Concert review: Orlando Philharmonic's 'Night at the Oscars'

It seems counterintuitive to say the most successful portions of the Orlando Philharmonic's tribute to great movies came when I forgot the orchestra was there.

But in this case, that's a compliment.

In the season-opening pops performance, the Philharmonic presented "Night at the Oscars," a multimedia program devised by John Goberman in which scenes from famous movies are accompanied by a live orchestra playing the score.

It's a fun idea that for the most part came off successfully Saturday night. But when things go awry, it's a headache-inducing clash of the senses.

Among the films in the spotlight were "Gone With the Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz" but the most thrilling orchestral moments from conductor Dirk Meyer came in sequences from the Charlton Heston epic "Ben-Hur."

From the dramatic chariot parade, full of powerful brass, to tender moments in the manger with baby Jesus, then to the dramatic sea battle, with urgent woodwinds, everything locked in perfect sync.

So perfectly mesmerizing, in fact, it was easy to forget there were live musicians playing Miklos Rozsa's dramatic score under the film screen. Such is the power of movies — and their music.

Unfortunately, that was not always the case. The opening film, the 1939 Errol Flynn version of "The Adventures of Robin Hood," was a mishmash of sound.

Goberman is a technical whiz, who developed audio and visual techniques that enable live performances to be successfully recorded and broadcast. (His most famous creation is the PBS series "Live From Lincoln Center.") But maybe the Bob Carr's notorious audio issues proved too much even for him.

Whatever the case, the actors' dialogue throughout the three "Robin Hood" scenes was mostly unintelligible. Yet it's human nature to try to understand, creating a mental battle between straining to hear the actors over the orchestra and straining to hear the orchestra over the off-putting noise from the video screen.

Luckily, that was the only film so affected.

Rich operatic chords set a shivery sinister tone for the opening scene of "Citizen Kane," with score by Bernard Hermann. The strings swooshed through Max Steiner's music as Atlanta burned in "Gone With the Wind."

Orange County comptroller Martha Haynie read scripted introductions to the scenes (and a rotation of evening gowns showed she's ready for a red carpet).

Haynie was having fun: Talking about why "Citizen Kane" failed to win a best-picture Oscar, she stage-whispered, "There are politics everywhere."

So-called "popcorn movies" are films that provide light entertainment, a few thrills, without any great depth. "Night at the Oscars" provided a diverting orchestral equivalent. or 407-420-5038

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