Pixar in Concert!

Two Thursdays ago, I ventured into New York with my sister to see a show we had been awaiting for months- Pixar in Concert with the New York Philharmonic!

Buzz conducting

I bought the tickets in February after weeks of debating. It’s not easy for us to get into the city from Burlington even though we’re not absurdly far, plus my sister would be finishing up her last semester at Vassar, plus the concert was right at the tail end of my student teaching window. Still, the opportunity looked too good to miss. It was our love of Pixar movies and proximity to the city that sealed the deal. (And it’s no big secret that writing music for Pixar movies is my ultimate dream job…)

On May 1, I drove to Poughkeepsie and caught a train into the city with Hilary. We had pizza and gelato at Grand Central, then took a subway over to Lincoln Center. Thank goodness our prime bumpkin years are over- we managed the subway system with little hassle, and got there with plenty of time to spare!

There's only ONE WAY, and that is Leonard Bernstein's way!

There’s only ONE WAY, and that is Leonard Bernstein’s way!

I’d never been to Lincoln Center before. I’d never seen the Philharmonic before. But this section of the city felt very personal to me. I love New York, but it will never be my city. Those few times I do go to the city are special enough for me without having to make it mine. And though I’m a country girl at heart, a place with such a rich musical history such as this section of New York always speaks to me. (Second not-so-big secret: I love Leonard Bernstein. A lot.)

Someday I’ll go back and read all the history on the walls inside Lincoln Center. We were just anxious to find our seats amidst the throngs of people. I was surprised to see a lot of people in their late 20s or early 30s… and not many children! It then occurred to me that I really didn’t know what to expect at this concert, slated for an hour forty-five. Montages? Best Pixar moments? Dialogue?

Hilary and I were pleasantly shocked at the setup of Avery Fisher Hall. The seats are densely packed on the floor and along the walls. It’s almost as if the wall seats are stacked on top of each other like sleeping tents pitched to the side of a mountain. It took us a minute to find our seats for this very reason. We came into the third tier via the correct door, but couldn’t find out row because it was in front of and below the row you see immediately walking in. (So maybe our prime bumpkin years aren’t entirely over…)

We had an obstructed view, which was disappointing at first, since I was only aware that we’d have a “partial view.” I had a partial view at Les Mis at the Boston Opera House, and I could still see everything, just from an unusual angle. Still, this bar cutting through the screen was really the last thing on our minds. We were just so thrilled to be there!

 

Our view!

Our view. You can look across at the seats on the wall to see what I mean about the way they’re stacked.

 

Obligatory photo of me.

Me at Pixar in Concert

Me at Pixar in Concert

Before David Newman took the stage to conduct, I tried to figure out just how everything would work logistically. In college, I had the opportunity to perform in a multimedia concert. The Mount Holyoke College Orchestra performed the score to The Snowman with the video projected on a large screen, and our director had to have perfect timing for the many and specific cues. That movie is a little different, as the story is told through visuals and music with no dialogue. There are many moments when the music aligns with the actions to create specific sound effects, like a sneeze or a light switch flickering. Pixar music, like most film music, underscores the mood and not specific actions that need to be timed.

As David approached the podium, I got that feeling I always get when I feel profoundly connected to what it about to happen. This man was the brother of one of my favorite film composers, Thomas Newman, and the son of Alfred Newman, who wrote the score to Wuthering Heights, one of my favorite films. The Newmans are a legacy in Hollywood, and here was one of them to guide us through the evening. He talked us through the program, which would be a series of montages with newly orchestrated music from the films, divided into sets.

As the lights dimmed, I kept watching him. He had a headset and a small screen in front of him. To his left were some devices, which he manipulated before beginning, and finally he signaled to someone on stage right. A vertical bar moved across his screen and a countdown flashed before he gave the players the cue to begin.

With the opening Toy Story fanfare, that feeling of mine grew until my eyes teared up with happiness. Sometimes you just know when you’re meant to be somewhere.

For a while I watched the montage, then the players, but at least half the time I was watching David and his screen. Every time there was some big change in the music, a large dot would splash at the center of his screen, like a raindrop in a pond. For a while I couldn’t tell if his motions were activating the splash dot, but I think it was a pre-set cue for him.

A few times during the concert, I could hear the click-track distinctly. I wasn’t sure if this was a mistake, because surely David could hear it in his headphones. (Unfortunately, the most distracting part of the night was when two people arrived late to find seats in our row only to find that there was only one empty one left. The other was occupied! The three felt it was appropriate to have a lengthy conversation about this seating debacle during the show. Finally a bunch of us turned and glared at them until they found the sense to take their issue into the hall. How rude!)

The concert progressed through montages of every Pixar movie to date (all 14 of them), comprising four composers: Randy Newman, Thomas Newman, Michael Giacchino, and Patrick Doyle. While Pixar music has a distinct style, each composer does as well, and each composer adapts to the spirit of the film. Compare Toy Story to Monsters, Inc., both by Randy Newman, and you’ll see what I mean.

My sister was smart to pull out tissues before Up, especially as David announced that this selection would be the entire Ellie and Carl scene from the beginning of the movie. Sob fest, but so wonderful! In fact, Giacchino’s soundtrack from Up inspired my senior project “The Girl and Her Balloon”, a programmatic piece for orchestra. (Click here and scroll to below the first picture to hear the 2010 premiere.)

Pixar in Concert was fantastic musically and visually. It certainly reaffirmed thoughts I’ve been having as I venture in a career and begin an adult life (see a future blog post!). Life is not a dollar amount. Life is about experiences and pursuing what you love. It’s not about how much money or time is will take to get the tickets to get to the place where the concert is, for which you also need tickets. If you love it, do it!

Me conducting at Pixar

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