Feature: "The Colorado Symphony goes all-in on movie scores"

Brett Mitchell leads the Colorado Symphony in John Williams’s score for  Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back  at the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield, CO in March 2019. (Photo by Brandon Marshall)

Brett Mitchell leads the Colorado Symphony in John Williams’s score for Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back at the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield, CO in March 2019. (Photo by Brandon Marshall)

DENVER — The Denver Post has published a feature about the Colorado Symphony’s ever-expanding slate of live film score offerings, including an interview with Brett Mitchell, who leads several film projects with the orchestra each season:

The Colorado Symphony would have been crazy not to note the trend, if not fully embrace it, said music director Brett Mitchell.

“We have at least a half-dozen films in our 2019-2020 season, which is impressive for a classical-performance genre that didn’t even exist a decade ago,” said Mitchell, who conducted the March 23 “[The] Empire [Strikes Back]” show…

Brett Mitchell leads the Colorado Symphony in John Williams’s score for  Jurassic Park  at Boettcher Concert Hall in Denver, CO in May 2018. (Photo by Brandon Marshall)

Brett Mitchell leads the Colorado Symphony in John Williams’s score for Jurassic Park at Boettcher Concert Hall in Denver, CO in May 2018. (Photo by Brandon Marshall)

“I’ve probably done 20 to 25 films over the course of my career, but it’s totally different than learning a Mahler symphony or a Strauss tone poem,” Mitchell said. “In those projects, you have complete control. With film projects, your hands are tied. If you get a little behind, the movie’s not going to wait for you, so that’s why I spend about a month prepping for it.” …

Mitchell and his other conductors start with digital practice files that allow them to instantly remove dialogue, sound effects and the score as needed during the rehearsal process. The laser blasts, lightsabers and dialogue that the audience hears during a performance must perfectly match the timing of the musical performance, or else the symphony risks shattering the illusion of a cohesive, if obviously hybrid, cinematic experience.

It’s “a staggering amount of new music to learn and play,” as Colorado Symphony associate conductor Christopher Dragon told The Denver Post earlier this year… Mitchell similarly estimated that the score to “Empire” covered 80 percent of the film’s 2-hour, 7-minute runtime. That allows little break for the versatile players, who may be performing a different classical score or pop collaboration the very next day at a venue like Red Rocks Amphitheatre…

Brett Mitchell addresses the audience at a Colorado Symphony performance of John Williams’s score for  Jurassic Park  at Boettcher Concert Hall in Denver, CO in May 2018. (Photo by Brandon Marshall)

Brett Mitchell addresses the audience at a Colorado Symphony performance of John Williams’s score for Jurassic Park at Boettcher Concert Hall in Denver, CO in May 2018. (Photo by Brandon Marshall)

The symphony does not collect data on how many movie-score attendees eventually become subscribers. But without any exposure to orchestral music, those people stand no chance of becoming a patron. And the natural marriage of film and music — Mitchell cited movies such as 1940’s “Fantasia” and the 1977 “Star Wars” as formative experiences in his lifelong pursuit of classical music — makes the decision to embrace these hybrids that much easier…

Brett Mitchell leads the Colorado Symphony in John Williams’s score for  Star Wars: A New Hope  at the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield, CO in March 2018. (Photo by Brandon Marshall)

Brett Mitchell leads the Colorado Symphony in John Williams’s score for Star Wars: A New Hope at the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield, CO in March 2018. (Photo by Brandon Marshall)

“Scores for series like ‘Star Wars’ are this generation’s Ring Cycle,” Mitchell said, referring to Wagner’s acclaimed, oft-performed orchestral standard. “John Williams has spent literally half of his long life creating music for these films, including the ninth episode coming out in December. They’re grand, romantic, artistic statements. And we’re just getting started here, because we’re moving on to ‘Return of the Jedi’ next.”

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