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San Francisco Symphony breathes new life into childhood classics

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JULY 23, 2014

I have never cried during a movie, but every time I get close, it’s because of a Pixar film. By combining heartwarming characters and moving theatrical scores, Pixar manages to convey valuable life lessons in an entertaining package for both children and adults. While school teaches children about the way of the world, Pixar emphasizes how to live in this world. Others who grew up in the Pixar generation agree; as for me, I’ve learned to accept the inevitability of change through “Toy Story” and to cherish life to the fullest due to “Up”.

“Pixar in Concert,” presented by the San Francisco Symphony from July 17 to July 20, combined scenes from Pixar films with live orchestra, replacing dialogue with music. The concert celebrated the efforts of Randy Newman, Michael Giacchino and Thomas Newman, who have composed most of the original soundtracks for Pixar. Led by world-renowned conductor Sarah Hicks, the San Francisco Symphony played a short suite of a selection of Pixar films: from its first major film, “Toy Story,” to its most recent, “Monster’s University,” including the country-heavy “Cars” and the jazzy spy soundtrack of “The Incredibles.”

Brad Bird, director of “Ratatouille” and “The Incredibles,” hosted Saturday’s show, providing insight on the creative process of making and perfecting a film score. “It’s a lot of tweaking,” Bird said during intermission. “When I was first listening through the score for ‘The Incredibles,’ I told (Michael Giacchino) it was good but not exactly what I wanted. He asked me what I wanted. And I said I wanted something sexier.”

The San Francisco Symphony seamlessly transitioned from one soundtrack to another, cascading through a large range of music genres. Newman’s scores for the “Toy Story” trilogy, beautifully arranged for a live orchestra, was easily one of the highlights of the performance. Giacchino’s work shines through the live performances of “Ratatouille,” “The Incredibles,” and “Up’s” soundtracks. Strategically placed at the end of the first act (so the audience can spend intermission bawling, like I did), the symphony’s rendition of “Up’s” opening sequence brought a wave of melancholy over the audience.

The symphony brought out the world-class drum and bugle corps, the Blue Devils, to provide percussion for its final number, the “Main Theme” from “Monster’s University”. With their professional skill, the Blue Devils provided a much-needed energy to end the show. After multiple standing ovations, Hicks and the symphony performed an encore of Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got In a Friend In Me,” accompanied by a montage of all featured Pixar films.

“Pixar in Concert” brilliantly paired live orchestra and nostalgic clips from our most beloved Pixar films. Not many films have made me feel as I did when I witnessed Carl and Ellie’s life in “Up” or Andy and his mother embrace in “Toy Story 3.” More importantly, not many performances have made me feel the soft blend of piano and strings in “Up’s” “Married Life” or the flawless fusion of violas, horns and flutes in “Toy Story 3’s” “So Long. ”And as much as I’d hate to admit it, I cried. Thanks, “Pixar in Concert,” for making me not only feel like a kid again, but also feel human.

Contact Matt Hong at [email protected].

JULY 24, 2014