It’s easy to forget that John Williams, the composer who did the music for Star Wars, also scored Home Alone.
Conductor Julian Pellicano joins the VSO to highlight John Williams’s essential movie score Mike Usinger
Thanks partly to his being an in-demand conductor, and partly to his being a father of two small children, Julian Pellicano figures that he’s seen Home Alone somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40 times. His love for the John Hughes–penned holiday season classic—which dates back to his own childhood—is as a result multifaceted.
“I was 10 years old when it came out, so I thought it was hilarious and amazing,” Pellicano says, on the line from his home base of Winnipeg. “I now have two kids myself—my oldest daughter is eight and she thinks it’s just the funniest thing. This will be my third time doing a run of concerts with his movie as a matter of learning it and conducting performances, and I’m certainly not sick of watching it.”
And a big reason for that is the music. While most of us tend to associate the film with Macaulay Culkin’s famous aftershave scene or his shooting Joe Pesci in the nutty buddies with a pellet gun, for Pellicano the work of legendary composer John Williams is as essential to the movie as the slapstick humour. He’ll be leading the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in recreating Williams’s score when Home Alone screens as part of the upcoming VSO at the Movies series.
“I don’t know if people really think of the music from Home Alone in the same way that some of the other John Williams scores—the music from Star Wars or E.t.—are so iconic,” says Pellicano, the resident conductor at the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. “But what he brings to this film, which is kind of a cute Christmas movie, is the same level of skill and artistry that he brings to his more famous works. You’ll hear that in the score. It’s really ingenious in the way that it’s constructed—the orchestration is spectacular. That it’s such great, highquality music is one of the reasons why orchestras love doing this movie.”
After getting his start playing everything from grassroots world music to punk rock as a percussionist, Pellicano went on to study at schools including the Royal College of Music in Stockholm and the Yale School of Music. His career trajectory has seen him perform around the globe, lead workshops for young classical students in Canada and the U.S., oversee operas like The Marriage of Figaro, and collaborate with the worldrenowned Royal Winnipeg Ballet.
He is also no stranger to turning well-loved movies into livemusic spectacles, having led orchestras to classics ranging from Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights to The Wizard of Oz to E.T. the Extraterrestrial. For those unfamiliar with how the performances work, films are screened in versions with the orchestra tracks removed. Those parts are then filled back in by live performers.
“So the whole idea is to try and get a good balance between the orchestra and the dialogue,” Pellicano explains. “If we do it right, you kind of end up really focusing on the film. When they are married together it becomes a really great experience—you aren’t necessarily distracted from the film. Obviously, there’s an orchestra on-stage, but I hear from audience members who say ‘I was so engrossed in watching the film, and then I noticed that there were 80 musicians on-stage and they sounded amazing.’
“Sometimes you end up going back and forth between the film and the orchestra,” he continues. “With these performances you kind of become aware of what it takes to have all this music in a movie. What I always hope and what I’m trying to do is have an audience be aware of how much the music really adds to a film. Cinema is one of the main places where people hear orchestras regularly. These shows really raise an awareness that what you hear is music being made by live musicians, not by some machine.”
What he brings to this film is the same level of skill and artistry that he brings to his more famous work. – Julian Pellicano
We can’t quite explain what you’re going to see if you go to Telepresence, an adventurous virtual-reality undertaking at the Western Front next week, but we can promise you this: it won’t be like anything you’ve seen before. The brainchild of media artists Kiran Bhumber and Nancy Lee, with assistance from trumpeter JP Carter and assorted coders and programmers, it aims to upend the conventions of the traditional concert in at least a couple of innovative ways— including breaking down the barrier between stage and seating.
“In general, the way contemporary music is performed, or jazz or electronic music, is very staid and performer-separated,” Bhumber explains, in a conference call with Lee and the Georgia Straight. “You’re in your role as a performer or as an audience member. And what Telepresence does is it allows a new space [in which] to experience a musical performance. And the way that happens is by using VR, but also by having the live performer and the audience members in the same stage area.”
“Virtual reality is kind of a new medium, but conventionally it’s used in a very visually centred way,” Lee adds. “In gaming or in cinema, it’s really focused on the visual element. So we really want to reverse that hierarchy between the audio and the visual, centre the focus and the attention around sound and music, and create a visual element in the virtual environment that will evoke a deeper listening.”
