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Film-with-live music pioneer Avex plots new shows

Avex Classics talks super-fans, licensing challenges and capturing the cinema experience ahead of Aliens and English Patient shows

By Jamie Raybould on 30 May 2018

Titanic Live, Taiwan, Apex Classics

Titanic Live at the Kaohsiung Spring Arts Festival

image © Kaohsiung Spring Arts Festiva

Avex  Classics, a division of Japanese entertainment group Avex, has announced tour dates of two of its new shows, Aliens Live and The English Patient Live, starting in October this year. Avex Classics is known for its amalgamation of classic films with live orchestra; alongside the performances of Aliens and The English Patient, the company has produced showcases of Titanic and Amadeus.

Performed in concert halls which exude as much grandeur as the films, such as the Royal Albert Hall, the Auditorium de Lyon and the Tokyo International Forum. James Cameron himself said that “this experience is beyond anything I’ve seen in the theatre”. Maggie O’Herlihy, Avex Classics’ head of Europe and the Americas, spoke to IQ about its Film with Live Orchestra concert series.

“Almost every person who buys a ticket to a Film with Live Orchestra show has already seen the movie multiple times – first at the cinema, then on DVD, Blu-ray, maybe in 3D, on a plane, etc.,” she explains. “Film with live music enables audiences to recapture the cinema experience but in the spectacular setting of a concert hall with live musicians. It stirs emotions and gives us a heightened experience. There is something magical about sitting among thousands of people at a movie you all love.”

Commenting on the history of syncing live music with film, O’Herlihy continues: “It’s interesting to remember that live music was an essential component of silent films right from the outset. When picture houses first came into existence, an organist would always be there to perform live music in sync to picture.

“Swiss conductor, Ludwig Wicki, was the trailblazer behind the current manifestation of live film music. Wicki was adamant that full-length feature films could and should be presented with live music, and he convinced Howard Shore to let him put together The Lord of the Rings in Concert in Switzerland, London and New York. The show was an instant success and it paved the way for this thriving genre which is being enjoyed by millions worldwide each year.”

The success of that first show back in 2009 meant lawyers and representatives from film companies now place more faith in the project, whereas they were originally more apprehensive about creating licensing deals for a project they did not understand.

“live music was an essential component of silent films right from the outset”

This faith means that the Avex can now include a wider array of films in their performances: “Horror has proved to be a terrific fit for Film with Live Orchestra as is evidenced by Aliens Live,” says O’Herlihy. “Meanwhile Avex Classics International will soon roll out The Age of Innocence Live, which is a stunning period film with a sublime Elmar Bernstein score. New action and thriller projects will be announced in 2019.”

IQ asked O’Herlihy about the difficulties surrounding the deconstruction and re-building the scores in the films. “We faced some major challenges when putting together Titanic Live,” she says. “For example. Firstly, the software which enables one to create digital scores did not exist until the mid to late 90s so film scores and parts tended to be hand written up until relatively recently. Twentieth Century Fox had over 25 boxes full of Titanic scores and parts and it took quite a while to decipher what had been used in what cue.

“Secondly, James Cameron had become quite adept at editing music sound files by the time he collaborated with James Horner on Titanic. After Horner delivered the final master for the Titanic soundtrack, Cameron made some further edits to the film and picked out stem files from the various cues Horner delivered to match the revised scenes we see in the final picture.

“It is highly unusual for a film director to be proficient at doing this and it is not something which typically happens on any film after the master for the soundtrack has been delivered. Of course, Film with Live Orchestra is still a relatively new genre, and nobody imagined that films would be presented in this way back when Cameron and Horner were creating Titanic. To produce Titanic Live, we essentially had to reverse engineer the music edits James Cameron ended up making. It took a team of four people many months to do so as there was no road map for Cameron’s edits.”

O’Herlihy says she sees a bright future for tours combining film and live music. “Amadeus and Titanic Live are constantly on the road, as orchestras and venues all over the world are hungry for this type of content,” she concludes. “Avex Classics International will premiere The English Patient Live at the Royal Albert Hall in October and from there, it will go on tours of Europe, Asia and the US. My prediction is that flm with live music is a genre that’s here to stay. As long as there are great movies being made, there will be demand for the shared, immersive musical experience.”


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