BWW Reviews: SF Symphony Hosts A NIGHT AT THE OSCARS

By: Feb. 17, 2014
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"Beautiful." "Overwhelming." "Beyond description." All simple words to explain music and its connection to our souls. But Jon Burlingame has a natural, pleasant way of describing music. The leading writer and expert on film and television scores began San Francisco Symphony's Night at the Oscars with a quick look at more recent scores, from the synthesized "Social Network" to the culture-based "Slumdog Millionaire." But the symphonic score still has a place, Burlingame said, introducing the audience to Saturday evening's program.

The program's first half included award-winning scores by European composers, while the second half looked at American composers. Burlingame delivered interesting historical facts throughout, just pieces of what one imagines could be an extensive and fascinating lecture. The event also featured a red carpet, spotlights, photo-snapping paparazzi, and a photo booth for audience members, proving San Francisco Symphony knows how to create a full experience.

But nothing compares to the experience of the symphony's lush sound filling the gorgeous Davies Symphony Hall. Movie theatres have those commercials that start full screen, full sound and slowly minimize the action to a widescreen television with limited sound, then ask why you would want the minimized experience. Why not take the next step up and go even bigger and louder than surround sound speakers? Experiencing keys moments from some of the most famous movies of all time played on the large screen with the San Francisco Symphony's accompaniment intensifies every emotion.

As film scores have changed and developed, so has technology. San Francisco Symphony and several orchestras across the country understand this and have taken advantage of the multimedia available. The use of film clips along with the Symphony's music does translate to a limited view for those in the balcony, and it also distracts for those wishing to watch just the symphony players. But the film clips also add to the experience, especially for young audiences. And ultimately, having the screen right in front of you with the score played so beautifully at the same time makes listeners aware of how well each score fits the moments on screen. If only the clips' dialogue were completely clear and understandable, the combination could work quite well.

Saturday night's performance included music from The Adventures of Robin Hood, Gone With the Wind, Ben-Hur, Citizen Kane and The Wizard of Oz, with an odd choice to play a selection from An American in Paris without any Symphony accompaniment. Audiences can expect more multimedia film experiences, as the last year and coming year see San Francisco Symphony offer a variety of options from Hitchcock to the upcoming Disney's Fantasia concert. For more information on the upcoming season, visit


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