Why this “Nightmare Before Christmas” screening is a never-before Modesto event What’s this?!

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Why this “Nightmare Before Christmas” screening is a never-before Modesto event What’s this?!

With nods to Jack Skellington, the sights, and sounds, they’ll be everywhere and all around when the Modesto Symphony Orchestra brings a Halloween treat with an added trick to its October pops concerts.

The Disney animated classic “The Nightmare Before Christmas” will play on a big screen inside the Gallo Center for the Arts while the orchestra’s musicians perform the score live in accompaniment, a first-time feat for the MSO. And while symphonic music long has been a backdrop to feature films, feature films are increasingly becoming a backdrop to symphonic concerts.


“It’s become a very big trend in the orchestra world,” MSO President and CEO Caroline Nickel said, adding that the San Francisco Symphony screens films several times a season. “It’s a really big opportunity for orchestras to bring in different audiences, and it’s also something very visual. The halls sell out, it’s increasingly popular.”

The hall is selling for the symphony’s two shows at the Gallo Center, as well, set for Friday, Oct. 13 – yes, a purposeful Friday the 13th showing, Nickel said – and Saturday, Oct. 14. The program will be a rousing kickoff to the holiday season for the MSO, with a film that bridges the bookends of Halloween and Christmas.


“There’s a huge following for the film and for the music,” Nickel said, making it the perfect choice to introduce the concept of live orchestration with films to the Modesto region.


Director Tim Burton’s famed animated 1993 classic follows Jack Skellington, Halloween Town’s bored pumpkin king, on an adventure to Christmas Town and his misguided plan to take over the holiday.


Composer Danny Elfman’s score has become as classic as the film itself. “It has great appeal and an excellent score, as well. Danny Elfman’s music is really interesting and complicated, so it’s a real challenge for our orchestra,” Nickel said. “Having the orchestra play it live is going to be a unique experience.”


It’s a challenge the musicians are embracing. The orchestra members enjoy interesting and challenging music – and also enjoy playing to packed audiences, she said. The MSO will be lead by guest conductor Sarah Hicks, who has experience with symphony-film combo programs.


Her experience will be key to the Modesto show, which is a bigger undertaking than just having the musicians learn the score, Nickel said. There’s huge timing factor, as the film is projected onscreen with the song lyrics on a separate track, stripped away from the original orchestration. Hicks and the orchestra must be in synch with the visuals and lyrics.


There are other challenges as well: a special projector had to be rented to accommodate the film at the Gallo Center, Nickel said, as well as a larger screen than the venue has available A special engineer also had to be hired to make the program work.


“There are a lot of extra things, a lot of costs,” Nickel said, including licensing fees. “It’s why it’s mostly larger orchestras that do (these programs).”


Still, MSO hopes to make pairing the symphony and feature films an annual part of its pops programs, she said. It’s part of being “responsive to what audiences want to see now.” Because of the costs, such programs likely would only be an option once a season, unless a sponsor stepped in to finance more.


For the upcoming concert, audience members are encouraged to dress in their favorite “Nightmare Before Christmas” costumes.


“We’re really excited about this,” Nickel said. “There are a lot of pieces to it, but it’s been done so many times and all the people (brought in for the show), they know exactly what they’re doing.”

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