This Thursday through Saturday (April 5-7), the Dallas Symphony Orchestra will perform Max Steiner's original orchestral score for Casablanca alongside the movie, as it plays with dialogue on the big screen. Richard Kaufman, DSO Pops Conductor Laureate and long-time principal pops conductor of Orange County's Pacific Symphony, will conduct. Kaufman, a Grammy award-winner who has devoted much of his musical career to film and television as a conductor, supervisor, coach and composer, has a particular passion for this performance and his enthusiasm is contagious. We caught him on the phone to chat about the project.
Mixmaster: Is the music the DSO will be performing exactly the same as the score we are used to hearing in the movie or has it been altered for live performance? RK: Actually it's exactly the same as the original score. This is not a score that has been sort of broken up and put back together. This is from the original score and from the film itself. It's the real deal. My job is to recreate the music as it was in the film. However, in this situation, instead of a mono-track, where the music is almost one dimensional because it's not even in stereo, all of a sudden the audience will hear the orchestra in a live setting where you can hear things you've never heard before. I think Max Steiner would be thrilled to know that every sound that he considered and wrote is being heard. The sound here will be extraordinary as it surrounds you in a great concert hall. I would've loved to see Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman's faces if they'd heard this in concert. They would've been pretty happy.
How was the music removed from the film? The orchestral track has been removed through a digital process, leaving the original dialogue and sound effects. The choice was made to leave the source music in the film as it was. This means that people in the movie that are singing are singing, anybody playing a piano - like Dooley Wilson [who plays the iconic role of Sam] - is playing the piano.
I'm curious about the process of synchronizing the live music to the film. Do you watch the film as you conduct? I have two screens. I have one screen that shows me the film and I have a screen with a clock that is synchronized to the film. I conduct the music looking at the film and the clock to make sure that when the music is accenting something, it's happening exactly when it's supposed to.
I imagine that takes quite a lot of coordination. I think so. Now you're making me nervous.
How do you control the balance of the sound so that the audience can hear the music and the dialogue in the right proportions? The Dallas Symphony has a great sound man, Russ Purdue. He is terrific at this and he'll be balancing this with some special equipment and special speakers they've brought in so the audience will be able to hear everything.
Can you discuss Max Steiner's score? How does it enhance the action of the movie? It absolutely sets the tone for the emotions of the characters and the story telling. Max Steiner studied with Mahler. He comes from the European school of composition. His background is classical, just like many of the composers of that era. These composers came from Europe and brought with them an extraordinary knowledge of classical music. Many of them created classical music as well. A film composer does not necessarily only write film music.
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It takes a great orchestra to play a score like this, not only technically but also emotionally. The musicians of the Dallas Symphony are passionate in the way they play music and that passion and artistry will be incredibly important for the performance of this score. I'm really excited to experience their performance of this music.
What will your process be like when you rehearse with the DSO? Is it very different from rehearsals for a concert without the film element? It's exactly the same. Music is music. The process is going through the music very carefully and preparing not only the technical, but also the creative. In the end, then you put it with the film. It's very similar to if we were talking about a ballet. It's no different than a ballet or an opera. Instead of people dancing on stage, there is acting in a film. When people look at film music they think of it as so different from classical or concert music and yet there is no difference at all. What is it about this particular film and score that lends itself to a live performance?First of all, this is an iconic film considered by most people to be the best film ever made, certainly one of the one or two or three best films ever made. The elements of this film that contributed to that result include the great acting, great story (or stories, because there are several stories going on), the great visuals (cinematography) and the music. When you put all those together, they end up being Casablanca. If you take any one element out, the film does not succeed the way it has.
The difference in this situation for the audience is that many, many people have seen Casablanca on the small screen. Very few people have seen it on a large screen. Almost no one, unless you've been to one of these performances, will have seen it on a large screen in a mint print - an absolutely gorgeous print of the film - with the score being played live. I can tell you this, people who watch the film in this concert setting will never think of Casablanca the same way again. It's like Casablanca on steroids!
Ticket prices vary, but Casablanca will only show for three days. Reserve a seat here.