In 2012, the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra celebrated its 50th anniversary with a movie music concert that included John Williams’ theme from Star Wars. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have probably heard that theme more than 1,000 times, but it was still a revelation to hear that music performed live, in the same room I was in, by a real orchestra.
But what about seeing movie music live, with the movie?
The Singletary Center for the Arts brought that experience to town Saturday night with its presentation of Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 science fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey with the soundtrack performed live by the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra and the UK Chorale. They are the first college ensembles to present this program, which has been performed by some of the nation’s leading orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra.
What this was, simply, was a screening of the movie — as perplexing as ever — with the university ensembles playing all of the familiar score comprised of music by Richard Strauss, Johann Strauss, Aram Khachaturian and György Ligeti.
We felt the impact almost immediately as the film begins with Richard Strauss’ majestic Also sprach Zarathustra, which gives the percussion section an early and repeated workout.
It also wasn’t long until we hit some of the most demanding music of the night when the mysterious black monolith appeared to the music of Ligeti’s eerie Requiem, a piece that is not often heard live no doubt in part because the atonal work is so difficult to sing. But the Chorale ably handled the challenge, making the piece all the more haunting in its presence and illuminating the different voices we heard coming from the stage.
The musicians and conductor John Nardolillo had multiple difficult tasks. In addition to performing demanding music, it had to be synchronized to the film. Kubrick not only matched the music to scenes, but moments to music. There was nary a time I could detect they were out of sync. There were moments like the late-in-the-film star gate sequence where it was fun to try to discern what were sound effects from the film and what was the Ligeti masterpiece Atmospheres, which the orchestra will perform again on its Feb. 27 concert.
Aside from the music, another impressive feat of the evening was selling out the 1,500-seat concert hall (though some seats were taken to make way for the movie projection and sound system) when directly competing with the UK men’s basketball team, which stomped Alabama 70-55 in Rupp Arena. It goes to show that with the right program, you can create as much excitement as the Cats.
For those who chose the game or couldn’t get a ticket Saturday, the performance repeats at 3 p.m. Sunday (Feb.1), and Nardolillo promises you will be out in time for the Super Bowl. (Go Seahawks!)