Spinning Platters Interview: Justin Freer, Founder and President of CineConcerts

by Chad Liffmann on June 28, 2016

On July 14-15, the San Francisco Symphony will celebrate 50 years of Star Trek with Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyagefeaturing iconic film and TV footage beamed on to a huge screen while the symphony performs the musical scores, live! CineConcerts, the producer of this live music experience, was founded by composer/conductor Justin Freer. Freer will be conducting the SF Symphony’s two performances.

Freer graciously took a short break from a studio session to speak to us about his musical career, CineConcerts, and of course, Star Trek…

Justin Freer: Let’s do this. What do you want to talk about?

Spinning Platters: Let’s talk about film music!

Justin Freer: <<laughs>>

SP: How did you first get into film music? I read that you grew up learning trumpet and later music composition, but when did film music start to interest you?

JF: I think, really, right from the very beginning. When I was introduced to music, I was introduced through three different albums that were given to me by my grandfather. One of them was an incredible recording of (Sir Georg) Solti conducting Mahler’s 5th symphony. The other was – there were three of them – by request the best of John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra. It came with fifteen tracks of all his great hits which I’m sure you’ve got in your collection (editor’s note: indeed, I do.) So those two were really my first introductions to orchestral music when I was very young and my ears opened up and I fell in love with those sounds. So really, right from the very beginning I was very passionate about film music and classical concert music at the same time because I think they’re very connected. They are certainly brothers, even cousins. Through opera, and even through the 1960s avant-garde movement, so much of what has been done in film has helped to progress other things in music and vice versa. I’ve been into it since I was a little kid. I love it.

SP: Awesome. Were you a trekkie growing up?

JF: I was introduced to Star Trek via The Next Generation. I really didn’t know all that much about the original series when I was young. It was through the wonderful characters in TNG that I fell in love with Star Trek. The music, of course, was so well written, even right from the very beginning. So of course, I started looking more into the original series and the proceeding three series that came out after TNG. Certainly, having had that very wonderful time with Jerry (Goldsmith) a couple years before he passed opened my ears to something different with Star Trek, so it became somewhat of a more personal thing. This concert (Star Trek Ultimate Voyage) is that for me — it’s a lot more personal than perhaps it would’ve been if I had not spent that time with Jerry or not spent time studying with Jay Chattaway, who’s a close friend. It’s really quite special to be able to represent these composers in a positive and meaningful way. I hope that we’re doing that.

SP: I saw Star Trek in Concert about this time last year and that was a few months after Leonard Nimoy passed, and that was really powerful.

JF: I’m sure. I’m sure.

SP: Can you speak a bit about CineConcerts, what it is and why it’s important?

JF: CineConcerts was founded three or four years ago on the principle and with the idea and hope to preserve and present these brilliant scores attached to these really well-made movies. It’s an art form that deserves to see the light of day in this format. I really do believe that whole-heartily. I hope that we’re helping people to realize just how powerful music is in film. How important the element of music is — what it does for the characters, what it does for the emotions, what it does for everything. Without it I think that many of these films would be more emotionally devoid of feeling. That was the idea of CineConcerts and it remains one of the core principles of the company. Our hope is to do more of these and present and preserve more. You know, the archives is so limitless but it is a delicate balance of not only what films are well-known enough to make viable for orchestras and viable for presenters, but that the scores are also good enough so that people feel that they have something to sink their teeth and ears into when they’re at the hall.

SP: How does the selection process work and what titles are you thinking of adding to the CineConcerts repertoire?

JF: For me, the most important thing is that I truly adore the score. I need to truly love the score, if I’m to spend months restoring these things. There wasn’t a lot of restorative effort needed on Harry Potter, but on Star Trek there was a HUGE amount of restorative effort. Fifty years worth of anything is a monumental task so its really important for me to be passionate about what we’re doing and I hope, at least, that it translates with the orchestra and ultimately with the audience. At the same time, we try to pay attention to what movies are really well made because some of the best scores written are not for really great movies. And vice versa. Every once in a while, of course, you have both and that’s what we look for. As the market changes and the genre changes we’ll see what becomes viable and what isn’t for orchestras. But certainly I think it all has to start with a love for the music.

SP: If you don’t mind me digging into that point further, what’s one of your favorite scores for a movie you consider to be pretty bad?

JF: <<laugh>> Oh geez, I mean, defining a “bad movie.” Not sure I’m the expert there. You know, one of my favorite scores ever written was Jerry’s score for Patton. I mean, that’s not a bad movie. That’s an amazing movie, but it’s an interesting example because it’s one where I’d say if you ask ten people under the age of thirty, maybe two will know what that movie is. And that’s one of the things that plays into this. To use another Jerry example, I think Ridley Scott’s Legend was an incredible attempt at making something beautiful and magical and I think he captured that. But, it’s not as well captured, in my opinion, with the score that he used from Tangerine Dream. When you add Jerry’s score back into it, it’s all of a sudden a totally different movie!

SP: I completely agree!

JF: In that regard I wish there were more opportunities for people to buy those kinds of DVDs or Blu-Ray sets where they can see just how effective some of these tossed-out scores have been. I think there are a lot of examples in Star Trek where the music in certain episodes and certain films is so powerful, where sometimes the scenes are not so powerful but the music elevates it. A really good example is that wonderful episode, “Amok Time”, from season two of the original series. Without that amazing music by Gerald Fried during that famous fight scene – that legendary fight scene between Kirk and Spock on Vulcan – it’s almost like watching them fight with rubber chickens.

SP: Haha!

JF: <<laughs>> Right?! You turn the music off and it doesn’t work. You turn the music on and all of a sudden it’s harrowing, its death-defying, it’s all these things that only music can do

SP: It’s also iconic.

JF: I know, it’s great. I love so very much how accurate Jim Carrey was in his rendition from The Cable Guy.

SP: Exactly. So, is there a particular film that you are really hoping becomes a part of CineConcerts?

JF: Well, just to kind of stay in the Star Trek theme, I’d love to do Star Trek: The Motion Picture score from Jerry. I’d also like very much to present James Horner’s score to The Wrath of Khan. We all miss him (Horner) so dearly. Right up until we lost him, we were working on Titanic together and a few other things. I’d love to do those two. They’re so iconic and the films are so iconic. Harry Potter was certainly another one which we’re now doing. But Star Trek ticked a lot of boxes, to use the phrase. There were so many things in there that I grew up admiring and adoring and we all have. Star Trek speaks in so many ways to so many people. That’s one of the things that Gene Roddenberry was so brilliant at. He had this genius stroke in him that allowed him to create this world that people fell in love with that still felt like escapism but at the same time never felt, at least I never felt, that his social or political or philosophical commentary was so overt that it was a myth or a turnoff. It was always a turn on. I think that still remains to this day, fifty years later. We have all these things in society that appear in some way, shape, or form from Star Trek, and I think that contributes to why we still love it so much.

SP: Great. Thank you so much. That’s all I have for today. I’m so excited for the Star Trek Ultimate Experience.

JF: Me too. Thank you so much!


Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage tickets are on sale here

You can also grab tickets to the rest of the SF Symphony Summer Series before they run out! — visit http://www.sfsymphony.org/summer.

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