When is the size of a live orchestra – as for a Broadway show – diminutive compared with that of a film?
When there are versions of “An American in Paris,” which started life in 1951 as a classic movie starring Gene Kelly as an ex-GI and aspiring artist in the French capital who falls for the elusive Leslie Caron.
“An American in Paris” is the featured film in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s (BSO) “Movie with Orchestra concert” series in May. BSO’s Principal Pops Conductor Jack Everly holds the baton.
“The fantastic orchestrations – created for the great MGM studio orchestra through the genius of Conrad Salinger – are scored for 77 players,” Everly said. “The Broadway show of 2015 used 14. Which would you rather hear?”
Aside from orchestrations, the film, directed by Vincente Minnelli, has many distinctions, added Everly.
“It’s an iconic Academy Award-winning MGM musical representing the pinnacle of artistry from all of its creators, and especially from Gene Kelly,” he said.
Oscars garnered by “An American in Paris” include Best Picture, Story and Screenplay (Alan Jay Lerner), Cinematography and Scoring (Johnny Green and Saul Chaplin). Kelly also won a special citation.
The multitalented dancer-choreographer revolutionized cinema with the spectacular 17-minute ballet he created at the end of the film, despite the studio’s hesitation and the high cost.
“Moreover, co-star Oscar Levant, playing lead Kelly’s best friend, was a colleague and close friend of George Gershwin’s. The American composer wrote the score and iconic songs of the film, including ‘Love is Here to Stay’ and ‘I Got Rhythm,’ and Levant was considered the foremost interpreter of his music,” added Evely.
The orchestra will play the entire score, not just the songs.
The piece that inspired the movie’s title is Gershwin’s own 1928 orchestral composition by the same name, recalling his experiences in France. The jazz-tinged “An American in Paris” musical work is accompanied by the lengthy ballet, followed by the movie’s happy ending.
For all its attributes and popularity, however, the logistics for presenting a Movie with Orchestra concert such as “An American in Paris” are more complicated than those of a film featured by itself, said BSO Director of Operations Rebecca Cain.
In general, she is responsible for ensuring that everything needed on stage for all performances is available and ready — including chairs and music stands set up in a particular format, instruments, lighting, sound equipment and other accessories. Cain coordinates with BSO’s operations team and professional stage crew.
How do the logistics of a Movie with Orchestra concert differ?
“For that, we must provide very specific sound and projection equipment plus a large movie screen,” she said. “Typically, the company that we license the movie from will have a rider that specifies exactly how powerful the projector should be and that sort of thing. My staff and I work with several outside companies to ensure we have the most up-to-date equipment.”
For some of the more current movies, such as “Harry Potter,” Strathmore needs to amplify the orchestra so the music can be heard over the soundtrack, which often includes special effects.
“For an older movie like ‘An American in Paris,’ that’s less of a concern, though we still need to ensure that the orchestra is heard, which is the point,” Cain laughed.
The Movie with Orchestra series continues in June with “West Side Story.”
The “American in Paris “Movie with Orchestra concert takes place Thursday, May 2, at 8 p.m., in The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, Bethesda. www.bsomusic.org.