Musically noteworthy: Spokane Symphony to perform alongside clips from 14 Pixar films

Friday Jan 24, 2020 • Features • Spokesman Review

By Don Chareunsy 
If you go

‘Pixar in Concert’

When: 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox, 1001 W. Sprague Ave.

More: $20-$103; (509) 624-0200 and

It’s a symphony concert that Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Merida, Fergus, Nemo, Dory, Carl Fredricksen, Russell, Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl, Miguel and more are certain to enjoy with their family and friends.

“Spokane Symphony Movies and Music 2: Pixar in Concert,” at Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox at 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, is a movie and concert in one, and the symphony will be led by resident conductor Morihiko Nakahara in performing alongside 14 Pixar films.

The first in this season’s Movies and Music series was Tim Burton’s “A Nightmare Before Christmas” conducted by Nakahara on Nov. 23 and 24.

“This one is a little different. Instead of a whole film dialogue and singing and sound effects, these are more montages of these Pixar films. It’s a different experience for the listener and viewer,” said Nakahara on Wednesday over the phone from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is the head of orchestral conducting.

“It serves multiple purposes. You see a highlight reel, and the soundtrack creates a strong emotional connection even if you haven’t seen the film. You can appreciate the soundtrack that is mostly the Newmans, Randy and Thomas, and have the visual aspect. It’s more than just the 2- to 3-minute previews. It’s condensed but still dramatic like a roller coaster. The music really plays a big role.”

Morihiko has conducted movies with live music before, so he is quite familiar with the method (“click track”) of keeping the music in sync with the action on the screen. After “Pixar in Concert,” it’s “Back to the Future in Concert” at 8 p.m. on Feb. 21 with guest conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos. The final Movies & Music series concert is “Star Wars: A New Hope” at 8 p.m. March 21 and 3 p.m. March 22, with the conductor to be announced.

Conducting in sync with a movie is different than the usual symphonic experience, Nakahara said. “It’s a challenge, and I like challenges. Many years ago, ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ among conductors we talk of that as one of the hardest ones to do because the film was so long ago before click tracks and visual aids and streamers. Technology was primitive, and it was hard to do it on the first take. In the studio, you can be efficient and have multiple cracks at it. In concert, you get one shot, and there’s something thrilling about that!

“As orchestras, we tend to excerpt in concert. John Williams comes to mind and Howard Shore’s ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ Pixar isn’t performed very often, and it is such an incredible array and variety of styles and colors. You have multiple guitars in ‘Coco’ and accordions. It’s such a colorful sound experience for all of us, and the writing is very virtuosic. It’s exhilarating for us, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Nakahara has a deep respect for the Pixar films and can name a few favorites among the megahits and award-winning and modern-day animated classics.

“I have always liked ‘Up.’ The music for that, it’s such a great soundtrack. I love ‘Wall-E,’ too,” Nakahara said. “It has been interesting to go through this wide body of work. My wife, who I constantly say is my guiding light to popular culture, and I during the Christmas break watched a lot of the Pixar films and really enjoyed them.

“The stories are well-crafted and visually stunning. The whole body of work is so entertaining, and each is touching in some way. There’s a human element even if you’re finding Nemo and Dory.”

The Pixar film scores by Randy Newman, Thomas Newman, Patrick Doyle and Michael Giacchino have won 10 Grammy Awards and three Academy Awards and have amassed 10 total Oscar nominations.

Like many conductors today, Nakahara has several residences for his job. He’s based in Massachusetts and travels here for the Spokane Symphony. What does he like about Spokane after 17 seasons with the symphony?

“It’s where, without exaggerating, as a conductor and a musician, it’s where I grew up, and it’s my home,” Nakahara said. “This is the orchestra and community in many ways who shaped me into who I am today as a conductor and musician. I will always regard this orchestra as my family, and I will always regard Spokane as my home.”

January is Spokane Symphony Family month at Martin Woldson Theater, and one of the featured offers is a family of four tickets to “Pixar in Concert” for $75, not including taxes and fees, available by calling (509) 624-1200 or in person at the box office, not online.

And in a cross-promotion of “Pixar in Concert,” Hello Sugar’s two locations have created Pixar Perfection, 12 mini-doughnuts in a nod to the films: Bullseye Butterfinger, Coco, Extra Edna, Spot’s Sky, Paradise Falls, Mike Wasowski, Fillmore’s Fizzing Fuel, Wall-E, the Bing Bong, Dory’s Deep Blue Ocean, Hopper’s Peanut Butter and Bravery Punch.


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