Even though the film depicts every parent’s nightmare, “Home Alone,” has remained a modern holiday classic ever since its release in 1990. The film stars Macaulay Culkin as a boy who is accidentally left behind when his family flies to Paris for Christmas vacation. While away, Culkin’s character is left to defend his home from two burglars roaming the area. It’s a comedy that resembles a live action cartoon, and one that millions of families have enjoyed for decades.
But this December, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra will present the film as never seen before.
“Home Alone” features an impressive cast includes Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Catherine O’Hara and John Heard. Written by John Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus, “Home Alone” was the number one film at the box office for 12 straight weeks. The NJSO will mark the 25th anniversary of “Home Alone” with special screenings that bring the film’s wonderful score by John Williams to life through live orchestral accompaniment.
Conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos, who will lead the NJSO in the performance, believes hearing a live orchestra alongside the film makes the experience more visceral for the audience. When music is heard in films or on television, it is generally mixed in the background. Here, the music will be much more prominent, but won’t disturb the dialogue or sound effects.
“There’s nothing like the experience of hearing a live symphony orchestra,” said Kitsopoulos. “It’s one of those experiences that everybody should have. The audience is going to hear a lot more detail — more than they have ever noticed before — and that makes it exciting. It’s a living, breathing entity.”
It’s also a wonderful opportunity for parents to introduce their children to the symphony. Kitsopoulos says that the audiences for these film-related performances are often full of people who have never heard a live symphony before.
“We’re trying to hook people on the sound of the orchestra and the experience of hearing the beautiful sounds that all of these professional musicians can make together. It’s a variety of colors and sounds… it’s quite thrilling!”
Of course, synchronizing a live orchestra with a film score presents a unique challenge for a conductor. Timing is everything.
“Films do not change,” explained Kitsopoulos. “So, if I miss a cue… if I miss a moment that’s supposed to be synchronized with the music, there’s no taking it back. You can’t make up for that mistake.”
Thankfully, there are technological tools to assist conductors. Kitsopoulos will be wearing an ear piece and receive clicks from the click track as audio cues for the music. In addition, he receives a visual cue via streamers superimposed on the film being shown on his screen. A yellow streamer is a warning sign and a green streamer means it’s time for the music.
“’Home Alone’ will probably have about 75 people in the orchestra,” said Kitsopoulos. “That’s a lot of people to get on the same page. Of course, with an orchestra like the New Jersey Symphony — they’re such an extraordinary group of musicians that they’re also a major tool that makes it easier for me to do my job.”
Screenings of classic films with live orchestral accompaniment is a reminder of the early days of the movie industry when silent films often featured full orchestras in large theaters. While technology is making it easier for orchestras to accompany more recent films — even creating a bit of a trend in the industry — the practice has been done for quite some time.
Professor Albert G. Nigrin, Executive Director/Curator, New Jersey Film Festival, Rutgers University, recalls the first time he saw a film with a live orchestra. The film was Abel Gance’s 1927 silent masterpiece “Napoleon” at Radio City Music Hall in 1980. “The symbiosis between the music and the film was amazing,” said Nigrin. “The live music truly brought the film to life.”
According to Nigrin, the physical comedy in “Home Alone” reminds him of the classic slapstick films — a genre that works well with a musical score. “Slapstick films are comedies where physical pratfalls, tripping and falling, are emphasized over the dialogue, plot and character development. The physical comedy in these films contains a cartoonish style of violence that is mostly harmless and silly. This describes ‘Home Alone’ to a tee. Musicians love crescendos — a passage of music marked to be performed with a gradual increase of loudness — and with physical film comedy you get lots of those visual crescendos where all the movement builds towards delivering the pratfall.”
“Ever since ‘Home Alone’ appeared, it has held a unique place in the affections of a very broad public,” said composer John Williams. “Director Chris Columbus brought a uniquely fresh and innocent approach to this delightful story, and the film has deservedly become a perennial favorite at holiday time. I took great pleasure in composing the score for the film, and I am especially delighted that the magnificent New Jersey Symphony Orchestra has agreed to perform the music in a live presentation of the movie. I know I speak for everyone connected with the making of the film in saying that we are greatly honored by this event… and I hope that audiences will experience the renewal of joy that the film brings with it, each and every year.”
The NJSO will present “Home Alone” with live orchestral accompaniment on Saturday, December 5 at 8pm at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (One Center Street) in Newark. They will then bring the performance to the State Theatre (15 Livingston Ave) in New Brunswick on Sunday, December 6 at 3pm. Both concerts include carol sing-alongs beginning one hour before each performance. Additionally, both events will include a toy drive where patrons can bring new, unwrapped toys to donate to the NJSO’s annual Toys for Tots drive.
In the months to come, NJPAC will offer two more orchestral events that families will love. The first is “Video Games Live” on January 2. “’Video Games Live’ is a one-of-a-kind, not-to-be-missed, immersive concert event that will introduce a new generation of music lovers and gaming fans to a symphonic orchestral event, while also providing a completely new and extraordinary experience that will enthrall young and old,” said David Rodriguez, NJPAC’s Executive Vice President and Executive Producer.
Then, on February 19, NJPAC presents Disney’s “Fantasia” – Live in Concert. “As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of “Fantasia” with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra accompanying Disney’s crown jewel, many of us are taken back to our childhoods — now we can share this visual and musical masterpiece with our children and grandchildren,” continued Rodriguez. “It’s a rare and unique opportunity to see films on a 40 foot screen in a 2,800 seat theater.”