“Pixar in Concert” features music from Toy Story, Incredibles, Finding Nemo and more
By Peter Alexander March 21 at 4:15 p.m.
You have probably seen the films, even if you don’t know who composed the music.
The Boulder Philharmonic is presenting “Pixar in Concert” Saturday (March 23), with music from a baker’s dozen films, including Toy Story, Cars, The Incredibles and Finding Nemo, among others. The composers of these well known film scores are Randy Newman, Michael Giacchino and Thomas Newman.
Recognize those names?
Only the first of them is well known, as much for his career as a recording artist as for his numerous film scores, including Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc. and Cars. Giacchino and Thomas Newman, however, are much less known by name, even though they have scored some of the most popular films of recent times, including Cars 2, The Incredibles and Finding Nemo.
The music will be performed live with clips from these Pixar films. Principal guest conductor Gary Lewis will conduct the Philharmonic.
Orchestral concerts of film music are more and more common. That is partly because of the quality of the composers writing today, and also the popularity that their music has achieved. “John Williams and others like him have really brought symphonic music to the masses, in a way,” Lewis says. “Now that has sort of turned around where symphony orchestras are latching onto that popularity to help bring people into the concert hall.”
The composers for this program are some of the best, Lewis says. Randy Newman is “just one of the great talents of our generation—an amazing pianist and songwriter and composer, sort of all in one package.” And Giacchino and Thomas Newman “are the new generation that is writing and scoring these Pixar films. They’re quite talented, and it’s really interesting music.”
Keeping live music synchronized with the film excerpts is not an easy task. “In fact this is one of the most challenging concerts or programs that I have conducted, and I do a lot of this kind of stuff,” Lewis says. “The tempos, the techniques required, the size of the orchestra with guitarists and rhythm section and saxophonists and a large percussion section, harp, piano, and synthesizers—it’s complex!”
We are all used to seeing these films and having the music flow seamlessly along with the action—the outcome of compositional skill and the technical magic that is applied in postproduction. Coordination between film and music can be achieved with great precision through digital editing. But it’s a different matter when 80 or 100 musicians sit down onstage and have to play live with film events that can be measured in fractions of a second.
“For me, that is just another aspect of [conducting] that I enjoy the challenge of,” Lewis says. He has been doing it for some time, and he has managed to deal with several different ways of achieving some degree of synchronization.
“The most challenging thing that I’ve ever conducted was a Wizard of Oz, which was before everything was digitized,” he says. “The synchronization of that was with a sweep hand on an analog clock. I had to be able to start and stop with no other method of synchronization.
“With things that have singing or musical accompaniment that you had to accompany with the orchestra, there were all sorts of little anomalies in the [film] editing process where they would rush or drag. It was like nailing Jello to the wall.”
Happily, those days are past. Today, there are several forms of synchronization of which the most precise are “click tracks”—a sort of digital metronome signal that is created to exactly match with the film. Performers wear headsets so they can hear the clicks to keep together with one another and the film.
“This show has click tracks, [which] will be exceptionally helpful,” Lewis says. “Some of the tempo changes are just immediate and not particularly organic.” In this case, Lewis and some of the percussionists will hear the click tract, while the rest of the orchestra players will follow Lewis in a more or less normal way.
But while it’s fascinating to know the details of how the performance comes about, and what’s going on when you are there, Lewis doesn’t want the audience to sit there thinking about the technical details. When there was singing, as in The Wizard of Ozˆ, “if you didn’t line up, it was quite obvious,” he says. But for “Pixar in Concert,” it will be “just the orchestra, so if something doesn’t quite line up, most people wouldn’t even notice.”
Apart from the technical aplomb that it takes to pull off the performance, Lewis has a slew of other reasons why you should go this concert. “The animation is brilliant, as with all Pixar productions,” he says. “And the music is engaging as well. There’s everything from hard driving jazz to Latin, to Americana.
“There’s a lot of variety and it’s all really, really fun stuff.”
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Pixar in Concert
Boulder Philharmonic, Gary Lewis, conductor
Randy Newman: Music from Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc., Monsters University and Cars
Michael Giacchino: music from Coco, Ratatouille, UP, The Incredibles, Cars 2 and Inside Out
Thomas Newman: music from Finding Nemo and WALL-E
7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 23