Have a favorite movie score? Well, chances are you can thank an orchestrator. Behind every great movie theme is its orchestration – the trumpets in the Star Wars theme, the celesta (the music box-like sound) in Harry Potter, or the growling basses in Jaws. And yes, I just named three scores by perhaps the most famous film composer of all time, John Williams. Although these days, Williams has his own team of orchestrators, he began in the trenches as an orchestrator for the greats of his time like Bernard Herrmann (Hitchcock movies) and Franz Waxman (Sunset Boulevard) where he no doubt learned many of the techniques that brought him to greatness.

To kick off the MSO’s opening weekend, I will begin a three part series on orchestration as part of our pre-concert lecture series, Meet the Music. They take place an hour before each performance in the Anello Atrium of the Marcus Center. Before you get scared away from a technical word like “orchestration” (in college, that word is frequently followed by an exhausted sigh), just remember that it’s simply the process of using an orchestra to create music. Although there are some general rules (like don’t make the trumpets play as high as the piccolo), each composer has had their own philosophy based on the time period in which they lived and the instruments available. My hope is that these discussions can enhance your experience of listening to an orchestra and the variety of characters within it.

Week 1 (September 20-22) – We begin our survey of orchestration with Tchaikovsky’s brilliant Fourth Symphony, which everyone remembers for its bold brass themes and cymbal crashes. However, there is a wealth of more subtle orchestration and we will particularly look at the third movement where Tchaikovsky divides the orchestra up into specific groups of instruments. We’ll also look at Kernis’ Musica Celestis which uses only the strings to create a “heavenly” sound and Liszt’s First Piano Concerto where a surprising instrument gets the spotlight alongside the piano.

Week 2 (September 27-28) – Ravel is without question one of the great orchestrators and his ballet score Daphnis and Chloe is the model of orchestration in my mind. Using a massive orchestra plus a wordless chorus for even greater effect, Ravel still can make this elephant of an orchestra tiptoe like a ballerina. It still boggles my mind. Also, the Stravinsky Violin Concerto will give us a chance to discuss the soloist/orchestra relationship in the 20th century.

Week 3 (October 4-5) – What better way to end our series than with a work that celebrates the virtuosity of the orchestra? Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra provides a kaleidoscope of orchestration techniques for us to savor. We’ll also get a chance to hear some Wagner (the guy who created instruments because apparently there weren’t enough in the orchestra already!), and go all the way back to Mozart to look at the origins of the modern orchestra.

Look forward to seeing you all at opening weekend!


About Francesco Lecce-Chong


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