CSO at the Movies presents ‘The Godfather’

The Godfather Still
Photo: Chicago Symphony Orchestra

By Antoinette Isama

On Tuesday and Wednesday the Chicago Symphony Orchestra goes to the movies, presenting, The Godfather, with members of the CSO playing Nino Rota’s original score.

For the 7 p.m. performance in Symphony Center, Francis Ford Coppola’s mega-hit will be shown on a giant HD screen hanging above the stage, while conductor Justin Freer leads the orchestra in Rota’s score. The performances are among the few taking place worldwide since the world premiere of this combination screening and live performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall in December 2014.

According to Liz Madeja, the CSO’s director of marketing, the performances are designed for everyone – from the movie buffs to those who may have never seen the film.

“Just having that visual,” she said, “brings something different, special and unique to the hall.”

Nino Rota
Nino Rota composed over 150 score for Italian and international film productions. (Chicago Symphony Orchestra)

Rota, an Italian composer who wrote more than 150 scores for Italian and international film productions from the 1930s until his death in 1979, connects with the Chicago Symphony through one of their own. Music Director Riccardo Muti studied composition with Rota and considered him a mentor. Freer notes that this relationship shows a beautiful connection between maestro and mentor.

“I love that because there’s a true connection of lineage that you rarely get to experience in that format,” Freer said.

Preparing The Godfather’s score for live performance was, according to Freer, a project full of restoration, preservation and re-orchestration efforts. One of the challenges he considered well worth tackling was filling in the holes of the score with accuracy and precision.

Justin Freer
Justin Freer will lead the orchestra through Nino Rota’s score Tuesday and Wednesday. (Chicago Symphony Orchestra)

“This was a humbling experience,” Freer said. “Trying to restore some of the genius of Rota and Coppola comes with a great sense of responsibility. You want to make sure that you’re preserving it the way it was intended to be performed and recorded originally.”

To make sure that the orchestra’s timing with the film is spot on requires focus and chemistry. Freer and his team endured lots of cross checking of instruments, tempos and dynamics of Rota’s score. He will have a video monitor near the podium, to keep track of big tempo changes and tempo markings.

“This is a good guide to have,” he said. “It helps me figure out where I am and what I need to do.”

The orchestra’s CSO at the Movies series began in 2004, and it was one of the first orchestras to create a series inspired by appreciation of music for the cinema. Given the CSO’s long relationship with guest conductor and noted film composer John Williams, it was a natural fit to expand and create a series centered on celebrated movie music.

“Music and movies are two peas in a pod,” Madeja said. “They have gone together for years and years.”

The CSO at the Movies usually sells out on subscription, so individual tickets can be scarce. Past CSO at the Movies series have included West Side Story, Fantasia and, in November, clips from 12 Pixar films.

Freer hopes the audience will learn how important film music is as an art form.

“I hope they come to expect a truly immersive environment that pulls them into a movie and concert experience,” he said. “The audience will be told a story in a beautiful way.”

Find more information at cso.org.

Photo at top: Scene from the movie The Godfather. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra this week is playing the score to the movie as theatergoers watch the film.