Wichita Symphony Celebrates Kansas, Classic Cinema With 'Oz In Concert'

Dec 7, 2018

The Wichita Symphony will present Oz in Concert on Saturday, Dec. 8, at 7:30 p.m. in the Century II Concert Hall. The presentation will feature a live orchestral accompaniment to the 1939 classic film The Wizard of Oz. The digitally restored film will be shown on a screen hung above the orchestra. Peter Bay will serve as guest conductor for the event.

Symphony CEO Don Reinhold and public relations manager Arleigh McCormick recently stopped by the KMUW studios to discuss this celebration of film and music.

Interview Highlights

Let's talk about this program with The Wizard of Oz and the Wichita Symphony. What was the genesis of this?

Arleigh McCormick: Right now it's a pretty big trend with orchestras to show a film with a live soundtrack. There are a lot of film options out there. We've never done a full-length feature film. We've done projects with videos such as Bugs Bunny at The Symphony where you show little cartoon clips; we've done The Planets where we had imagery choreographed with Gustav Holst's The Planets. When we were looking at all of our options The Wizard of Oz came up. You just kind of think, "That's a no-brainer." Especially for where we live. I am originally from Kansas.

Anytime I traveled anywhere, if somebody asked, "Where are you from?" the blanket answer is, "I'm from Kansas." And they say, "Well, I don't think you're in Kansas anymore." I think most Kansans have a love/hate relationship with that. Some get a little annoyed with it, but I think overall we take ownership of it and take it with a sense of pride.

Don Reinhold: I'm approaching it from the business angle. Very often it's the movie studios who are raking in the cash cow on this. But from symphony orchestras around the country who are trying these films, as expensive as they are to produce, they are bringing in a lot of new audiences to the symphonies. That's, I think, one of the things we're trying to establish with these films. Do they have an appeal in Wichita? Will they attract enough people? Can we present them in a way that, frankly, we don't lose our shirts?

Symphony Public Relations Manager Arleigh McCormick and Symphony CEO Don Reinhold
Credit Courtesy photo

AM: I think the other appeal for doing movies as a symphony orchestra is that a lot of times when we do these pops shows, the scores and the orchestra charts can be varied in terms of how interesting they are. Film scores typically have these really interesting parts. You think of John Williams, you think of Hans Zimmer — that's not who composed Wizard of Oz — but those parts are interesting to the musicians and they maintain a sense of artistic integrity that you want to have when you're presenting these concerts.

The way that the orchestra will present Wizard of Oz will be … the film will be projected over the orchestra but the vocal tracks, the audio tracks, the speaking parts, are kept in the film. We don't replace Judy Garland. That's a non-starter. But those orchestra supports those vocal and speaking tracks. Imagine seeing Judy Garland singing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" with the full live symphony orchestra. I think that's really special and a really unique opportunity. It's truly like no one has seen Wizard of Oz before. And commercial free!

[Laughs.] Let's talk a little bit about the music itself. Tell me a little bit about the score.

DR: The songs that we're very familiar with are all composed by Harold Arlen. The lyrics were written by a man named Yip Harburg. Arlen was one of the great American songwriters of the '20s, '30s, '40s. This is all part of the category of Great American Songbook. But, in addition to that, there's an underlying film score that links a lot of the episodes together and that was composed by Herbert Stothart. That's a name that most people no longer remember. He was one of the A-list Hollywood composers back in the '30s/'40s. He has a number of scores to his credit that we probably know, but the name itself has not survived as well as somebody like John Williams does today. People who may have taken piano lessons at some point might recognize references to classical music, children's' piano music, things like that, hints of it here and there, that are part of this connecting fabric. It makes for a lot of, "I know that"-type of piece[s].

I feel like that covers a lot of ground. I want to thank you so much for your time unless there's something you want to add.

AM: I will say this: The orchestra is encouraged to wear ruby red slippers if they want. Audiences are encouraged to come in costume. We just ask that you not be the person who blocks the view of somebody behind them. Keep your Tin Man hat to a reasonable level. [Laughs.]

Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.