Oscar-winning film composer Michael Giacchino has won hearts around the world with his themes to Up, Star Trek, Lost among many others. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra invited Michael to conduct a retrospective concert this past weekend and it was an experience to say the least. His already thrilling music became even more vibrant as it echoed off every surface in the majestic hall of the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. That plus the amazing contributions from the University of Texas at Arlington Festival choir helped make the themes you thought you knew and loved even more colorful on the evenings of May 18th – 20th.
The air in the symphony hall before Michael Giacchino’s performance was filled with whimsical sounds as the orchestra practiced the nuanced riffs in Giacchino’s signature scores. Giacchino’s set list was titled “Stories of Islands, Balloons and Space” and from the very beginning we are whisked to World War II era Europe for the suite to the first game in the landmark Medal of Honor series. Michael’s dear friend and co-conductor Tim Simonec began the vibrant and colorful first act.
The Medal of Honor Suite has the weight and reverence that seems to channel John Williams but quickly distinguishes itself with Giacchino’s own fingerprints. You hear this incredibly dense material and ask “he did all that hard work for a video game?“, to which Michael might breezily and matter of factly respond, “if it helps tell the story, then yup!“. The strong French horns really bring that theme to life.
Next was his music from his second Pixar/Brad Bird collaboration Ratatouille. It’s a soft and sweet travel log that twists and turns like a scurrying rodent looking for his next gourmet meal or spice rack. The deliciously French theme is fast, frenzied and fun as it conjures visions of the romantic side of Paris…but never gets too far from the kitchen. It’s a tune that lifts you to astounding heights and then takes you even higher.
The Matt Reeves directed and J.J. Abrams produced film Cloverfield is a visceral panicked escape across a battle torn NYC. The extent to Giacchino’s contributions are the 12 minute suite to this Americanized Godzilla film titled Roar!. There’s a marching band cadence/precision to the theme before it de-evolves to become a mess that mirrors the alien creature ripping apart the Big Apple. The theme is focused and intense, even samples bits from its Japanese counterpart, but the choral work (which at times actually sounds like they’re saying roar) really stands out in that one. Next, Matt Reeves’ follow up film Let Me In got the full contributions from Giacchino for its score. The suite to this adolescent vampire love story is both pensive and fragile that effectively translates the feeling of a vampire living life both cold and alone.
From there it got a little peppier as we were treated to suite from Up as Michael took the stage to conduct his Oscar-winning theme. Up is a wonderful film with an emotionally weighty score. It’s about unlikely friendship as well as being an odd couple/fish-out-of-water story. Michael’s variations are as fun and colorful as the characters Carl, Russell, Dug and Kevin. Add to that the very catch mix of nostalgic sounding themes with an upbeat tempo and it becomes clear why this won Giacchino the Academy Award.
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The start of the second act found Michael conducting a theme from the film Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol, his third collaboration with friend Brad Bird. In the track Dubai (and the score as a whole really) Michael teaches an old dog a new trick as he gives Lalo Schifrin’s 45 year old tune new life. The theme has a very worldly and capable big band sound to it. At times it echoes Jerry Goldsmith with its epic tone but Giacchino make the theme his own and gives us something that is simultaneously fun and dangerous. That’s right Michael, you are dangerous.
Super 8 was a very nostalgic film for Michael primarily because of his young filmmaking aspirations. The film is given even more heart thanks to a touching theme that matures just as the kids do in this Amblin-esqe coming-of-age story. The suite reflects the main focus of the film that is less about the actual alien and highlights the more human element of the film which is really, and very simply, just about people and relationships.
On that note, it was probably fitting that the next piece was from the TV show Lost. An incredibly addicting drama, when it was on the air it was just unstoppable. But above all the plot twists, red herrings and seemingly endless characters, the show featured a theme that was just as enigmatic as the Island itself. Simple, catchy and memorable…that seems to be a Giacchino trademark.
