If You Go

What: The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra presents "A Night at the Oscars," a multimedia evening of film music with guest composer J. Ralph

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22

Where: Macky Auditorium, 285 University Ave., University of Colorado Campus

Tickets: $13-$70

Info: 303-449-1343 (ext. 2) or boulderphil.org

When the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra puts its season together, there is usually at least one concert meant to be an entry point for more general audiences — people who don't typically come to classical concerts.

Music director Michael Butterman strongly believes in the importance of these concerts but, at the same time, feels they should be artistically sound and fit into the overall theme of the season.

This year, the 10th anniversary of the Boulder International Film Festival, which concludes today, provided an entry point for an evening of film score music. Called "A Night at the Oscars," the concert plays Saturday night at Macky Auditorium.

The "Oscars" in question refer in part to the nature and environmentalist documentaries "Chasing Ice" and "The Cove," both of which were produced by Boulder resident Paula DuPré Pesmen.


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"The Cove" won an Academy Award, and the song "Before My Time" from "Chasing Ice" was nominated for the category of Best Original Song. The composer of the scores to both films, J. Ralph, is special guest for the concert Saturday, and he will sing "Before My Time" featuring the Phil's guest concertmaster, Charles Weatherbee, on violin.

Butterman said the concert works on several levels.

"The inclusion of music from the two documentaries brings a local connection and also fits into the 'Music and Nature' theme of our season," Butterman said.

The music director said the inclusion of familiar music from great movies and showing actual film footage with some selections make it ideal as a "family" concert.

"There are smaller chunks of music to digest at once," he noted.

A rousing opener called the "Great Westerns Suite" features music from "The Magnificent Seven," "How the West Was Won," "Silverado" and "Dances with Wolves." It is followed by film music from the 1930s, the golden age of cinematic music. Erich Wolfgang Korngold's symphonic score from "The Adventures of Robin Hood" will be followed by a suite of Harold Arlen's music for "The Wizard of Oz," which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.

Butterman then turns to the first multimedia portion of the show. The conductor is also music director in Shreveport, La., where Academy Award-winning Moonbot studios is located. Moonbot's "The Numberlys" will be screened as Butterman, working with a click track, conducts John Hunter's score.

"The film is set in a world without letters," Butterman said. "The animated characters invent the alphabet to expand their horizons."

He called it a "beautifully executed film," all told through visuals and music without words.

The look of the film, Butterman said, is inspired by the German science-fiction classic "Metropolis." The opening scene of that film, with a portion of Anatoly Liadov's tone poem "Baba Yaga," will be screened before "The Numberlys" to set the stage.

The first half of the program concludes with music from John Williams' score to "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," a movie for which Pesmen also served as producer.

The second half begins with another medley, this time featuring scores by French composers Michel Legrand and Frances Lai. Butterman said the films, from the late 1960s and early 1970s, have a certain nostalgic feel and that the French musical style became popular in Hollywood films of the era.

The local connection continues with music from "On Golden Pond," composed by Boulder's Dave Grusin. Then the concert moves to its centerpiece, J. Ralph's song from "Chasing Ice" and music from "The Cove." Excerpts from the score to Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" conclude the evening.

Preceding J. Ralph's performance of "Before My Time," James Balog's photography montage from "Chasing Ice" will be shown with J.S. Bach's music as background. The song and the music from "The Cove" will be performed with a screening of footage from the film.

J. Ralph said he's eager to visit Boulder.

"I've never actually been in Boulder," he said, "and I'm so excited to come to the place where my music has had such an impact."

Ralph, who composes by ear and does not actually read music notation, worked with local arranger Larry Baird to clothe his music in orchestral garb.

"We wanted to make it grander than it appears in the films but still retain the intimacy of my original," Ralph said.

Of his work with documentary films, Ralph said that he has always been infatuated with real, authentic moments.

"I love people who are willing to break new ground and take risks, " he said, "and one place where people take risks all the time is in documentary filmmaking."

Of his ability to write music without being able to read it, Ralph said he sees composition as "catching a moment."

"I approach things simply through the wonderment of sound, trying to unearth strange combinations and unique things," he said.

Asked about the disbelief he sometimes encounters, Ralph said that "it's probably about the same level of disbelief I experience when I see an orchestral musician brilliantly playing a $5 million Stradivarius but who never actually writes music."