The Audiovisual Week of Oviedo (SACO – Semana del Audiovisual de Oviedo), which brings together various artistic disciplines related to film, has celebrated its 6th edition from October 23 to November 1, 2020 in Oviedo, Asturias, ending with a very special movie-concert: ‘Psycho’, with music by Bernard Herrmann performed live by the Oviedo Filarmonía conducted by Anthony Gabriele.
Here is the special article about this concert written by the composer Pablo Laspra exclusively for SoundTrackFest, which also includes two interviews: one with the conductor Anthony Gabriele and the other one with the director of the SACO festival, Pablo de Maria.
As a closing activity in the programming of the VI edition of SACO, this year we had again the participation of the maestro Anthony Gabriele with the Oviedo Filarmonía orchestra. The occasion was none other than to put live music to the classic film “Psycho”, by Alfred Hitchcock, scored by Bernard Herrmann.
The revision used is the adaptation to a “live orchestra” by Christopher Husted, and which maestro Gabriele fit like a clock in the tempi of the film.
Little can be said about this great classic: inside the main hall of the “Prince Felipe” auditorium in Oviedo, with an almost complete venue within the limited capacity (with 2 seats separating attendees, and with well managed staggered entrances and exits), the screening began on Sunday, November 1st at 19:00h amidst applause for the orchestra and the brilliant conductor, who came out giving his usual displays of joviality on stage.
A few brief introductory words by the journalist Arturo Tellez were the perfect prelude to the concert: dressed in a Norman Bates-style wig, and in front of a maestro Gabriele who pretended to kill him with the baton in hand, the audience was given important details to frame the movie and its music environment correctly.
Everyone knows the anecdote of the musical stabs of Psycho: Hitchcock did not want to put music to the shower scene, but a well-meaning (and wise) Herrmann was able to convince him to try it out, with some “musical” stabs (that’s what all those string glissandi really are). The result was superb, where there is not a single scene in which the knife physically touches the flesh, but the sensation of nailing, cutting, stabbing… is present throughout that scene. In the end, the musical stabbing remained.
The orchestra, in an all-string formation, was very successful in all the dynamics and tempi of its performance. Thanks to an ancient form of synchronization based on an analog clock on maestro Gabriele‘s music stand to mark the tempos, he obtained a tight synchronization, and a sharp reinforcement of the key moments.
La OFIL es una muy buena orquesta para cualquier cometido audiovisual, y es que al igual que la OSPA (Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias), el hecho de participar en este tipo de eventos hace que se modernicen y actualicen a representaciones no tan clásicas, sino a un mercado audiovisual que está triunfando en todo el mundo. Prueba de ello es que se ha convertido en una de las especialidades del maestro Gabriele, quien ha dirigido en directo la música de Regreso al Futuro, Vértigo, Parque Jurásico, Solo en Casa, o Indiana Jones por poner unos ejemplos de su trayectoria.
Las proyecciones cinematográficas de clásicos con música en directo están de moda, ahora ya en España.
How was the process of working with the orchestra? Does preparing a repertoire of music with projection involve greater difficulty than a traditional concert?
Working with the Oviedo Filarmonía is a great pleasure. Naturally, on this occasion, it was only the string section. I always enjoy returning to an orchestra I have previously conducted because it provides the opportunity to build on the relationship.
I begin by studying the score, as I would a symphony, concerto or opera. I then study the film in order to become as familiar as possible with the character and mood of each scene. Finally, I study the score alongside the film, as this is the only way I can “rehearse” the numerous time code cues which allows me to keep it synchronized.
The first rehearsal is with the orchestra alone, to focus on the music, and is no different to any other orchestral rehearsal. It is all about making music and therefore requires the usual study and score preparation. The second rehearsal is when the film and the orchestra are brought together for the first time, but in a relaxed way to give the orchestra a true sense of the timings and the dramatic rhythm of the film.
The main difference with this type of performance is that I have very little freedom to “interpret” the score. I must commence each music cue at precisely the right moment and I must follow the action closely to ensure that the music lines-up correctly with the picture. Having said that though, the whole point of doing a “live soundtrack project” is to exploit the expression, nuance and drama that only a performance by a live orchestra can deliver.
The synchrony of the tempi we saw in the concert was perfect, fitting the themes with absolute precision to the image. What technical means have you used to fit the music with the scene?
I refer to an old-fashioned analogue clock on the podium, and then I must adhere as closely as possible to the metronome markings in the score to ensure an accurate match between the sounds you hear and the images you see. In addition to this “technical” aspect of synchronization, I study the film and use as many elements of the film as possible to provide an “organic” flow to how the music works in conjunction with the film. For example: the pulling-back of the shower curtain, the switching-on of a light, the opening or closing of a door, important lines of dialogue, or sometimes it can be as subtle as a look that one character gives to another.
