her fifth solo album, "Leave Your Sleep," was released in 2010. Merchant spent several years researching a wide array of British and American poets from the past 200 years.

She eventually wrote and recorded 26 songs for the record. The poems, all of which are concerned with some aspect of childhood, also embrace a host of different musical styles, said Merchant.

"There are Celtic-influenced songs, Klezmer-influenced songs, there are songs with a jazz feeling," she said.

This influenced her decision to perform the tunes with a full orchestra. On this tour, Merchant has toured the country working with several different orchestras.

"When you're playing in an orchestra, you are obviously a talented musician," she said. "And there were great players in every orchestra I played with. But every one of them had its own personality. There is a culture you step into; there is a peer system and it's a very competitive atmosphere."

She added that while the arrangements did not vary from orchestra to orchestra, "there are a lot of places for featured artists to solo. I left a lot of room in my arrangements."

Merchant emphasized that while the songs will revolve around "Leave Your Sleep," Merchant fans of her earlier solo and 10,000 Maniacs years will not necessarily be disappointed.

"I'll be performing songs that go back to the 80s," she said. "There will be songs from that era that people will recognize."

In addition, said Merchant, she will also be performing songs from an upcoming album she has been working on the last few years.

"We'll be performing some new material," she said.