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See the epic 1925 silent film classic “Ben-Hur” on the giant screen as Pacific Symphony performs Stewart Copeland’s thrilling, original score live for this cinematic spectacle
Orange County, Calif. — February 25, 2016
Pacific Symphony, led by Principal Pops Conductor Richard Kaufman, brings one of the most legendary silent films ever made—the 1925 larger-than-life “Ben-Hur”—to full breath-taking splendor in the concert hall, when the orchestra performs the score live as the movie is shown on the giant screen. The score—newly composed for the classic Hollywood hit—was written by Stewart Copeland, former drummer for “The Police,” who performs on drums and a myriad of percussion instruments (including trash cans to create the sounds of the Roman troops), alongside the orchestra for this movie extravaganza. With its enormous cast and crew and a visual scope that is awe-inspiring to this day, “Ben-Hur” tells the tale of a Jewish prince who is betrayed and sent into slavery by a Roman friend, but lives to regain his freedom and return for revenge. Buckle your seat belt for a wild chariot race, bloody battle scenes at sea and music that enhances every minute of it—all the ingredients for a very special event.
This unique movie night takes place on Friday-Saturday, March 18-19, at 8 p.m., in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Tickets are $35-$165. For more information or to purchase tickets call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org. The performance also takes place at the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge on Wednesday, March 16, at 8 p.m.
“‘Ben-Hur’ is a picture that rises above spectacle, even though it is one. On the screen it isn’t the chariot race or the great battle scenes between the fleet of Rome and the pirate galleys of Golthar. It is the tremendous heart throbs that one experiences leading to those scenes that make them great.”—Variety (1925)
“There’s really nothing to do to prepare you for seeing an epic film like ‘Ben-Hur,’” says Maestro Kaufman, who has gained a reputation for performing film scores live with Pacific Symphony and other orchestras. “When the lights go down, the only thing you need to do is sit back and marvel at the story being told, the way the film has been shot, and the incredible score that accompanies the movie.” Among the films that Kaufman has conducted live with Pacific Symphony are “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Vertigo,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Casablanca,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Star Trek.” “Every score that we have presented with a film is an exciting adventure. They’re all so different in the stories they tell and the music that accompanies those stories…they each stand out as a memorable experience.”
Last summer, after attending the Symphony’s live performance of the movie “Star Trek,” the Orange County Register’s Tim Mangan wrote: “Together, the music and visuals make your head spin… Principal Pops Conductor Richard Kaufman, an old hand at this type of thing, was on the podium and made it look easy, synchronizing seamlessly with the film. The Pacific Symphony had to play gobs of music and did so indefatigably, also athletically.”
It may look easy, but that’s hardly the case. Since a film score is written to accompany the drama and action in a movie, presenting music in a concert requires the conductor to know the movie in minute detail and make certain the music matches. The live performance of a film score involves a meticulous digital process: the musical soundtrack must be removed from the film, while leaving the dialogue and sound effects untouched; the instrumental parts must be reconstructed by the orchestra as the music is performed live, in sync with the film’s visual storyline. Using a large clock with a second hand as well as a click track, Kaufman is able to keep the orchestra perfectly in sync with the film. The result is something you can’t get from watching a movie anywhere else.
“Because the recording techniques in film have changed so dramatically over the years, hearing film music live brings the music to life in a way that can never be experienced either in the theater or certainly at home,” says Kaufman. “It’s also a visual experience, to watch the musicians working just as the orchestra did when the score was first recorded. One could rent a DVD, but needless to say, there’s a HUGE difference between seeing a film on a television screen and seeing it on a real motion picture screen in a theater or concert hall.”
“Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ” (produced by Abraham L. Erlanger, Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B. Meyer and Florenz Ziegfeld, and an uncredited Irving Thalberg, and directed by Fred Niblo) cost almost $4 million (valued at more than $200 million in 2016), making it the most expensive film of the silent era. With a gargantuan cast and crew, “Ben-Hur” remains extraordinarily impressive even by today’s standards. In 2009, composer and rock musician Stewart Copeland (perhaps best known for forming The Police and recruiting Sting, but who has spent 20 years as a successful composer of opera, world music, chamber music, television and film, working for the likes of Francis Ford Coppola on “Rumblefish” and Oliver Stone on “Wall Street),” was asked to provide the score for an arena spectacle based on the original “Ben-Hur” book by General Lew Wallace. Acted in Latin and Aramaic with a traveling cast and crew of 400, it premiered at the O2 Arena in London and was performed throughout Europe.
Copeland was then commissioned by the Virginia Arts Festival to deconstruct the classic 1925 black-and-white film and re-orchestrate the recorded arena score for live orchestral concert performances. The project combined all of Copeland’s talents in composition, orchestration, film scoring, film editing and his virtuoso talents as percussionist and drummer. It also included Kaufman.
“When Stewart Copeland asked me to conduct the premiere of ‘Ben-Hur’ at the Virginia Arts Festival,” says Kaufman, “I really wasn’t prepared for the remarkable reaction of the audience…they were on their feet cheering at the end of the first half! And then I presented it with the Chicago Symphony, which was completely amazing. To be a part of bringing the score to life, along with the extraordinary performance of Stewart on the drums was for me, and continues to be, incredibly exciting.”
Copeland says: “When the 2009 Ben-Hur Live arena production of the Wallace novel finished its run in 2011, I felt strongly that the score I had composed for this project deserved a life of its own.” When he had been shown the classic original version of the famous story, he was “struck by both the freshness of the film on the one hand and overwhelmed by its scale on the other. Watching those same scenes that I had scored for a different medium, I couldn’t help but hear my music working with the vigorous interpretation of General Wallace’s book.”
For those who might not know, the storyline revolves around Judah Ben-Hur, who is a rich Jewish prince and merchant in Jerusalem at the beginning of the first century. When the new governor, his old friend Messala, arrives as commanding officer of the Roman legions, they are at first happy to reunite after such a long time. But their divergent political views cause a rift between them. During a welcome parade a roof tile falls down from Judah’s house and injures the governor. Although Messala knows the family is not guilty, he sends Judah to the galleys and throws his mother and sister into prison. Judah swears to come back and take revenge—and so the action begins! (And, no, you won’t find Charlton Heston in this version.)
Pacific Symphony’s Pops series receives support from Avenue of the Arts Hotel, PBS SoCal and K-Earth 101.
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