Show Review: ‘Fantasia’ Live with the San Francisco Symphony

by Chad Liffmann on June 1, 2014

'Fantasia' live with the SF Symphony

‘Fantasia’ live with the SF Symphony

There are few films that have better captured the bond between film and music more than Fantasia (1940).  This visionary masterpiece of animation had a profound effect on the evolution of music videos and has helped introduce classical music to generations of children.  Fantasia 2000, though not as highly regarded as its predecessor, has also aided in these cultural purposes.  Yesterday night and again tonight, the San Francisco Symphony welcomes in audiences to experience the magic of both these films, reminding us of the emotional storytelling power of classical music and the wide spectrum of beauty and characters that animation can provide.

Last night began with acclaimed conductor Sarah Hicks taking the stage and starting things off with an energetic performance of Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5 in C minor”, set to the film segment of an abstract explosion of pastel colors taking butterfly shapes in a battle between light and dark (from Fantasia 2000).  The symphony then continued through a handful of segments from the original Fantasia, including the gorgeous centaur-filled pastoral sequence set to Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 6, Pastoral”, the famous sparkling fairies and dancing plants and flowers set to Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite”, the romantic and soothing segment of an egret in a moonlit bayou (originally omitted from Fantasia) set to Debussy’s “Clair de lune”, and finally, Fantasia 2000′s captivating symbolic representation of the spirit of flourishing nature against the eruption of Mount Saint Helens, set to Stravinsky’s “Suite from The Firebird”. 

The full house cheered for the dancing mushrooms, jumped in their seats at the loud sudden awakening of the tremendous Firebird, and stood in ovation as Hicks left the stage for the intermission.  When she returned, the audience was treated to the hilarious ballet of ostriches, hippos, elephants, and alligators set to Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours”, from Gioconda.  And, what better validation of Fantasia’s influence than when much of the audience noticed a child near the front of the orchestra section being fully invested in the music, laughing and smiling at the animals’ graceful follies shown overhead.  Hicks then led the orchestra though Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: Scherzo after a Ballad by Goethe” set to the famous Mickey Mouse vs. water-carrying broomsticks scene.

The evening ended with three segments from Fantasia 2000 (including an encore) — Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1” featuring the wonderfully fun clip of Donald Duck as curator of the animals onboard Noah’s Ark (the moment with the doves still cracks me up!), the dreamlike clip of whales swimming above and beyond the ocean set to Respighi’s “Pines of Rome”, and then the goofy and fast-paced flamingo clip appropriately set to Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals”.

Tonight is the second and final night of this magical show.  If you have kids that haven’t yet experienced the wonder of Fantasia and Fantasia 2000, I would highly recommend introducing them to it in this ideal setting, with the music heard as it was meant to be — live.  For tickets, visit:

http://www.sfsymphony.org/Buy-Tickets/2013-2014/Film-Fantasia-in-Concert.aspx

And for tickets to upcoming events in the SF Symphony Film Series:

Pixar in Concert (July):  http://www.sfsymphony.org/Buy-Tickets/2013-2014/Pixar-in-Concert.aspx
Grease Sing-A-Long (July): http://www.sfsymphony.org/Buy-Tickets/2013-2014/SATS-Grease!-Sing-a-long.aspx

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