When I saw the posters advertising this concert at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, I just about squealed in utter delight. Imagine how much I freaked out when my sister agreed to purchase tickets for myself and a guest as an early birthday gift (hint: a certain dog in the house may have left the room with a slight whine). I am a huge fan of the original Fantasia as well as the more modern Fantasia 2000. The original was a god-send to my parents because it was the best way to keep me occupied for a solid two hours as a toddler, and the more recent piece had me just as spellbound as an older kid. I can’t tell you the overwhelming excitement that came over me at the thought of being able to view the animation as it was originally intended by Walt Disney and Leopold Stokowski, with a live orchestra. I was accompanied by the ever excellent Handsome, as well as Wonder Woman and her mother (they had purchased tickets for the same day), and we all had an incredible time.
Rather than go through the whole concert, I’m going to hit my personal highlights, surprises, and slight sadness. First, I must tell you that the concert was not what I expected. I originally expected to watch the entire original movie with the orchestra accompanying the whole piece. Instead, the concert was a group of selections from both movies, and some works that did not make it into either. I found this format to be quite engaging because I did not get lulled into the rhythm of the familiar movies, and I got to see my two favorite pieces from Fantasia 2000. Let’s start with two pieces that were NOT selected that I rather missed.
Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky is probably the most epic piece in the original film. Although I loved Rite of Spring (yes the dinosaur one) as a kid, Bald Mountain is the piece that I grew to most appreciate as an adult. The piece is a terrifying vision of satanic rites on All Hallows Eve, but all that riotous horror is dispersed by the simple sound of a church bell. I really wish that this had been chosen, because it is an incredible piece of music. However, I understand that with so many children at this event, the creators of the concert were probably concerned about reminding everyone that they ever animated such a lengthy piece starring Satan and some very well-endowed harpies.
Now this was the piece that I was most confused by its absence. Dance of the Hours by Amilcare Ponchielli is a deliciously whimsical ballet with some of the animal kingdom’s finest as the dancers. True the piece is a little long, but there is certainly plenty of activity to keep one engaged. Alas, I was slightly miffed by its absence, but that miffedness was more than made up by two of my favorite pieces making it into the concert.
Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin probably wins the award for the most complex piece of the concert. Not that I am a musician by any stretch, but watching this work in action made me feel like I had run a marathon by the end of the song. The piece is characterized by an energetic style that is a mixture of piano solo and orchestra. The pianist that played at this concert was completely incredible and barely missed any of the cues that went in time with the animation. I happen to love the style of the animation, and I have used it multiple times as inspiration in my own work.
As Night on Bald Mountain was the most epic piece in the original film, so I think Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird claims that for the later film (in my humble opinion of course…some people argue the flying whales). Stravinsky was apparently the only living composer whose work was chosen in the original Fantasia (remember the dinosaurs we talked about earlier?), and thus when the animators were working on the recent incarnation, they wanted to pay him tribute. This piece was truly enhanced by the live orchestra. The whole theatre jumped when the Firebird first opens his eyes, and I definitely cried in the final sequence when the sprite regains her power and showers the land in Spring. My chest hurt from how beautifully the music entwined itself into the animation, and I could not be more pleased that I was there to engage with that art.
Although those two were my favorite, there were a few pieces that surprised me. I am only going to discuss one here, because I think you may share in my enjoyment.
This piece was originally made to feature in the original film, but was cut for time management reasons. The animation is set to the piece Clair de lune by Claude Debussy, and it was a simple look at the moon on the water, and herons (technically egrets) in flight. Although very little action occurs in this piece, I was enthralled by the water distorting the moon’s reflection, as well as the haunting atmosphere of the marsh with the two heron going about their business. I was strongly reminded of Florida, and I could only smile as I watched the bird dance through the water, and glide through the moon’s deep shadows. The whole concert was a fabulous experience that I will always treasure, because I was allowed to be 5 years old again. Just allowed to wonder at the amazing world that could play itself into a picture, and take me away.