How many ways can audiences love La La Land? Philadelphians can add one more this summer at the Mann Center: film with live orchestra.
The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, embedded with a small jazz ensemble, will play the score live to the high-def movie Aug. 17 as the centerpiece of a film-heavy Mann season that also is to include Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Jurassic Park (both with the Philadelphia Orchestra) and a free screening (without live orchestra) of Hidden Figures.
What does live orchestra bring to the film experience? For La La Land, the retro-infused hit, it will mean, among other things, adding some music not heard in theaters.
“We had always planned that there would be an overture,” said composer Justin Hurwitz, who recently won an Oscar for his original score, and another for original song (“City of Stars”) with lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. “It was in the script, it was always part of the plan, and I composed the overture in 2011 -- it was the first piece of music I made for the movie, based on Sebastian’s theme.”
During postproduction, he said, both the overture and the helium-filled “Another Day of Sun” were heard at the beginning of the film, “and it was felt there was too much music before you meet the main characters, and so we played around with cutting one or the other, and there were several months where the overture was in the movie but not ‘Another Day of Sun.’ Finally, we decided what we should do is put the song back and cut the overture, so we did.”
Now, in the live-orchestra version, the overture helps to set the emotional tone. “It’s whimsical and mysterious in the beginning,” says Hurwitz. “It teases you a little bit before it launches into any theme -- it stops and starts and makes you wonder, ‘Is it starting now?’ Then it grows and opens up and falls into the main theme of the movie. And then it just kind of grows and dies. It ends small and intimate on piano, which we thought was thematically right, given what the movie is about.”
The live-orchestra version also includes an entr'acte, to take the audience back into the movie after intermission. “I’m still working that out -- probably something that weaves some of the themes together,” says the composer.
The dialogue, sound effects, and vocal tracks of soloists and chorus from the movie stay in, with only the orchestral track stripped out to make way for the live orchestra.
“There is a lot of individuality in the orchestra,” says Hurwitz, noting that the instruments of the ensemble do not double the vocal lines. “The orchestra is usually playing melody or counter-melody of some kind, and that is something you can really appreciate in a live setting. There’s a lot of handoff in the orchestra [from one instrument to the next], almost like dialogue.”
A good deal of the escapist appeal of La La Land comes from its nostalgic score, music that was not meant, either in its basic substance or orchestration, to evoke any particular period -- from the trumpet Harmon mutes, which Hurwitz says evoke Miles Davis to him, to background vocals that draw influence from the Beach Boys. “I hope the sum of it sounds like its own thing,” he says.
Movie scores have been a strong draw at the Mann in recent seasons. Last summer, the Fairmount Park venue broke attendance records with a live orchestra showing of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, bringing in about 10,700 listeners. This year, the Mann is to present Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on July 28 with the Philadelphia Orchestra playing the score.
The Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia brings its live heft June 24 to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, along with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra and conductor Ludwig Wicki. The orchestra returns July 22 with conductor Aram Demirjian for Jurassic Park.
Two Philadelphia Orchestra nonfilm concerts are slated for July 19 and 26.
The free Aug. 19 screening of Hidden Figures is tied to the Mann’s big new commission for the summer, Nolan Williams Jr.’s Hold Fast to Dreams. That work -- for orchestra, choir, soloists, and spoken word -- premieres July 25, also performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. The evening is a tribute to Col. Guion Bluford, a Philadelphia native who was the first African American in space, who will be in attendance.
With a free May 13 concert by the orchestra of the Curtis Institute of Music and a free Philly Pops program May 27 of patriotic tunes, “we have four orchestras from Philadelphia on our stage” this summer, says Mann president and CEO Catherine M. Cahill. “That is unprecedented in recent times.”
Tickets and information: www.manncenter.org, 800-745-3000.