At Tanglewood: Pops goes the ‘Wizard'
LENOX -- More people have seen "The Wizard of Oz" than any other film, according to the Library of Congress, thanks to television and multiple home video releases.
But for audiences attending tonight's Boston Pops "Oz with Orchestra" show at Tanglewood, the much-loved 1939 movie will unfold as an eye- and ear-opening experience.
The screening of a vivid remastered print, accompanied by a live performance of the complete, re-orchestrated score led by Keith Lockhart, comes just after the 75th anniversary of the film's Hollywood premiere. In its original run, "Oz" barely broke even, but became a perennial favorite and moneymaker for MGM through frequent revivals and, most significantly, annual telecasts beginning in 1956.
Former "Live from Lincoln Center" producer John Goberman headed a team assigned to retrieve and reconstruct the original score, featuring composer Harold Arlen's and lyricist E.Y. "Yip" Harburg's memorable songs, along with arranger Herbert Stothart's widely admired orchestral underscoring.
"Most of the sound cues were not considered worthy of preservation," Lockhart explained in a phone conversation. "A lot of MGM music was lost in a warehouse fire, and later some underling threw out hundreds of pages of scores."
Goberman's arrangers "had to listen to the soundtrack, take down notations and orchestrations, a pretty painstaking process," Lockhart pointed out. "We play a transcription of the original score. It's great to see it on the big screen, but what's valuable about having the orchestra right there is that the music becomes a much more major player. The genius of the writing in the score is really beautiful."
Remarkably, Judy Garland's signature classic "Over the Rainbow," an Academy Award winner for Best Original Song, was nearly dropped from the film by studio executives who considered it too symphonic, operatic and over the heads of children. Arlen simplified it, resubmitted it, and with the help of Harburg, director Victor Fleming and producer Mervyn LeRoy convinced the studio to restore it for the film's release.
" ‘Over the Rainbow' is so different from any other music in the movie," Lockhart observed. "Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed."
But a reprise, sung by Garland's character Dorothy while trapped in the Wicked Witch of the West's Castle, was deleted as too emotionally intense.
The "film to music" technique now in vogue involves extracting the original studio orchestra from the soundtrack while retaining all the vocals by Garland, Frank Morgan, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley and Ray Bolger, as well as the dialogue and sound effects.
"They make a digital copy of an analog track," Lockhart explained. "Then it's possible to isolate certain parts of the digital map, such as Judy Garland's voice, and dump everything else off the track." On the podium, he views the film as it unreels on a monitor, and follows cues and timings with the help of an analog clock.
"The film holds iconic memories for four or five generations," Lockhart commented. He led three "Oz with Orchestra" presentations with the Pops in Boston's Symphony Hall last May.
"People were over the moon about it," the conductor asserted, emphasizing that synchronizing the orchestra's performance with the on-screen vocals and dialogue is a challenge every time. Asked whether he has it under his belt now, he responded: "I don't know that I would say that."
"It's one of the hardest coordination things I've ever done," he acknowledged. "You're accompanying to something that doesn't know you're there. When Judy Garland starts singing, you need to be not too late, not too early the tempo keeps bobbing on you, so you're constantly adjusting, pushing and pulling. It's pretty exciting."
The complex technique was seen by Tanglewood audiences last summer when the Boston Symphony led by David Newman performed Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story," synced to the film.
For Lockhart, growing up in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., with only the family's black-and-white TV, eventually viewing the film in a movie theater was a revelation -- he had been unaware that most of it was in brilliant Technicolor.
"It's a great piece of art, a cultural icon, and it's fun to be involved with it now," he said.
Future "film with orchestra" presentations are under consideration by the Boston Pops, with "Singing in the Rain" as a possible choice.
As for tonight's show, Lockhart said, "it's magical, a ton of fun and I think people will be amazed by what they see and how extraordinary the moment will be."
To contact Clarence Fanto:
firstname.lastname@example.org or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto
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