Apple’s boutique artist development studio Platoon recently released a new animated film for composer Mason Bates’ Philharmonia Fantastique: The Making of the Orchestra, a 25-minute concerto for orchestra and animated film, directed by seven-time Academy Award-winning sound designer Gary Rydstrom (Titanic) and featuring the work of Jim Capobianco (Ratatouille, Mary Poppins Returns).
Now, the film described by legendary film composer John Williams as “the biggest step forward since Fantasia” will be available to rent or purchase in 4K and surround sound on the Apple TV app and to stream on Apple Music. The film, celebrating Bates’ unique and magical style intersecting music and technology, features a soundtrack performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edwin Outwater.
Philharmonia Fantastique portrays the four families of the orchestra, each with their 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.’ By showing how these diverse instruments work together to create a more powerful musical experience, the piece celebrates a message of unity.
Audiences are guided through the live-action orchestra (and even inside the instruments) by a magical, traditionally animated Sprite character. Multi-Oscar and BAFTA winner Rydstrom, of Lucasfilm and Skywalker Sound, worked together with Oscar-nominated animation writer/director Capobianco to create the hybrid film over nearly a year. The Sprite interacts with the conductor and on-stage musicians to illustrate the intricacies of how instruments work individually and collectively to produce a huge range of sound. To look inside instruments, the team used high-definition special effects cameras, including probe lenses, to peer inside a violin, flute and up close to brass valves.
The film also features sound design built from the key clicks of woodwinds, taps on the body of string instruments and vintage analog synthesizers. “Music itself has always been a marriage of technology and art,” says Rydstrom. “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.”
The music of Philharmonia Fantastique ventures beyond the bounds of classical to bring in elements of jazz and techno, and was co-commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra and American Youth Symphony. The soundtrack was released on Sony Classical in April 2022, recorded by the CSO conducted by Outwater at Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center in Chicago in 2021.
Following late-2022 premieres with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony and San Diego Symphony, Philharmonia Fantastique began a North American tour with live performances with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, The Louisville Orchestra (Nov. 12) and, on Saturday (Jan. 21), Nashville Symphony.
The show’s upcoming run includes the Kansas City Symphony (Jan. 29), New West Symphony (March 4-5), The Cleveland Orchestra (April 2), Utah Symphony (April 11) and Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (Apr. 30). The European premiere will take place at London’s Southbank Centre on April 16 with the Aurora Orchestra, and the work will then tour internationally.
“Creating a new ‘guide to the orchestra’ was an incredibly inspiring and challenging project,” says Bates. “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 — syncing together to make beautiful music is a real model for how we should all behave as people.”
Find more information, tour dates and links to watch Philharmonia Fantastique at spritesworld.org.