Movie Scores with Live Orchestras Flood the Festivals and Halls of New York, Chicago, Indiana and Virginia

By Louise Burton on Aug 30, 2013 03:13 AM EDT

In the 2013-14 season, many U.S. orchestras will present complete performances of famous movie soundtracks while the film is shown on a large screen above.

A recent search for upcoming concerts turned up performances of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring at Wolf Trap in Virginia in early September, 2001: A Space Odyssey with the New York Philharmonic later in September and Singin' in the Rain with the Indianapolis Symphony in October.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but just a sample of the live movie concerts out there.

I recently attended a Chicago Symphony Orchestra performance of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers at the Ravinia Festival on August 15. It was well attended: The lawn was packed, and the pavilion was sold out.

College students in Elvish cloaks roamed the grounds. Kids tried out their best imitations of Gollum on each other. It was clear that a lot of the attendees were not regular symphony attenders. But were they there for a live showing of the movie, or to hear the orchestra? And what did a live orchestra add to the experience?

Hearing the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing live for The Two Towers added greater emotional depth to this story of impending war and deepening shadows. The live orchestra made this movie into a grander and richer experience, adding weight to Sam's words during the battle of Osgiliath:

"It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were...folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something."

Of course, hearing the CSO's trumpets, horns and low brass made the battle scenes even more thrilling. After all, most orchestras on movie soundtracks don't have a brass section of the CSO's caliber. I'm looking forward to next season, when Ravinia presents The Return of the King, the final movie of the series.

But some films do seem better suited to live performance than others.

Movies like The Lord of the Rings trilogy have a lot of ambient noise and loud sound effects, which often make it difficult to hear the live orchestra playing.

Not so with a movie like Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. There are long stretches in this movie with no sound at all, except for the soundtrack. And the score is filled with classical music--Strauss' Thus Spake Zarathustra, the other Strauss' Blue Danube Waltz, György Ligeti's Lux Aeterna.

The New York Philharmonic will perform this score live during a showing of 2001: A Space Odyssey at Avery Fisher Hall on September 20 and 21.

But what I really want to hear one day is the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing the John Williams score during a live showing of the original Star Wars trilogy, because exciting brass music doesn't get any better than this. I want to hear Obi-Wan Kenobi's theme played by a solo horn. That lonely, wailing theme would sound lovelier played live. And Leia's tune would sound all the more heartbreaking played by the CSO's cellos.

Are you listening, Maestro Muti?

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TagsThe Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Ravinia Festival, Indiana Symphony Orchestra, John Williams, star wars, Strauss, Ligeti, Stanley Kubrick

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