[Scene Magazine] Orchestral Hits in Living Color
For first concert of new year, the Santa Barbara Symphony performs scores from the classic Disney Film 'Fantasia,' with live orchestral backing to the on-screen film excerpts
By Josef Woodard, News-Press Correspondent
To report that there will be Mickey Mouse conditions at this weekend’s convening of the Santa Barbara Symphony is both a matter of truth, and potential cultural excitement of the sound and sight kind. For the first concert program of the New Year, the Symphony is showcasing the musical component of the classical musicfueled Disney animated classic “Fantasia,” with live, orchestral accompaniment to excerpts from the film. That this all takes place in vintage movie palace The Granada Theatre, dating back to the end of the silent era of the late ’20s, adds to the charm and historical fiber of the occasion.
Made in 1940, and featuring music of Elgar, selected moments from the ballet work of Stravinsky’s “Firebird” and Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker,” and — the Mickey Mouse moment — Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” “Fantasia” is a unique landmark in popular cinema, a rare meeting of high and mass culture. Public awareness of the riches and the deep heritage of classical music was, and continues to be, greatly enhanced by Disney’s grand gesture.
Concerts on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon will also include first-time guest conductor David Lockington's own "Ceremonial Fantasy Fanfare" and Hindemith's "Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber." British maestro Mr. Lockington, presently music director of the Pasadeny and Modesto symphony orchestras, recently shared some insights about what's about to be unveiled--and unreeled--on State Street.
News-Press: This sounds like a fascinating audio-visual program, tapping into the "Fantasia" phenomenon, with live orchestral accompaniment to onscreen film clips. Have you worked in this kind of setting in the past, and does it pose particular performance challenges?
David Lockington: I have done many of the movies that are available to be performed with orchestra. The challenges is to pace the music smoothly and naturally with the movie. If you get behind you can't panic. You have to strategize in real time.
NP: "Fantasia," in its original 1940 form and the "Fantasia 2000" iteration, served the valuable function of bringing a range of classical music landmarks into the general public sphere, making "serious" music accessible. Do you see that as a continuing legacy, and do you expect this concert to appeal to a wider base of potential symphony-goers than a traditional concert?
DL: There is no question that audiences respond to visual stimulation and emotional cues. With a story line it means that composers can often be much more adventurous than if they were presenting an abstract orchestra piece. We all know people who love certain pieces of orchestral music because they have been featured in movies, and for younger audiences even video games.
Repeating exposure is everything. It ensures nostalgic reconnection. So I am sure there will be many new generation "Fantasia" lovers as a result of presentations like this. I hope they will want to come to orchestral concerts, but they may only connect through this combined medium.
NP: Among other things, the musical program of "Fantasia" serves as a selective sampler of some indelible popular highlights of the classical repertoire, including the at least slightly adventurous "Firebird" Suite. As a conductor, does this require some fast change-ups of approach within a short period of time?
DL: If I hit my tempos correctly, everything should line up pretty well.
NP: I'm curious about the effect and popularity of "Fantasia" in regions beyond the United States--in your home turf of Great Britain, for instance, and elsewhere in Europe. The assumption is that classical culture is more a social norm or part of the cultural make-up in Europe, whereas it's still a marginal musical entity in America. Has "Fantasia" awakened people's ears to classical sounds on that side of the Atlantic, as well?
DL: I think there may be a broader knowledge and support for orchestral music but that has changed a lot in recent years, too, with education and government pull backs. What is clear, however, is that there are vast numbers of young people everywhere who are playing musical instruments and that is the best way to keep our medium alive.
I know the early version was very influential and popular because I grew up with it. I can't speak to the influence of the latest version.
NP: What cna you tell me about your own piece, "Ceremonial Fantasy Fanfare"? Is it a fanfare in the conventional sense, or does you take liberties with the form?
DL: There are fanfare elements. The opening motilf is derived from the musical letters from Grand Rapids and that is developed all the way through. It's a rather traditional structure with a couple of distinctive melodies that combine triumphantly at the end.
I wrote it as part of the celebration for ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, which is a publicly juried art festival. When the orchestra chimes rang in the first performance, church bells tolled at the same time, alerting everybody downtown to the speical announcement of the 10 finalists in the competition.
NP: The program also includes HIndemith's "Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themese by Carl Maria von Weber." Does that fit into this program in some thematically drive way, maybe aluding to the blending of modernity and historical sources, just as Disney used the then-advanced technology of animation to bring to life music of the previous hundred years?
DL: I like you analysis. Yes, the idea is refreshing...My 16 year-old daughter would groan at that one.
NP: Do you look forward to this program in a way different than other concerts on your current itinerary?
DL: The whole week is going to be exciting, because I am assuming we will have people who may be experiencing the symphony for the first time. We are also doing youth concerts during the daytime, and it's always thrilling to see and hear their enthusiasm as they experience something outside their everyday cultural life.