‘A Live Presentation of 2001: A Space Odyssey’ With the National Symphony Orchestra, Emil de Cou, conductor, and Woodley Ensemble, Frank Albinder, Music Director

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After a week of cramped and un air conditioned Fringey-ness, it was a pleasure to step into the cavernous Filene Center at Wolf Trap last night. The massive open air space, illuminated by starlight and animated by a cool evening breeze, was a perfect host for a screening of Stanley Kubrick’s celestial 2001: A Space Odyssey, accompanied live by the National Symphony Orchestra.

Photo courtesy of Wolf Trap.
Photo courtesy of Wolf Trap.

Screenings of classic films paired with a live orchestra have become increasingly popular in recent years. Programmers believe the events bring in a younger, more diverse crowd, and this was certainly true of Wolf Trap last night. Amongst the typical AARP and wine-drinking-soccer-mom set was a sprinkling of 20ish goths, hippies, and film-freak types who were excited to see Kubrick’s classic cult film in a new light.

Live orchestral screenings have been tried with everything from Psycho to West Side Story, and the result has usually been effective. However, 2001 especially lends itself to live accompaniment due to its spectacular Classical score. With characteristic skill, and under the expert guidance of Conductor Emil de Cou, the National Symphony Orchestra transitioned seamlessly from Richard Strauss’ thunderous Thus Spake Zarathustra to the fragile, melodic Blue Danube Waltz (composed by Johann Strauss II, not related to Richard Strauss). Equally enthralling was the creepy vocal music provided by the Woodley Ensemble. Under Music Director Frank Albinder, the Ensemble screeched out the discordant Kyrie section from Gyorgy Ligeti’s Requiem, a vocal motif that appears along side the infamous black monolith.

It is incredible how well Kubrick’s 1968 classic has stood the test of time. Although there are some undeniably goofy images (like the Pan Am space stewardesses bearing liquefied broccoli) overall the film retains its power to inspire and mystify. It is easy to forget that this movie was made before anyone had access to actual photographs from space, let alone digital special effects technology. And in an age of NSA omniscience and holographic pop stars, the world of 2001 doesn’t seem totally out of reach. Ultimately, though, it is not a movie about machines, but about men; the triumphant closing drumroll of Zarathustra was like a cannon shot to the chest, and the audience roared for our common humanity.

A live presentation of 2001: A Space Odyssey played for one night only on July 19, 2014 at Wolf Trap Center for the Performing Arts-1551 Trap Road in Vienna, VA. For future performances and information, check out their calendar of events.

For a list of upcoming performances by the National Symphony Orchestra, click here.