At the Front, Carter, his electronically augmented trumpet, and his listeners will find themselves ringed by a multichannel sound system; given the musician’s highly creative use of looping, reverb, and extended techniques, that should be enough to ensure an immersive environment. Beyond that, each listener will be given a virtual-reality headset that places them, visually, in an abstract, interactive landscape that in some ways mirrors the music. There’ll be an abstract three-dimensional representation of the musician and generative images that presumably will have some sort of synaesthetic component, plus an unspecified “game object” element—and audience members will have a measure of control over at least some of these.
“Some elements of the virtual environment will be sound-reactive to JP’S performance,” Lee explains. “In terms of the reactivity of that, that depends on the position of the audience member’s head and how far it is away from JP’S trumpet—so there are small interactive elements that are visual, and that will be live.”
Meanwhile Carter will be “conducting” the listening and viewing experience, in a way. “We kind of have a few different choreographic elements with him,” Bhumber says, “but it is more on the improvisational side. He really does play to how people are moving in the space, and what we’ve seen in some instances of his performance is that he will play a certain timbre, and that will change the audience’s position—how their body is positioned, and also how their gaze is positioned.”
And there’s another way in which the usual concert hierarchy is upended: although other applications of virtual-reality technology can feel alienating, the idea here is that everyone’s cocreating the event.
“What we find really interesting is how people are able to connect with each other before the performance, and how people can debrief with each other after the performance, too,” Lee says. “Being able to see how this system that we’ve built for the collective VR experience can facilitate this kind of social interaction, that’s an area that we’re definitely observing.”
FROM THE first rose-petal fall to the joyous finale, the Arts Club’s production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast glows with the story’s message of love and forgiveness, infused with fresh elements. Originally staged in 2005 by director Bill Millerd, this production has evolved to stay relevant.
The show features a strong, feisty Belle, played by Michelle Bardach, who’s initially rough around the edges, specifically in her stubbornness and rash decisions. She’s fearless in her responses to the Beast, aggressively shutting him down in his dinner invitations and making it clear she has no intention of playing nice. She gradually develops throughout the show, growing just as much as the Beast in her compassion and maturity. When Bardach sings “A Change in Me”, she all but blows the roof off with her tremendous soprano belt, but it’s her character development that brings sincerity to the song.
As the Beast, Jonathan Winsby has a human tenderness underneath his animal surface. He caresses the soft phrases near the beginning of “If I Can’t Love Her”, with gentleness and heartfelt emotion, before he builds into his phenomenal tenor voice, making this song both poignant and exhilarating. And the initial relationship between Winsby and Bardach is so heated it verges on sexual chemistry—which makes their eventual romance all the more believable.
As the arrogant hunter Gaston, the hysterical Kamyar Pazandeh is confident in his sexuality, taking pleasure moving his hips, strutting across the stage, and flexing his muscles. The twist here: his sidekick, Lefou, played by Ali Watson, is a female. And she’s no caricature of the animated film. Watson has spunk and confidence; she’s not a complete doormat for Gaston. Another change: the teacup Chip, played by energetic youngster Elizabeth Ford, is a girl. And why not?
Scott Augustine’s updates on Valerie Easton’s original choreography are also refreshing. The attack of the wolves has an exciting contemporary feel to it. But Augustine keeps the feel-good moments, such as the fun “cup choreography” sequence in “Gaston”, and the Broadway pizzazz of “Be Our Guest”, complete with kick lines and pirouettes.
Barbara Clayden’s French-aristocracy-inspired costume designs are superb, from the Beast’s royal-blue overcoat adorned with jewels, to the fine details such as the sequins on Belle’s yellow ball gown. The one letdown is the set design, which features a very crowded castle. Two large protruding sets—the Beast’s West Wing and Belle’s room—awkwardly compete for real estate. When the Beast gives Belle her tour, he has to walk around in a circle, as there’s nowhere else to go.
Still, this production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast keeps alive the cherished story, characters, and songs, but with renewed energy and attitude—something that both children and adults will enjoy.
Winnipeg conductor Julian Pellicano (left) figures he’s seen the classic Christmas comedy Home Alone (starring Macaulay Culkin, right) more than 40 times.