Show Review: A Night at the Oscars with the SF Symphony

by Chad Liffmann on February 17, 2014

A classy evening, complete with film classics.

As God is my witness, I’ll never listen to film score the same way again!

On Saturday, Feb. 15th, just two weeks before the 86th Academy Awards, the San Francisco Symphony hosted a night that celebrated a handful of iconic scenes from some of the very first, and most beloved, best musical score Oscar winners and nominees.  Showcasing films as early as The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) to as late as Ben-Hur (1959), the packed audience at Davies Symphony Hall marveled at fully restored 35 mm prints from six classics of cinema, including Gone with the Wind (1939), Citizen Kane (1941), An American in Paris (1951), and finally, The Wizard of Oz (1939), all the while enjoying the talented San Francisco orchestra drive through the scenes with scores ranging from bombastic to haunting to whimsical.

The magical evening started with a short but charming walk along a red carpet, complete with stand-in paparazzi firing their cameras and calling for smiles (I may have attempted to ham it up a bit).  Jon Burlingame, the nation’s leading film music historian and contributing writer for Variety and author of multiple books on the subject, gave a warm welcome to the night’s thematic material and then to the maestro for the evening, conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos.  Moving quite briskly into the material, Kitsopoulos led the orchestra through two colorful scenes from The Adventures of Robin Hood.  The selections from Gone with the Wind were two of the night’s major highlights, including a heart-pounding piece during the burning of Atlanta, and then the sweeping romance of Tara’s theme during the famous scene of Scarlett O’Hara’s declaration against the blood orange sunset, “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!”

Monica Covitt, a choral conductor for the Palo Alto Unified School District, said after the show about the SF Symphony’s film series, “…it makes high levels of music performance more accessible through the lens of film.”  As I’ve continued to highlight through my coverage of the film series, there really is nothing like a live score accompanying a movie theater setting.  It’s not very often that one has the opportunity to hear the frightening wicked witch theme being performed live during the cyclone sequence in The Wizard of Oz… or hearing the tense theme from Psycho during the shower scene, or the heartwarming melodies of Singin’ in the Rain.  There are more memorable moments to be experienced — the film series continues with a live score accompaniment to Charlie Chaplin’s quintessential romantic comedy, City Lights (1931), on April 12th followed by two nights of the 1940 Disney classic, Fantasia, on May 31st – June 1st.  You don’t want to miss these amazing events!

To find more information and purchase tickets, visit http://www.sfsymphony.org/film

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