Florida Orchestra to provide live music for film classic 'Wizard of Oz'

BY JOHN FLEMING

Times Performing Arts Critic

“You're going to have Judy Garland singing Over the Rainbow accompanied by the Florida Orchestra.''

So says John Goberman, speaking of his production that enables a symphony orchestra to play along with a screening of The Wizard of Oz. The orchestra music has been removed from the film, but the dialogue and singing remain.

"When you hear an orchestra play it live, you have a different experience of the film,'' Goberman says. "You become aware of how driven by the music it is. It's really an adventure for film and orchestra.''

This weekend, the Florida Orchestra, with Leif Bjaland conducting, will head down the yellow brick road in two performances of the movie at Mahaffey Theater.

"People really get into the film when they hear the music live,'' says Goberman, best known as the longtime producer of the Live from Lincoln Center telecasts for PBS. "They cheer when Toto escapes. It's very involving.''

For Goberman's production, orchestrator John Wilson reconstructed the score's orchestra parts, which had been thrown away by Metro Goldwyn Mayer, from a piano/conductor's score. Wilson also listened over and over to the soundtrack to determine specific musical passages.

Then they went into an audio studio to remove music from the film, a hugely time-consuming job because in 1939, when The Wizard of Oz came out, there was no multitrack recording. Dialogue, music and sound effects were all on one track.

"The underscoring under dialogue is tricky,'' Goberman says. "You just have to go in and snip it out. You'd think there would be a magic way of doing it now, but there isn't.''

The Wizard of Oz score is a hybrid in that the songs were written by Harold Arlen (music) and E.Y. "Yip'' Harburg (lyrics), and the background music by MGM staff composer Herbert Stothart. The two Academy Awards the movie won were for the music, Arlen and Harburg for best song for Over the Rainbow, and Stothart for best score.

Stothart composed the scores of more than 20 movies, including Mutiny on the Bounty (with Clark Gable and Charles Laughton) and National Velvet. He was a master of underscoring, the music that plays beneath dialogue and action scenes.

"Underscoring is the continuity of feeling that ties the whole experience together,'' Goberman says. "A lot of the underscoring reflects motifs that appear at other points in the picture. So We're Off To See the Wizard appears under another section of dialogue to remind you of where the story is going. It's not supposed to be intrusive, but it's there in your consciousness.''

Guest conductor Bjaland, music director of the Sarasota Orchestra, has the task of keeping sound and picture together. "On the one hand, he's keeping in synch with the film,'' Goberman says. "On the other, he's accompanying the voices. It's a little bit like conducting for an opera with the give and take from the pit to the stage, except there's no give on the stage.''

Goberman, 68, a symphony cellist before becoming a producer, thinks that hearing The Wizard of Oz score in live orchestral performance will come as a revelation to listeners. "Plus a lot of people have never seen the film on anything bigger than a TV screen,'' he says. "When you see it on a big film screen, it's something else.''

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716. He writes for Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.

>> If You Go

'Oz' with orchestra

Performances are 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg. Adult: $35, $45. Children 12 and under: $25, $35. (727) 892-3337; floridaorchestra.org.

Florida Orchestra to provide live music for film classic 'Wizard of Oz' 05/20/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 20, 2009 3:16pm]

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