John Carter had a bit of a rough time this year at the box-office, mainly stemming from people who didn’t know what to make of the marketing. Michael took a step down from the stand to address this fact. He starting by saying, “I worked on a film I bet a lot of you didn’t see. But it is coming out on DVD, so you still have a chance.” As the laughs subsided, he read a passage from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 100 year old book and then ascended the stand to conduct a five theme arrangement which was comprised of the themes for John Carter, the Tharks, Princess Dejah, the Therns, and ended with the track John Carter of Mars. Whether you saw the movie or not you could still easily identify the dreamy ethereal feel Michael was going for when he wrote it.
Micheal has been a Star Trek fan since he was a kid, so again working on this with J.J. Abrams was like a dream come true. Very few non Trekker’s would look up at the ceiling of the Symphony hall and see the underside of the Enterprise but Michael sure did, which caused him to tell us not the title of what we’d now be listening to but rather that “this theme makes me think of this thing hanging over my head“. The Star Trek suite was last of the themes that came along with video accompaniment. It was exhilarating as the concert finished up with the audience staring down the bow of the Enterprise as Michael commanded the final furious beats from the Symphony with a powerful right hand.
But just when you thought getting whisked away at warp speed was enough, Michael came back to the stage for a two piece encore. The first was another trip to the infamous “Island” from Lost but this time the music was a much softer and delicate theme, free of smoke monsters, “Others”, Charles Widmore and the like. It was rather beautiful and sounded pretty much like this…
To close it all out was the theme from a very unexpected film. As Giacchino saw Super 8 as a nostalgic project, so too was his work the Wachowski’s live -action adaptation of the famous anime Speed Racer. His choice for this last piece was the finale of the film titled simply Speed Racer which was lose, fast and on the edge of out of control. So quick in fact you wondered how the orchestra kept up with Michael’s conducting. Speed Racer didn’t do that well at the box office but you wouldn’t know it listening to Giacchino’s amazing score.
Michael stepped down from the stand to introduce long time collaborator Tim Simonec as his “dear friend and colleague“, thank his parents for coming from New Jersey to attend the show, and the two conductors met a warm reception of fans in the Green Room. Eager and adoring fans got autographs or photos. In fact, photos tended to look a lot like this one…
One of the greatest things about listening to Michael Giacchino’s work is the emotion you can feel in his scores. There’s something tangible in Giacchino’s music that really helps bridge the gap between the filmmaker and the audience and brings the, at times, highly fanciful stories down to earth. Micheal says he doesn’t work on a project if he’s not inspired by it but when he does take a project, he gives it his all and you can tell that by listening to any one of his albums.
All of Giacchino’s themes start simply, build steadily and then pour it on at the end which kind of make’s his music like John Williams on steroids. Giacchino understands when to be liberal with something but then also pull back and let the story speak for itself. An absolute master of his craft, the Oscar for Up is bound to be the first brass ring of many in his blindingly brilliant career. To find out more about Michael and his past or upcoming work, visit his website at michaelgiacchinomusic.com.
About the Dallas Symphony Orchestra:
The Dallas Symphony Orchestra has a rich, 109-year history of artistic excellence. As the largest performing arts organization in the Southwest, the DSO is committed to the pursuit of uncompromising musical distinction through innovative and classical programming, and strives to build a community of passionate music lovers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The DSO has grown from a 40-person ensemble to a world-class orchestra since its inception in 1900, and continues to be the cornerstone of the burgeoning Arts District in downtown Dallas; a district now noted as the largest in the nation.
After an exhaustive search, the DSO named Jaap van Zweden as music director beginning in the 2008-2009 season. Eminent music directors such as Antal Dorati, Paul Kletzki, Georg Solti, Eduardo Mata and Andrew Litton laid the groundwork for important elements of today’s DSO, including extensive touring and recording, special community and education concerts and the building of the world-renowned Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center.