We have seen a very good orchestral work in the intensities, dynamics and, above all, the excellent performances of the OFIL musicians. Has it been easy to work with the Oviedo Filarmonía? What values would you highlight from this orchestra?
As I mentioned previously, working with the Oviedo Filarmonía is a great pleasure. The string section of the OFIL is made up of some world-class musicians who were enthusiastic to explore and re-discover Bernard Herrmann’s “monochromatic” strings-only score and take full advantage of the range of expression, dynamics and timbre of the score to ensure a dramatic and visceral experience for the audience.
Oviedo is a tremendously cultural city, with great musical activity. In relation to other cities in the world where a lot of film music is also being made, do you think that in spite of the COVID, culture is still essential, or has it taken a step back?
Culture has always been a vitally-important aspect of life. However, culture is more important now than ever before. Culture is what bonds a community, culture is what gives human beings an identity, culture is an inextricable thread in the fabric of society. People need culture, people need music, people need art. Culture is one of the oldest forms of escapism; culture, in particular music, serves to entertain, enlighten and educate. I could not imagine living life without this wonderful gift.
Herrmann has masterfully worked on the musical themes of the film. What is the most difficult thing, from an orchestra conducting point of view, about performing music for images (soundtracks) live?
There are no real “difficulties” per se, however, there are some challenges.
As a conductor you must be as accurate as possible without being too rigid or academic. You must conduct the score in a way that allows the music to breathe naturally in order that it feels musical, and you must ensure that the music is always connected with what is happening on the screen.
Studying the film closely is an important aspect of the preparation – understanding the story, the subtext, the objective of the director, the characters and how they relate to one another, and the purpose that these characters serve in the film. After all, these are the aspects of the film which have inspired the composer to write the score in a particular way, so as a conductor you must re-search and re-discover these aspects for yourself so that you can “accompany” the film in an insightful way.
Your great experience in conducting audiovisual events with live music has included several concert productions such as Vertigo, Psycho, Back to the Future, Raiders of the Lost Ark… Does film music attract new audiences to concert halls?
Yes, it does. The “film concert” format has been around for quite some time and has always attracted large, appreciative audiences. These events are attended by fans of the cinema who may not necessary go to a traditional concert in a concert hall. However, when they have experienced live music, at times on a symphonic scale, they become more interested and therefore more likely to return to listen to traditional concerts. Likewise, the members of the public who enjoy listening to film scores performed by a live orchestra are able to enjoy the film as a bonus.
The wonderful thing about these concert events is that it provides the opportunity for film and concert goers to experience the music together with the film that inspired it.
You are also an acclaimed conductor in the lyrical field, including conducting great operas such as La Traviata, La Boheme, The Magic Flute… Is there really such a great difference as we are led to believe between film music and lyrical music? Isn’t audiovisual music a natural evolution of symphonic poems and the great lyrical dramas of the operas?
For me, honestly, no – there is not a big difference between soundtracks and “standard” concert music.
The music for films, opera, and symphonic (tone) poems, is written with a clear purpose: to support and sustain the dramatic narrative of the subject matter.
So, whether it is Violetta dying in Act 3 of ‘La traviata’ (Verdi); or Elliott saying goodbye to E.T. (John Williams); or the Phantastische Variationen depicting the life and times of Don Quixote (Richard Strauss); it is all important story-telling music and must be treated with respect. And yes, the music composed for audio-visual is indeed a natural evolution or progression of these other musical forms.
Good film music is not merely an accompaniment to the moving picture, it is the emotional representation of the characters; it is the emotional representation of the voyeur (audience); it is the psychological machinations of the protagonists; it is the commentary of the director; it is a narrator; it is the unspoken text.
The number of activities that have been developed this year in the Audiovisual Week of Oviedo (SACO – Semana del Audiovisual de Oviedo), show that you can maintain a quality cultural programming in times of COVID. Despite all the obvious limitations of the current situation, has it been a challenge to move forward with this new edition, with the quality to which we were accustomed to in past editions?
Indeed, this year it has been a huge challenge to celebrate SACO. The initial programming was developed for the celebration of the event in April, but due to the global pandemic situation, we had to dismantle practically all that planning in the hope of finding new viable dates; we thought that perhaps towards the end of the year SACO could go ahead, and it has. But unfortunately, the April schedule did not fit into a month like October, due to different difficulties in the proposals, availability of guests, and incompatible activities: in Asturias it is not the same to work thinking in summer as in winter.
A completely new program was developed, thinking about all those things that marked the safety of both the artists and the audience: reduced seating, the possibility of not having guests from outside the territory of Asturias… It was difficult to adapt to. However, the result was very profitable and with good results. We had the advantage of starting with the celebration during the summer of the cycle “Cinema in the light of the moon” where the anti-COVID measures were already in force, and that helped us to have a closer idea of the current cultural situation.
From the organization, we learned to be flexible and empathic with the current situation, due in part to the continuous changes in protocols during the de-escalation process, and although it was difficult to carry out, we have seen that quality cultural programming within the current health measures is not at all incompatible.
