Erik Ochsner on conducting Star Trek: "goose bumps and tears are NOT optional!"
American-Finnish conductor Erik Ochsner has built himself a pretty cool career. On March 21st, he'll head to the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, for a viewing of Star Trek (2009) with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony playing the soundtrack, live, by Michael Giacchino. Ochsner is no stranger to combining popular culture with live music, having conducted concerts featuring music from Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, and Disney's Pixar films. I was eager to ask him about the significance of combining cultural elements of today with the symphonic orchestra of past centuries.
1. Why do you think there's such a strong relationship between science fiction and epic, symphonic music?
Film music plays an exceptionally important part in setting the emotional tone of a film, and creates a psychological direction for the viewer to follow. It seems that science fiction has long appealed to an audience which feels that they are in their own special world (which is a good thing!). To have epic, sweeping, massive music accompany this drama really empowers the viewer. Too often sci-fi fans feel that they are ostracized or in a small minority. Perhaps they were not in the "in-crowd," but when Michael Giacchino, or John Williams, or Howard Shore, or Hans Zimmer, or Jerry Goldsmith creates such a powerful environment for the viewer (or listener), this individual somehow feels more valued, or appreciated or legitimized, plus it increases their own self-confidence. They walk out of the theater with their head held high, shoulders back and say, "wow that was AWESOME." Don't forget when it comes to film music, goose bumps and tears are NOT optional!
2. How much do you think original film scores (Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate, etc.) look back to people like Strauss and Wagner?
No composer today lives in a vacuum. All composers exist in a washing machine of aural experiences. Whether they hear hip hop and rap in the subway, or pop songs playing as background noise in a restaurant (I say noise, because people are not REALLY listening...), composers of today absolutely are influenced by composers from throughout history. I would point to Carl Orff and Gustav Holst as big influences. Wagner and Richard Strauss, too. What we call operas by Richard Wagner, he actually used the term music drama. I think this is an important distinction. Wagner was really focused on the text that he wrote, which he then accompanied with music. Music in films accompanies the dialogue and the storyline, sometimes in the background (underscoring) or sometimes in the forefront where it's the root cause of those goose bumps and tears!
3. Conversely, how do these original scores maintain the sound of "classical music" in today's culture?
It seems that Hollywood film composers have still stuck to the "old fashioned orchestra." The evocative colors, the sheer volume and strength that can be produced by 300 people in an orchestra and chorus far outweigh that which can be done by electronics or most pop music. There have been times when just the right song is written or selected with perhaps just one singer and a guitar which can bring you to tears, but more often than not, these special "highlight moments" go back to the classical orchestra. Whether people know it or not, they are listening to "classical music" because of the forces which are performing it. Many schools do not have music education anymore, but I grew up with it, and this classical music is not outdated, it's quite current and contemporary.
4. Are you a sci-fi fan?
I grew up watching Star Trek, and was not a member of the in-crowd. I found solace in my own little world of classical music and I knew people who found solace in their own world of science fiction. I can't really say that I was a Trekkie, and in fact, I will admit that I resisted the films initially because I was stuck in the series mode! I have gradually really grown to appreciate, enjoy, love and respect the new generation's quasi-homage to the Star Trek series! In school, we read The Hobbit, and later as an audience member I saw the Lord of the Rings movies in the theaters. I had not read the books, but I had to catch up and rise to the occasion since I was going to be conducting the movies!!
5. You've done a few multi-media concert events (Disney's Pixar in Concert), and concerts focusing on the music from film and TV culture (Lord of the Rings, etc.). What impact do you think it has on audiences to combine live and recorded art forms?
I grew up being surrounded by music. I was taken to children's concerts ("Lollipop concerts") and classical concerts, and also pops concerts. My mentor and close family friend was the great Erich Kunzel. He knew how to entertain, he knew how to relate to audiences, to engage them and share his excitement and enthusiasm for this art. I love doing these concerts and the reception worldwide has been amazing! From a "Pixar in Concert" with 10,000 children in the Krakow Arena in Poland, to a "Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring" with 5,000 audience members sitting on the grass, outside in steamy weather of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, to a J.R.R. Tolkien Society autograph session in Tampere, Finland, where a young lady showed me how she had glued hair to her leg to look like a hobbit! (wow!)...... People LOVE film music. I very much believe in "once in a lifetime experiences," and we know from credit card sales at venues that these concerts are bringing in new audiences.. Why? because they love it! Do they come back to hear the classical series of Brahms, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Mahler, etc.? Maybe, maybe not - but we have touched them. We have moved them. We have entertained them. They HAVE experienced LIVE music, LIVE musicians pouring out their heart and soul, and I believe that even if these audiences only hear a live classical symphony orchestra ONCE, that's still ok - we have touched them, because as Heinrich Heine said "Where words leave off, music begins!