Philharmonia Fantastique: Multimedia Introduction to the Orchestra

October 2, 2021

MAURICE COHN CONDUCTS
Marena & Roger Gault Chair
RUBÉN RENGEL VIOLIN, Sphinx Soloist
XAVIER FOLEY DOUBLE BASS, Young Concert Artists and Sphinx Soloist

BEETHOVEN Overture to Creatures of Prometheus
BOTTESINI Gran Duo Concertante for Violin, Double Bass and Orchestra
MASON BATES Philharmonia Fantastique | WORLD PREMIERE

PROGRAM NOTES
by Mason Bates

An orchestra tunes – and immediately, a sense of anticipation and wonder ripples through the room. As this super-instrument brings its marvels of engineering together into a single pitch, we are witnessing both art and science. The same orchestra that explores our emotional depths is also our finest example of interactive technology.

The ‘making of the orchestra’ that has occurred over centuries continues into the present day with Philharmonia Fantastique, a concerto for orchestra and animated film. Only recently in its spectacular evolutionary history has the orchestra incorporated digital sounds and projection screens, offering the perfect medium for a kinetic exploration of musical instruments and how they work. Guided by a mercurial Sprite, we fly inside a flute to see its keys up close; jump on a viola string to activate the harmonic series; and zip through a trumpet as its valves slice shafts of air.

Inspired by a desire to offer my own kids a fresh guide to the orchestra, the piece was created with director Gary Rydstrom and animator Jim Capobianco during visits to Skywalker Ranch, George Lucas’s campus of creativity north of San Francisco. With their extensive film experience – Gary won Oscars for his dinosaur sounds in for Jurassic Park, Jim wrote the story for Pixar’s Ratatouille – they helped solve many of the film’s unique puzzles: namely, how to introduce the many facets of the orchestra without using words.

Sometimes accompanying me to the Ranch were my kids and a posse of their friends, playing the role of a slightly suspicious focus group. They responded best to an exuberant piece of art, not a didactic piece of pedagogy, that has elements of mystery and darkness. Equally important is the Sprite, whose journey of self-discovery brings a crucial emotional angle to the story. The Sprite is formed in the work’s opening minutes from a primordial soup of abstract animation, with its arms and legs representing the four ‘families’ of the orchestra: woodwinds, strings, brass, percussion. Represented by a simple yet harmonically wandering piano melody, the Sprite soon dives into the orchestra to explore the instruments from the inside out.

Each family speaks its unique language: noir-ish jazz for the woodwinds; bending lyricism in the strings; dark techno for the brass; and drum-corps in the percussion. Having presented themselves separately, their attempt to play together fails so spectacularly that the Sprite shatters back into the primordial darkness. Only through learning each other’s languages do the different instrument families – as different as the races on earth – fuse together to resurrect the Sprite and become The Orchestra, one of the greatest human creations.

Check these out:

Trailer (3:30 minute version)
Trailer (60 second version)
Behind the Scenes: Making the Sprite
Behind the Scenes: Inside the Cello
Behind the Scenes: Inside the Woodwinds

MUSIC BY MASON BATES | DIRECTED BY GARY RYDSTROM | WRITTEN BY MASON BATES & GARY RYDSTROM | ANIMATION DIRECTION BY JIM CAPOBIANO | PRODUCED BY ALEX DE SILVA & MASON BATES | EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS JODY ALLEN, ROCKY COLLINS, & RUTH JOHNSTON | VULCAN PRODUCTIONS | COMMISSIONED BY CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY, PITTSBURGH SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, DALLAS SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, SAKANA FOUNDATION, JOHN & MARCIA GOLDMAN FOUNDATION

Mason Bates

Composer

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Xavier Foley

Double Bass

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Rubén Rengel

Violin

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