The support to the current culture is one of the pillars of reference of your event. Has the decision to include artists of Asturias been deliberate, to accompany the majority of the acts of SACO in this edition? Does a good local artist community exist under your criterion in the Asturias musical cultural scope?
This premise is a reality from the beginning: to promote, support, and carry out cultural activities with Asturian artists, not only in the musical field but also in the performing and plastic arts. This year this presence has been reinforced thanks to the cinema-concerts, from the experimental pop of “Losone“, or with the jazz of “César Latorre Trio“, to the exceptional “Forma Antiqva” with its baroque-renaissance music, and repeating once again with the classic sound of the “Oviedo Filarmonía” Orchestra. We like to have the artists close to us, as this helps to develop ideas and activities around the projects. What we have seen, for example, in the “Fábrica de Armas” in Oviedo are unique shows, created specifically for that moment, and which may never happen again due to the creativity of the production. That is the “house brand“: trusting Asturian talents who are close, creative, and with a quality that is far above average.
The support of the Oviedo City Council through the Municipal Foundation of Culture is key to the success of the different programmed activities. Is there enough support from public entities, in general, to develop an event of these characteristics without major problems, or perhaps more aid or subsidies could be allocated to the cultural field?
SACO is a project of the Municipal Foundation of Culture of Oviedo, which for 6 editions has had a clear and strong support even with different municipal corporations. We began by being an event of 10 days of duration, and then we became a stable activity that develops throughout the year: fortunately, there is more and more public in our activities, and within the film industry, I think we have positioned ourselves as an event of reference. In our case, an activity such as SACO has a clear public service character, and support for cultural programming must always be present in the management of any public entity. This support and collaboration from the Municipal Foundation of Culture is fundamental, is clearly present, and from our perspective, we’re tremendously grateful for it.
One of the main acts this year was again the symphonic concert performed by the excellent Oviedo Filarmonia Orchestra, under the wise and expert baton of Anthony Gabriele. How was the experience of having both, the OFIL and Maestro Gabriele, again?
From the beginning of our event we have sought a collaboration with the OFIL: in Oviedo there is a lot of musical culture, of great roots in addition, and to include this magnificent orchestra in our programming was the main task. Besides, the synergy between music and cinema is obvious. Thanks to projects with live music such as those we have celebrated with “Vertigo“, “The Wizard of Oz“, and this year with “Psycho“, we can see the clear harmony between entities and new ideas and new musical projects are generated, being a collaboration with a view to the future.
On the other hand, Maestro Gabriele‘s excellent expertise has been a clear success in handling both the orchestra and the situations generated around the concert. Besides being exceptional in the professional field, where the maestro has an extreme quality and sensitivity in the handling of audiovisual music, within the personal field is where he also stands out, being an affable, close, and above all, jovial person, which helps greatly to develop the event with greater ease (despite the logical difficulties). He is a great specialist in soundtracks, specifically on the music of Bernard Herrmann, and the organization and I are personally proud to have him as musical director of these concerts.
Continuing with the previous question, do you think that Oviedo (or Asturias in general) has a considerable artistic base, perhaps at the level of great European cultural capitals? The amount of artistic-cultural events promoted in the region puts us quite close to the European ideal of activities. What would you add to this programming?
The Asturian cultural program is remarkable, and the public knows how to appreciate it. We hope that at some point things will return to normal, and that after this devastating crisis the subsequent “tsunami” will not take away quality cultural activities. This is the moment to work on projects, strengthen them, and see how the situation advances in the coming months. No one knows what will happen, and perhaps before creating new projects, it is preferable to strengthen the programs that already exist.
Your work at SACO and the good results of both this and past editions make your event a clear reference of activities that can be taken forward, despite the current limitations in the field of culture. Do you plan to increase or vary the activities to offer a wider range, without losing the quality demonstrated?
Currently, we are already working on the programming of the 2021 activities, both in RADAR and in SACO as well as in “Moonlight Cinema”. RADAR should start at the beginning of the year and run through January, February, and March. SACO will be back in March, as usual; but although this is our ideal work horizon, no one knows how it will end up being our reality in a few months. As we commented on in another question, from the organization we are used to postpone and defer events based on that uncertainty.
With our events, we want to make the public escape from the current situation. There will be new films, short films, cinema-concerts, exhibitions… Perhaps we can incorporate new spaces in a stable way, such as the “Fabrica de Armas“, which thanks to the very good disposition and collaboration of the Ministry of Defense has made it possible to organize activities in that space; as well as the facilities offered by the Archaeological Museum of Asturias, which have also favored the incorporation of new spaces for our event.
From SACO we are very grateful to all those who have contributed and have made it possible to carry out all our activities this year, obtaining a very positive result.
Article, interviews, and pictures by Pablo Laspra Ferrero
Composer and director of FilmMusic Live!