Last night the Ravinia Festival Orchestra played along with movie classics in Gotta Dance (At the Movies)! under the baton of Robert Moody. Maestro Moody has been the music director of the Pohenix Symphony for the past several seasons. He is an engaging and dynamic person to work with, and he made the production a success for both the musicians and the audience. Scenes from Brigadoon, Singin’ in the Rain, My Fair Lady, Madame Bovary, and An American in Paris received orchestral accompaniment. A particularly engaging excerpt from 2001: A Space Odyssey featured the famous opening of Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra and Johann Strauss’ An der schönen blauen Donau (Blue Danube Waltz).
Except for the overture, the entire concert consisted of musical accompaniment to famous dance sequences from these great musicals of the past. Accompanying film sequences is a very difficult musical task. Accopanying a film is radically different than accompanying live dancers. The film will not adjust to the musicians. Also, many of the musical numbers in these films are incredibly fast. Oftentimes a click track is used for the orchestra in this sort of situation. Musicians wear a special headset covering only their right ear which provides a metronome track sequenced to the film. If a click track is not used the conductor must subtly speed up or slow down the orchestra to keep synchronized with the film. The orchestra must remain completely focused on the conductor and follow his beat completely to avoid a musical disaster. It is quite obvious to the audience when this sort of production gets out of sync. Changing the speed of an orchestra once it gets going can be like changing direction on an ocean liner. Fortunatey, the Ravinia Festival Orchestra was up to the task, and the film and music fit together quite well for the entire evening.
The orchestra played extremely well, especially considering the difficulty of accompanying movie clips without a click track on one rehearsal. Principal cellist Barbara Haffner and concertmaster Robert Hanford played exceptionally beautiful solos during the production. Ravinia is a beautiful setting for a concert. I haven’t been to the festival in quite some time, and I often forget how lucky Highland Park (and all of Chicagoand) is to have this treasure. The setting is great for both audience and orchestra. Looking out at the audience in the pavilion and beyond out on the lawn nestled under all the tall trees makes for a great playing experience.