Bates’ ‘Philharmonia Fantastique,’ starring the CSO, available Nov. 4

You experienced the concert, now relive it it on film. Philharmonia Fantastique: The Making of the Orchestra, a 25-minute concerto for orchestra and animated film, will be available starting Nov. 4 to rent or purchase in 4K and surround-sound on Apple TV or to stream on Apple Music. With music by Mason Bates, former Mead Composer-in-Residence of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, animation by Oscar nominee Jim Capobianco and direction by seven-time Oscar winner Gary Rydstrom, Philharmonia Fantastique features the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Edwin Outwater.

A co-commission of the CSO and five other orchestras, the work has been hailed by no less than legendary composer John Williams as “the biggest step forward since [Disney’s] ‘Fantasia’ itself. A truly magnificent achievement.” It also has been lauded as the successor to children’s classics such as Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Britten’s Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. The CSO recorded the soundtrack in February 2021 at Orchestra Hall, and Sony Classical released that disc in April, just a few weeks before the CSO performed the work live in May. 

The concerto and the animated film depict the four families of the orchestra, each with its 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. Ultimately the work’s message is one of unity: the diverse instruments of the orchestra are most powerful when working together as one giant instrument.

Guided by a magical Sprite, who leads the audience through the orchestra and even inside the instruments, the film blends traditional and modern animation styles, as well as live-action film, created by multi-Oscar and BAFTA-winning sound designer Gary Rydstrom of LucasFilm and Skywalker Sound, and Oscar-nominated Hollywood animator Jim Capobianco. The Sprite interacts with the conductor and onstage musicians alike.

“Creating a new guide to the orchestra was an incredibly inspiring and challenging project,” Bates said. “How can we showcase the magical wonders of the orchestra in a fresh way? For me, the way was the concept of 'how they work — how brass valves slice air, how strings resonate when creating harmonics, how woodwinds make music with clicking keys. When an orchestra plays, the integration of so much engineering into one giant instrument is a real model of ‘unity from diversity.’ All these different materials and technologies and people — synching together to make beautiful music is a real model for how we should all behave as people.”

“Music itself has always been a marriage of technology and art,” Rydstrom said. “In Philharmonia Fantastique, 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.”

Philharmonia Fantastique was co-commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra and American Youth Symphony. Released by Sony Classical on April 22, the soundtrack was recorded by the CSO, under Edwin Outwater at Orchestra Hall.

After performances this year by the CSO, National Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony and San Diego Symphony, Philharmonia Fantastique will be performed by the Louisville Orchestra (Nov. 12), Nashville Symphony (Jan. 21), Kansas City Symphony (Jan. 29), New West Symphony (March 4-5), the Cleveland Orchestra (April 2), Utah Symphony (April 11) and Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (April 30). The European premiere will occur at London’s Southbank Centre on April 16, with the Aurora Orchestra.

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