Lincoln Center is the home to some of New York’s finest cultural gems including the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Ballet and on Thursday, May 1, the center’s Avery Fisher Hall hosted the first of three very special nights of its own New York Philharmonic performing “Pixar in Concert,” an unprecedented tribute to the music that’s accompanied the 15 movies produced by Pixar Animation Studios between 1995 and 2013.
All of the musical selections were performed to a specially-prepared montage of clips from each movie that made it abundantly clear that the power of Pixar’s films weren’t just about the brilliant writing or voice casting, and is as much as about the emotions conveyed by combining the images with music.
The New York Philharmonic was conducted by David Newman, who followed a performance of selections from Pixar’s debut feature Toy Story with an introduction to the show that promised “lots of Newmans.” After all, David, a prolific composer in his own right, is the brother of Thomas Newman and cousin to Randy Newman, the two composers who combined are responsible for 10 of Pixar’s 15 original scores with 11 Oscar nominations between them for their work with Pixar. David and Thomas are also the sons of legendary composer Alfred Newman, whose groundbreaking score work in Hollywood includes writing the 20th Century Fox fanfare which is still used today.
The audience seemed to be made up of regular Philharmonic patrons and Pixar fans who applauded whenever Newman announced the title of a Pixar film they would be performing music from. While there were many highlights in the first set, the selection of clips and accompanying music by Michael Giacchino for Ratatouille solidified it as one of Pixar’s best, despite it being one of the company’s lowest-grossing movies of the last 10 years.
WALLE, the closest thing Pixar has made to a silent movie, included many of the sound FX that went along with Thomas Newman’s score and it also worked exceedingly well in this setting, which focused on how perfectly the music enhanced the visuals. Whomever chose the footage and musical selections can probably take a knee for the decision to show the entire five-minute montage from the first act of Up which showed the lifelong relationship between Carl and Ellie, a highlight of the film that was just as tear-inducing with the music being performed live.
You might think that with the scores for the first two “Toy Story” movies and some of Pixar’s other greatest hits i.e. those that received Best Picture nominations out of the way, there wouldn’t be much left for the second half of the show, but Michael Giacchino’s exciting fast-paced score for The Incredibles, accompanied by an action-heavy montage of clips, was a great way to start it off.
The biggest surprise may have been how the music for Cars 2, a lively mix of Henry Mancini with vintage James Bond scoring, again by Giacchino, really drove the action in the footage shown of the Michael Caine-voiced Finn McMissile sneaking through a freighter ship being chased by enemy spies. For one of Pixar’s movies that wasn’t as well received as others, it really gave the movie a new perspective.
Possibly the only weak link of the concert was the performance of Patrick Doyle’s score for Brave, a movie I personally loved with a wonderful score, but for whatever reason, the montage just didn’t translate as well in this format as other Pixar films, even with the addition of bagpipe players to enhance the orchestra.
The set ended with Randy Newman’s music from Monsters University, which like Monsters, Inc. combined the right mix of humor and action-filled moments to go with the music, and after a rousing standing ovation from the audience, the orchestra sat back down for a jazzy version of Randy Newman’s Oscar-nominated “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” that acted as a show closer with each of the composers being spotlighted for one final curtain call.
Overall, the show was absolutely wonderful and while we’re not sure whether tonight or tomorrow’s show at the Avery Fisher Hall is already sold out, it’s well worth seeing if you’re in New York City and a fan of Pixar’s movies (and honestly, who isn’t?)
While the New York Philharmonic won’t be touring with “Pixar in Concert,” people in other cities will be able to catch the program with their own local orchestras over the course of the summer and the rest of the year. You can find out if and when “Pixar in Concert” is playing at a concert hall near you on the Official Pixar Website.