Concerto by Mason Bates deftly blends music and digital animation

A crew sets up a live-action video sequence for "Philharmonia Fantastique: The Making of the Orchestra."

Marko Bajzer

It has been more than 20 years since the Chicago Symphony Orchestra teamed up with Mickey, Minnie, Donald and the gang to provide the soundtrack to Walt Disney’s Fantasia 2000, for which the CSO earned a Grammy Award nomination. The CSO will again cross paths with cutting-edge technology as it presents the Chicago premiere and CSO co-commission of Mason Bates’ Philharmonia Fantastique: The Making of the Orchestra.

Bates, the CSO’s Mead Composer-in-Residence from 2010 to 2015, co-created the piece with award-winning writer-director Gary Rydstrom and story artist-animator Jim Capobianco. Philharmonia Fantastique will be performed as part of the CSO School and Family Concerts series.

Originally slated for the 2019-20 season, the commission celebrates the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CSO’s series for children that began during 1919-20 season, established by the orchestra’s second music director, Frederick Stock. This programming continues today, along with other extensive educational and community-engagement programming produced by the Negaunee Music Institute.

Philharmonia Fantastique is a concerto for orchestra and animation with kinetic, cutting-edge, multimedia elements that integrate film and prerecorded sound with live performance. The collaboration between the piece’s creators — innovators in the worlds of music, storytelling and animation, respectively — similarly demonstrates this groundbreaking intersection of artistic disciplines. Bates’ work “flies inside musical instruments to explore the age-old connection of creativity and technology,” said the composer, “and the centennial of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s education programs is the perfect launching point for this multimedia work.”

In the new piece, an energetic, colorful sprite leads the audience on a tour through the music, taking listeners inside the instruments of the orchestra, exploring how individual instruments produce a sound, and how they work together in an ensemble. The story unfolds through music and visuals alone, creating a piece free of language barriers, accessible and entertaining for audiences of all ages.

“The CSOA is very pleased to continue our relationship with Mason Bates through this new commission,” said CSOA President Jeff Alexander. “Mason is one of the most singular and creative voices in orchestral music today, and he is gifted with a collaborative spirit and a passion for education and innovation. Philharmonia Fantastique presents a wonderful opportunity to welcome a new generation of listeners into the inspiring world of orchestral music, and we look forward to sharing this music with our audiences.”

“Discovering the music of Mason Bates during his time with the CSO was so joyful,” said Helen Zell, CSOA Board Chair and sponsor of the CSO commission. “His music takes audiences on journeys of the imagination, and I look forward to the ways that his new work will engage listeners.”

Originally published in 2020, this article has been updated to reflect the work's rescheduled CSO performances in May 2022.

'Philharmonia Fantastique' composer Mason Bates, writer and director Gary Rydstrom and story artist and animator Jim Capobianco

Marko Bajzer

Mason Bates currently serves as the first composer-in-residence of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. His opera The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs premiered at the Santa Fe Opera in 2017; the live recording of that production was recognized as Best Opera Recording at the 2019 Grammy Awards telecast.

Writer-director Gary Rydstrom has been nominated for 18 Academy Awards, winning seven for his work in sound and sound editing in films, including Jurassic Park, Titanic and Saving Private Ryan. Story artist-animator Jim Capobianco has worked on many major animated films, including The Lion King, Fantasia 2000, Finding Nemo and Inside Out. He received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay for Ratatouille.

CSO School Concerts and Family Matinees, presented by the Negaunee Music Institute, engage approximately 40,000 audience members each season. These affordable and age-appropriate concerts feature the extraordinary musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to inspire the next generation of audience members and music lovers.

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