‘Philharmonia Fantastique’: Mason Bates’s New Concerto Has Animated Future

EXCLUSIVE: Philharmonia Fantastique: The Making of the Orchestra is a Vulcan Productions short film that accompanies a new 25-minute concerto composed by Mason Bates (The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs) and features the talents of Oscar-winning sound designer Gary Rydstrom and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Jim Capobianco.

The film combines live-action and animation to take audiences “inside” the instruments of an orchestra to see how they work and will be screened in tandem with live symphonic performances. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra will present the world premiere of Philharmonia Fantastique from March 26-28, 2020, followed by the San Francisco Symphony’s interpretation on April 16-18.

The massive undertaking was co-commissioned by five of America’s top orchestras: Chicago Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Performance dates in 2020 and 2021 will be announced for the other commissioning partners in the months ahead.

 Philharmonia Fantastique represents the most ambitious project to date from Bates, who has explored the intersection of music and technology in projects such as the Grammy-winning opera The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs. Bate has also pursued that theme as a DJ and curator for series like San Francisco’s Mercury Soul and KC Jukebox at the Kennedy Center.

Bates enlisted seven-time Academy Award-winning Sound Designer Gary Rydstrom (Titanic) to direct the film and Rydstrom in turn recruited Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Jim Capobianco (Mary Poppins: The Return) to join the promising collective.

“Music itself has always been a marriage of technology and art,” Rydstrom said. “We use both new and old technologies to explore how music comes together, how radically different sounds and techniques converge into the full sound of an orchestra.”

A synopsis from the project team: “While the film does not have a strict narrative, the team realized early on in the process that some sort of protagonist was necessary to provide a sense of unity. Nearly a year’s worth of character design
resulted in the Sprite, an animated, mercurial, magical figure who serves as the audience’s guide through the orchestra and even inside the instruments themselves. The Sprite interacts with the conductor and musicians alike, connecting stage and screen.”

The piece portrays the four families of the orchestra as distinct “tribes,” each with their own unique sound worlds and musical motifs: the slinky, sophisticated noir-jazz of the woodwinds; the lush romanticism of the strings; the aggressive techno-fanfares of the brass; and the percussion section “drum circle” in all its versatility.

“This confluence of orchestral music with cutting-edge animation – created by some of the world’s best, most innovative artists – will truly be something to behold,” said Ruth Johnston, General Manager for Vulcan Productions. “Our Sprite will take audiences on a journey into the magic and mystery of the symphony, and we can’t wait for the journey to begin.”

The film is presented by Vulcan Productions. Alex D. da Silva is producing and Executive Producers
include Jody Allen, Ruth Johnston, and Rocky Collins for Vulcan Productions.

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