Saturday, 11 October 2014

Fantasia - Live in Concert

Last night, Ashley and I had the opportunity to attend a performance of Fantasia - Live in Concert by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. After we attended their Disney in Concert performance last year, I remember thinking that it would be amazing to see the shorts from Fantasia with live accompaniment, given that Fantasia is my favourite Disney film and, I believe, one of the greatest films of all time. Columbia Artists Management Inc. must have read my mind, because they licence this ensemble of pieces from Fantasia  and  Fantasia 2000 out to orchestras around the world. Fantasia - Live in Concert has played everywhere from Royal Alberta Hall in London to the Hollywood Bowl.

The pieces included in the performance were Beethoven's Symphonies 5 and 6 (the one with the flying triangles from Fantasia 2000 and the Pastoral Symphony respectively), The Nutcracker Suite, Claire de Lune (originally planned for Fantasia but cut out for length and reworked into Blue Bayou for Make Mine Music), The Firebird Suite, Dance of the Hours, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Pomp and Circumstance (the one with Donald Duck as Noah's assistant), and climaxing with Pines of Rome (the one with the flying whales). I had heard rumours that Bumble Boogie from Melody Time was being played in some performances as an encore, but unfortunately not here this night. Mileage varies with the orchestra you see, and the CPO is known for phoning in pieces they feel are beneath them (this was especially true with the workmanlike performance of Disney in Concert). This came out particularly in Pomp and Circumstance and Pines of Rome, though Ashley - the musician  of us two - informs me that nobody enjoys having to play Pomp and Circumstance at the best of times. They did really knock it out of the park with Sorcerer's Apprentice though, and the night as a whole was very enjoyable.

With respects to the film, it was interesting to see pieces from Fantasia 2000 mixed in with pieces from the original. Taken out of context, it gave me a chance to see them with new eyes and renewed appreciation. My big criticism of Fantasia 2000 is that it feels less like an original piece of artistic innovation by a burgeoning studio discovering its newfound creative powers and more like a hollow piece of corporate franchising done adequately well but without soul. Beats between the two movies can almost be matched one-for-one: Beethoven's 5th is equivalent to Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor,  Pomp and Circumstance is equivalent to Sorcerer's Apprentice, The Carnival of Animals is equivalent to Dance of the Hours, The Firebird Suite is equivalent to Night on Bald Mountain and Ave Maria, and so on. It's being hosted by celebrities doesn't help either.

The two pieces that I did like most from Fantasia 2000 were included in the evening's performance: The Firebird Suite and Pines of Rome. The latter was abbreviated, which was a little weird because it dropped you right into the climax with no build-up. Much of the quiet beauty and wonder of the piece was lost in the jump to a loud finale for the show. Having done some research on volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest for an upcoming article, my appreciation for Firebird Suite and its themes of destruction and renewal of the natural world has been itself renewed. It was also a prime example of the other great benefit to seeing Fantasia live: crowd reaction.

When my usual venue for seeing Fantasia is my own couch, I don't get the added dimension of seeing what other people react to. It was fun to hear people laughing during Dance of the Hours, which for me is the weakest part of the movie after the intermission and I usually skip over it. There is also a little intangible extra emotional oomph added to The Firebird Suite by the sobs of children. Perhaps its cruel, but being part of an audience does change the dynamic of how you appreciate a film.

Should Fantasia - Live in Concert return (and I hope it does), it would be nice for CAMI to release a revised ensemble of pieces. Ideally they would at least include Night on Bald Mountain, as this second most famous piece from the film was conspicuous in its absence. If they wanted to incorporate pieces from Make Mine Music and Melody Time - the pop-music-oriented conceptual heirs to Fantasia - that wouldn't necessarily hurt my feelings either. Still, seeing the shorts with live accompaniment is a fantastic way to enjoy them.


  1. The crowd reaction must have been something to experience. Not the same as in your living room. How did the younger audiences members react? Any observations? How young was young?

  2. Well, there was the little, little girl who was screaming and shrieking half-way through Sorcerer's Apprentice... That was a bit much. "Young" would have been toddler age, who shouldn't necessarily have been there (there was a 2pm show on Saturday more suited to kiddlets I'm sure). But yeah, they laughed at hippos doing ballet and Bacchus being drunk and all the right parts. And they were scared by Zeus throwing lightening and the Firebird and all those right parts.