Review: Pixar in Concert (performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra)
Though 6 hours from where I lived in Iowa, the world of Chicago, IL, was largely a mystery to me growing up. Other than going there for their auto show a few times, and on a band trip in high school, I was not that privy to much of the city’s “creative pursuits.”
The first time I had ever heard or considered the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, was almost 15 years ago. During the promotion of the upcoming release of Fantasia 2000, composer James Levine mentioned several times that when he was asked to choose an orchestra to perform several of the film’s classical pieces, he immediately mentioned Chicago’s.
Almost 8 years later, I’d find myself going to see the CSO perform at Symphony Center. The purpose was as a get-together with my Dad and my sister, to see John Williams conduct the orchestra (of which he does every 2-3 years here!). Williams performed his pieces both on-and-off-screen, as well as gave us 3 encores. To me, that evening was special, because I feel it was my Dad who introduced me to Williams’ music when I was a child, and to be there with him seeing Williams conduct music from the same opening fanfare to Star Wars, just seemed perfect!
Much like Walt Disney knew that music was a key ingredient to his company’s productions, PIXAR Animation Studios also values music in the same way. The company has been nominated numerous times for its various film scores, and several of their pieces have become just as ingrained with our culture, as many of the pieces Disney has done over the years.
In 2012, PIXAR allowed a medley of its film music to be performed by the San Francisco Symphony. Shortly afterwards, the experience was expanded to become a touring exhibition of film-and-music, that could be played in numerous concert halls and venues, around the world. Two years later, it finally rolled into The Second City, and took over Chicago’s Symphony Center, on November 28-30, 2014.
The running time for the full concert was 2 hours, with a 15-minute intermission. The program consisted of a medley of music from each of PIXAR’s 14 animated features, with edited footage from each film displayed on a screen above the orchestra.
Our host and conductor for the evening, was Ricard Kaufman, who has worked in film, and with numerous artists over the years. Richard took to the microphone a few times to give the audience a little knowledge on what was to come, as well as explain where the name PIXAR came from (fyi, it was the name given to Lucasfilm’s computer division in the early 80’s).
Unlike a typical composer, Richard would reference both sheet music, and a computer-monitor setup near his podium. This would make sure that he was keeping time to the images we were seeing on the large screen overhead.
I will admit that the synch set-up only seemed to work several times. There were some areas where I was hoping for an exact match to a scene. Out of all of them, it felt like the best of the synch-up moments, were during the music from Cars 2.
One would assume they would line up the scores in the program from oldest-to-newest, but they ended up moving several around, most likely for emotional punch.
For example, Up‘s music was played right before the intermission. Coming back from it, we were blasted by the jazzy riffs of The Incredibles, as if the orchestra meant to wake us from the lethargy of the break.
Regarding Up, Richard did take a few moments to talk about it, and after all of the Married Life was played, the audience started applauding…before realizing there was more music from the score. It was the only premature applause of the night.
Some of the medleys were a little surprising. One example was the one from Cars, where music from the film was played, that I realized was not on the soundtrack album I had! I also didn’t expect the ‘Circus Bugs’ track from A Bug’s Life, which played over the “Flaming Death” scene that I still love from that film. I did have to keep my excitement in check, else I would have shouted out, “Burn him again!”
Overall, it felt like the scores played to a specific tempo or mood of a piece. Cars 2’s music was primarily the opening spy piece, and Monsters Inc’s focused moreso on Newman’s big-band feel during the workplace montage. Personally, I was hoping for a little more of the Boo-and-Sulley theme from the film.
It is possible that the pieces may have changed over time, given the addition of new film music, and to keep it under an allotted running time.
One bright spot in the piece came, when they opened with Randy Newman’s opening fanfare/flourish, that began Toy Story back in 1995. To many of us, that was the unofficial opening music to a PIXAR film for many years, before the standard Walt Disney Pictures logo was added in the last few years. However, this was played over a black screen, when I would have loved to have seen the 3-dimensionally rendered castle again (as seen above in this screenshot from my older DVD of Toy Story).
After what seemed to be the closing piece, with music from Monsters University, I was surprised when the orchestra broke into an orchestra-meets-big-band rendition of You’ve Got A Friend in Me, from the end of Toy Story 2 (sans Robert Goulet).
I scored a primo $65 seat amidst the $130 crowd, 4 rows from the stage. This proved a great view if you wanted to watch the film, but it did detract when I found my attention drawn to different parts of the orchestra. I wanted to zero in on the brass section during Giacchino’s big-band bits from Incredibles, as well as some of the percussive bits from Thomas Newman’s Nemo score. There was even a “clanking” sound during the incinerator scene from Toy Story 3, that had me curious as to what they used to get that sound.
As well, sound effects from several of the films were included in the mix, such as a few sounds from Wall-E, but overall, the experience was largely about the music from the films.
I will say that it was nice to see this concert event come to Chicago, as many things regarding PIXAR are usually relegated to the coasts, or overseas. I feel it could have easily been a 2 1/2 hour event, but given that it was being advertised moreso as a family event, they had to keep it at a decent level.
Of course, I still hold out a smidgen of hope that The Art Institute of Chicago or The Museum of Contemporary Art could one day get my dream exhibit to come here: PIXAR, The Exhibition. The Exhibition features concept art and more from the development of PIXAR’s films and shorts. It’s only been shown in the states twice (in New York, and in Oakland, where I saw it in 2010!), with the majority of its showings all overseas. If anything could make Chicago classy in my eyes, it’d be getting that Exhibition to show up here.