San Francisco Symphony presenting Hitchcock's Vertigo with the score being played live by the orchestra this Friday and Saturday. We spoke to SF Symphony's Associate Director of Artistic Planning Richard Lonsdorf, who programmed the film series.
There have often been silent films with the scores played live around Halloween for some years, but The San Francisco Symphony film series started in 2013-14, was it with the Hitchcock film week? How did this come about?
The film series came about for a few reasons, first and foremost out of a desire to find new audiences and bring some more multimedia elements to the symphony experience. Around this time, many of the independent producers we work with were beginning to develop symphonic film projects, so it seemed possible to put a stake in the ground around films with orchestra as an "evergreen" project. There were a critical mass of Hitchcock titles back in 2013, so that was a great place to start. Hitchcock was also famous for making the music a central character in his narratives, which comes off beautifully in this context. The available titles have only grown since then, so it's an exciting project every year to whittle them down into the ones we select for our audiences.
What is the place of a film series like this in the larger scope of the San Francisco Symphony season? Is it meant to draw a different audience than the typical classical music concert goer?
We do hope to find new audiences with this series, and so far, it seems we have! The way I see it, for people who are unfamiliar with symphonic repertoire, connecting our wonderful orchestra to a beloved film with a great score is a perfect "first step" for someone to come and see us. We know they'll come away with a great experience and a familiarity with what a visit to the Symphony entails, which leads to less of a "threshold fear" about visiting us in the future.
Are there specific reasons you are revisiting Vertigo beyond the obvious fact that it is set in San Francisco?
Its San Francisco setting is the main reason it's coming back so soon! It's also one of the best film scores of all time and a great film overall, but much like we revisit favorite classical masterworks from time to time, I think it's appropriate to have a few local favorite films reappear. I'm certainly excited to see and hear it again!
Are there particular technical challenges with having the Symphony play with a film that isn't silent and usually isn't accompanied by a live orchestra?
There's a lot of technical wizardry involved in scrubbing the soundtrack from the film print so that we are just left with the dialogue and sound effects, and honestly, I'm far from the best person to articulate exactly how that is achieved! But once you have a "clean" print, there are a series of visual signals the conductor follows on a special screen by the podium (you can watch for these during the performances), in addition to a "click track" (or metronome pulse) in the ears of all the players for certain projects. These technologies were all developed to help synchronize the orchestra with the film and are in fact very similar to how films scores are recorded in the studio as well.
It's delightful that Kim Novak is going to be at Davies for a pre-concert conversation with Steven Winn. How did you convince her to speak before the presentation?
She approached us, actually! She doesn't live too far from the Bay Area, and so she got in touch about attending the screenings (the second performance falls on her birthday). Our conversation evolved into sharing some of her experiences with our audiences, and Steven Winn is the perfect moderator for that conversation. We all think it will be great fun and an exciting opportunity to hear from a legendary actress about an iconic film.