‘Casablanca’ Gets Live Orchestra Treatment at NJPAC

By Madeline Orton
NJ Today

Hundreds of audience members poured into New Jersey Performing Arts Center to see a classic romantic film as they’ve never seen it before — accompanied by a live orchestra.

“This is the first time we’re showing an entire film accompanied by the orchestra,” said Interim President & CEO of New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Susan Stucker. “On our Pops Series next year we’re going to be doing Cirque de la Symphonie with acrobats performing in and around the orchestra, and we’re also presenting a tribute to the Beatles.”

“I think this is a great way to introduce new audiences to the sound — the thrilling sound — of a live orchestra,” said Guest Conductor of New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Constantine Kitsopoulos.


Nationwide, symphonies are contending with declining attendance and groups like New Jersey Symphony Orchestra are looking to diversify the kinds of performances they present.

“We try to be very engaging with our audiences, we talk about raising the invisible curtain so that we’re more approachable,” Stucker said.

Symphonies are finding new ways to build audiences for orchestral music and NJSO hopes that programming like “Casablanca” will do just that.

“To study for this, I actually checked out ‘Casablanca’ and I went through with the music and I was astonished that you actually can’t hear a lot of the orchestration in the actual movie, so I think the audience will discover some new pieces of music in the movie,” said Associate Concert Master of New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Brennan Sweet.

“The score is by Max Steiner, and Max Steiner — who also wrote and scored ‘Gone with the Wind’ — was actually a composition student of Gustav Mahler,” Kitsopoulos said.

Performing alongside a film does provide added challenges for the orchestra.

“We have to be right on the clock, right with the movie. The movie just goes and there’s no wiggle room,” said Sweet. “The other challenge for me is not to watch the movie while I’m playing because it’s right there and I still have to concentrate on the music.”

“I have a couple of video monitors in front of me. One of them has the film so I can watch the film on the one side and on the other side I have just a regular analog clock,” said Kitsopoulos.

To facilitate performance of the score, the orchestral track has been removed from the film.

“All the famous stuff is on there and we will be playing with them on the screen, so it will be kind of like a duet between orchestra and movie,” Sweet said.

But NJSO suggests the payoff has made it worthwhile.

“We’re usually not very aware of what’s going on with the music in movies, but the music is always there, kind of shaping things behind the action, behind the dialogue,” said Sweet.

“I think that I’m noting the music a lot more than I would have otherwise, appreciating it a little bit more,” said Colleen Traflet.