Primary tabs

Arrrrrriving at Marin Symphony: Pirates of the Caribbean

Marin Symphony

Date: Sun June 8, 2014 3:00pm

Pirate Jack Sparrow (played by Johnny Depp) will make his way across a big screen on Sunday, June 8, as Marin Symphony Music Director Alasdair McNeale leads orchestra members in the score to the rollicking film Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Screening the full-length Disney movie with a live orchestra for its spring pops concert finale offers the Marin Symphony a program that ties music to film, according to the San Rafael-based organization's executive director Jeff vom Saal.

"We think the movie is attractive to audiences of all ages," said vom Saal. "The music itself is critically important."

The film's composer, German-born Klaus Badelt, is known for his frequent collaborations with film and television composer Hans Zimmer as well as creating the scores for numerous films. He wrote the music for the closing ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and the Chinese government has commissioned him to write an opera about China's First Emperor.

In the popular 2003 swashbuckling movie shown on Sunday, Depp stars as the off-kilter buccaneer who appears to be channeling musician Keith Richards as he invokes the pirate's code of parlay to help free a governor's daughter from the clutches of previously undead pirates.

Marin Symphony concerts such as the Pirates of the Caribbean and last year's Pixar Concert, are part of expanding audiences for the orchestra, according to vom Saal.

"The films are something new since I got here," he said. He joined the Marin Symphony in August 2012 from the Quad City Symphony in Davenport, Iowa. There he is credited with increasing subscriptions and single ticket sales, establishing collaborative program intitiatives, and expanding youth programs.

At the Marin Symphony, Symphony Kids is a program that provides tickets to orchestra events for youth. Nearly 120 tickets to kids have been provided to this Sunday's performance, said vom Saal. "This speaks to our effort to ensure we're making our concerts available to everyone." The Quad City Symphony shares some characteristics with the Marin Symphony, which has an operating budget of $1.8 million, he said. "Our mission and vision are really similar. We are as much an arts organization as a community organization. That means doing Tchaikovsky. It does mean Brahms and it does mean Klaus Badelt in this new environment."

The Marin symphony had performed live to a film before vom Saal assumed the administrative helm of the organization. "But this really is a big part of our new audience growth initiative," he said of programs such as Pirates of the Caribbean.

"The challenge for us was to develop new ways of thinking and build on the trajectory the symphony had established over the past 60 years. We wanted concerts that would appeal to a range of audiences, both season ticket holders and new audiences, through a variety of compelling programs suited to audiences of varying tastes."

This Sunday's concert at the Marin Veteran's Memorial Auditorium required a higher level of technology than usual, said vom Saal. The film's soundtrack is stripped away except for dialogue and sound effects. Unlike films with long musical sequences, such as Fantasia or Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, with a score by Bernard Herrmann, which use music as leitmotifs for characters or to introduce a narrative development, contemporary films often use music differently.

Music director Alasdair Neale will wear headphones while he carefully watches a computer screen to indicate tempo changes to the orchestra."It's similar to what composers would be doing when scoring a soundtrack while the film is playing," said vom Saal. "Think of this as doing that in reverse."

"There will be very few breaks for the musicians," he continued. "They're playing throughout the movie; under and over the dialogue, the orchestra is providing a sonic environment. It's very challenging for them and Alasdair, as well."

Vom Saal said there has been a $100,000 increase in the Marin Symphony's funding since his arrival. So far indicators for the orchestra — single ticket sales, season ticket subscriptions, feedback — tell vom Saal that audiences are liking what the organization is doing. "People are choosing this," he said. "We're happy momentum is up."

Journalist Molly Colin writes about the arts and cultural trends.