This weekend, the American Youth Symphony will present a screening of Star Trek Into Darkness with the film score played live to picture. David Newman will conduct Michael Giacchino’s exhilarating score and Giacchino will be on hand for a pre-concert/screening Q&A with film music journalist (and frequent KUSC contributor) Jon Burlingame.
In advance of this weekend’s performance, I had a chance to catch up with the very busy Oscar-winning composer, Michael Giacchino, for a few questions.
BL: Live movie concerts are all the rage at major orchestras from Europe to the United States and beyond. They are extremely popular with audiences and a boon financially for the orchestras which present them. What do you make of the popularity these types of events?
MG: A large number of people are only exposed to orchestral music through film scores. It only makes sense that this material would find it’s way into the hands of orchestras and that film music should be a regular part of an orchestra’s repertoire. What better way to expose a broader audience to the power of live musicians then playing their favorite film music. I am thrilled that people are getting an opportunity to hear what it is like to be in a room with 80-90 musicians. They may come to hear the Chicago Symphony play Star Trek today, and decide to come back for Bach next week. I also think that as people’s home theaters become more sophisticated, the chance to see a film with a live orchestra in a place like the Royal Albert Hall offers something that simply cannot be replicated in their living room.
BL: As a composer of music for films, I would imagine these kinds of concerts would represent the best possible environment for audiences to experience your work. How does a finely-tweaked, impeccably recorded performance played over a movie theater sound system compare to the immediacy (and potential pitfalls) of live performance?
MG: Nothing compares to the energy of a live performance. Movies in the theater have the dialogue and sound effects mixed slightly differently than we have in the concert hall. We take great care to provide a perfect sound mix so it still feels like the film…however, in the concert hall you can’t help but notice that when Nero’s ship is approaching in Star Trek 09…there’s a lot of brass at work there.
BL: This concert is the first time the AYS will be performing an entire film score live to picture. What sorts of challenges will they encounter…and what advice would you give to the young musicians who have never done this before?
MG: They are going to be in the expert hands of David Newman who is a genius with this type of project. They will have a blast…probably their biggest challenge will be keeping their eyes off the screen and focused on the music. I’m kidding of course but I love watching the musicians follow along with the movie during their rests. I just want them all to relax and have fun. Maestro will keep them in sync.
BL: Much was made of your extremely busy summer with a trio of very high-profile releases [Tomorrowland, Jurassic World, Inside Out]. Does it ever slow down for you? Do you ever have down time? Or do you prefer having a jam-packed schedule? How difficult is it to balance multiple projects at once?
MG: Yes, once the films were released I had some time off in the summer. I went to some of the Star Trek performances, but I was able to take the time and work in my backyard. I do keep a very strict schedule even when I am working. I stop working at 6 and spend time with the kids. It is very important to keep that balance. Working on multiple projects at once is really a matter of scheduling. Luckily, this past year all the directors I worked with knew each other and did their best to keep the schedule so that I wouldn’t go crazy.
BL: Finally, slightly off topic, but KUSC is doing a week-long celebration of the music of Beethoven in a couple of weeks and we’re asking everyone we interview about their early encounters with the music of Beethoven. Has Beethoven’s music ever been an inspiration in your work? Is there a specific piece by Beethoven that is particularly close to your heart?
MG: I love Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata – just magical. It’s almost like film music before film music existed. Of course who can forget the 9th Symphony? I often have wondered how many people were introduced to this piece of music by hearing it first in the movie Die Hard?