Lions and tigers and bears … and a live orchestra … oh, my! It’s hard to imagine a better outdoor movie experience than one could have found Saturday night than by heading over to Wolf Trap to watch The Wizard of Oz on a huge screen while hearing and seeing the musical score performed live by none other than the National Symphony Orchestra musicians and the wonderfully talented NSO@ Wolf Trap Festival Conductor Emil de Cou.
I attended last night’s performance with a new friend and violinist from Korea who is visiting relatives in the U.S. She speaks almost no English, but she knew all about the National Symphony Orchestra and couldn’t wait to see and hear them perform. She also knew about The Wizard of Oz, but had never experienced it in English. We started our evening with a cool drink and headed over to hear a very interesting pre-concert lecture presented by Emil de Cou and producer John Goberman, who happens to be the creator and driving force behind Live from Lincoln Center.
Most films are best viewed on a large screen. This said, it can truly be stated that a person has not really seen The Wizard of Oz until or unless he or she has seen it on a large screen. On an even higher level, hearing the score performed as it was composed, and hearing it and seeing it performed live is an experience that is uniquely exciting. Most people will never have the opportunity to be inside a studio recording session. These sessions are more than interesting, move very quickly, draw on the skills of some of the best musicians in the business, involve almost no rehearsal, and cost a lot of money. However, if and when a true musical disaster happens, the opportunity for a second take, while unbelievably expensive, sometimes exists. In a live performance, the show must go on, because the movie is going to go on.
Conducting an opera, a ballet, or a musical theatre performance requires a set of skills that not all conductors, even great conductors, possess. Emil de Cou often finds his strength and perhaps his calling in these multi-disciplinary genres of music. He enthusiastically embraces opportunities of this nature, and I always admire and enjoy his willingness to be open to all the possibilities that exist in these art forms.
The thing is, in a completely live performance, a conductor has leeway on tempo. This is not the case when the film, including dialogue and vocals are locked in. Musicians are not wearing headsets and cannot hear what the conductor can hear. They cannot see the film that the conductor can see. There is absolutely no room for error in communication between the conductor and the musicians, and there is no chance for total perfection. The brave, competent, and adventurous call this fun. Others might describe it as terrifying. The audience loved it, as did I.
John Goberman is leaving Live from Lincoln Center at the end of this month and plans to devote his talents and energies to presenting symphonic cinema events, in which orchestral film scores are performed live as films are shown. Just as most people will never hear a concert live from Lincoln Center, it is also true that most people will never have the opportunity to witness firsthand the actual orchestral performance and recording of a film. With all of the technical challenges involved in presenting symphonic cinema events, it is without question a wonderful way for audiences to experience great film works and a very engaging way to showcase an orchestra.
The Wizard of Oz is one of my most favorite movies ever. It was really so much fun to watch this movie with thousands of other people, and I am so proud of Emil de Cou and the National Symphony Orchestra for taking on the challenge of this project. Thanks so much for this wonderful and enjoyable experience.
Wolf Trap is a national treasure, and spending an evening there with the NSO is really hard to beat. There are many more fantastic NSO@ Wolf Trap concerts coming up this summer, so gather your friends and family and come on over!
Wolf Trap is located at 1551 Trap Road, in Vienna, Virginia. To purchase tickets to upcoming concerts, please click here.