I am a huge Christmas person, so there are many things I enjoy doing every year…putting up a (real) Christmas tree, baking cookies with my mom, watching bad TV Christmas movies, etc.
I love to kick off the Christmas season every year by watching Home Alone on Thanksgiving. This got started when I was young, because it was regularly on TV that day. It’s a great movie, and by now I’ve seen it many, many times. My husband and I frequently quote it to each other; in fact, just the other day we ordered pizza and got “a lovely cheese pizza, just for me.” We actually own 2 copies of the DVD.
I didn’t watch Home Alone on Thanksgiving this year. That’s because I had already bought tickets for this: Cleveland Orchestra Celebrity Series–Home Alone.
Last Wednesday, we got to watch Home Alone on a big screen in Severance Hall, accompanied live by the Cleveland Orchestra. That’s right, the Cleveland freaking Orchestra.
It was a fantastic performance. Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. The orchestra was nearly flawless, and it was a nice touch that they were joined by the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Chorus for the scenes with Marley’s granddaughter’s choir in the church, and also for singing “Somewhere in My Memory” over the closing credits.
In a pleasant surprise, the performance was conducted by David Newman, himself a prolific film composer (he did a little movie called Serenity), and son of Alfred Newman.
There were some interesting aspects to performing a live score along with a movie. The sound levels were a little strange because the movie had to be fairly loud so the live music wouldn’t cover it. It was a little disconcerting at first, because Home Alone opens with the commotion of “15 people in this house.”
In addition to reading off the score, the conductor was watching a small screen that was synced to the big screen. It used tracking lines of various colors and flashing circles to cue entrances and tempos. Pretty fascinating; I’m sure it’s a little more complicated than a normal orchestral performance, but Mr. Newman probably has some practice with this kind of thing. Everything seemed to go really smoothly.
The score to Home Alone is one of my favorites by John Williams, my favorite composer. I think it tends to get overlooked in his oeuvre. But it complements the emotion of the movie so well, managing to be creepy, jolly, frantic, determined, and many other things at various times. Especially in the strings, the use of glissando and pizzicato really contribute to the strange idea of “ominous Christmas music” that I love.
My favorite musical part of the movie occurs when Kevin leaves the church where he was talking with Marley to go home and prep for the burglars. The children’s choir in the church has been singing “Carol of the Bells,” and as Kevin starts running it transitions into a more rock feel, with drums and a driving bass line, while still building on the carol’s theme (“Setting the Trap” in the soundtrack). It’s just such a clever, well-done transition; I appreciate it every time I watch the movie, and it was even better live.
The orchestral parts of the score are also interspersed with classic Christmas songs (White Christmas, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree) in the movie–the orchestra did not play these live, obviously, but they really add to the tone of the movie also.
After the movie, the orchestra and chorus gave us a little encore with a Christmas song. The performance was a great way to get in the Christmas spirit, and there were lots of families there that seemed to enjoy it, too.