The magic of Disney and the beauty of music will merge when the Houston Symphony presents Disney Fantasia - Film with Live Orchestra January 5 - 7 at Jones Hall. The musicians will play the iconic score to selections from Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 while the movie plays on a screen above the orchestra. The widely known animated film features classic orchestral pieces ranging from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” to Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” and Dukas' “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”
“To hear an 80-plus piece orchestra provide this music live is like watching Fantasia but hearing it in the best surround sound you can ever imagine, so it’s great fun for the whole family,” said Principal POPS Conductor Steven Reineke.
Fantasia has etched its way into the collective consciousness of music lovers and movie enthusiasts alike as it earned the recognition as a modern marvel when animators first presented it in 1940.
Nearing its 80th anniversary, Fantasia remains Disney’s longest animated movie. It has spawned video games, Disneyland attractions and a 2000 sequel. It also serves as a cherished way for parents to pass on the wonder of symphonic music to their children.
“As a matter of fact, this is why Walt Disney wanted to create it - to introduce kids to classical music. It’s fantastic because it has a wonderful visual element that’s fascinating to adults, but it’s great for kids too. It makes the music mean more,” said Reineke. “Music is all about imagination. You listen to music and see a movie, and it evokes imagination. It’s a look at what the music could be in a story-telling situation. It’s great to introduce young people to some of the greatest music ever written for the orchestra, and it will broaden their horizons.”
Introducing young ones to classical music - and getting them to enjoy it - might not be as challenging as originally thought. In fact, if children watch cartoons, they probably have already been exposed to the great music without even knowing it.
Reineke recalls, “My first introduction to classical music was watching Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner cartoons. They all used classical music to some degree, and I think that’s fantastic. That’s the first time many of us hear Mozart and Beethoven.”
The magical brew of cartoons and classical music served as the birthplace for Fantasia, and it endures because of its high quality and incredibly creative nature.
As popular as the film and score may be throughout the decades, there is still that little hurdle of having the orchestra play live to the film — a feat not easily achieved. Yet, Reineke has a few tricks up his conductor’s sleeve. He has presented several performances involving live music set to movies, and he uses a system he refers to as “streamers and punches” to provide an orchestral GPS throughout the performance.
“There’s a lot of exact hit points where the music and the picture have to be exactly lined up to have the best effect. I have my own video monitor in front of my conductor’s podium. I have a version of the film that has a time code down to a hundredth of a second. I have a clock with a minute hand. It’s sort of like playing a big video game,” he said.
Going into further detail, he added “Punches are flashes of bright light, and that tells me certain measures of music. I have to be right at that music bar when that light flashes. Streamers are color-coded bars that go from left to right. Yellow means something is about to happen, green means go, and red is the end of something.”
The system helps him navigate the score down to the exact millisecond.
He lovingly says, “I am a slave to the picture. I have to conduct it exactly to the animation. All the tempos stylings and phrasings are according to the movie.”
In addition to the splendor of the movie, there is one more tidbit that H-town might find interesting. The original movie has a Houston connection. The music for the original Disney’s Fantasia was conducted by former Houston Symphony Music Director Leopold Stokowski.
In fact, in the original film, viewers can see the conductor, and it’s the back of Stokowski.
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The Symphony’s team was kind enough to pass along a few other tidbits about the relationship between Stokowski and the House of Mouse:
- Walt Disney hired Stokowski to work on Fantasia after he attended one of Stokowski’s concerts in Los Angeles in the 1930s.
- By 1937, Stokowski was no stranger to Hollywood, having recently played himself in two films.
- The imaginative nature of the project reminded Stokowski of a fantasia, so he suggested the term as a working title for the film. The name stuck.
- Stokowski and members of the Disney team ultimately settled on eight musical selections for the movie.
Bring the children and grandchildren, and relive a little bit of your own childhood this weekend with this timeless classic.
Disney Fantasia - Film with Live Orchestra plays 8 p.m. Jan. 5 and 6 and 2:30 p.m. Jan. 7 at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana Street. For information, call 713-224-7575 or visit houstonsymphony.org. $26 to $155.