Philharmonia Fantastique: The Making of the Orchestra is a 25-minute multi-media concerto from Mason Bates, composer of the Grammy Award-winning opera The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, in collaboration with Oscar-winning director and sound designer Gary Rydstrom, and animation director Jim Capobianco. The animated film flies through the instruments of the orchestra to explore the fundamental connections between music, sound, performance, creativity and technology.
The soundtrack won the 2023 Grammy Award for Best Engineered Album, Classical.
Music by Mason Bates Directed by Gary Rydstrom Written by Mason Bates & Gary Rydstrom Animation direction by Jim Capobianco Produced by Alex D. da Silva & Mason Bates Executive producers Jody Allen, Rocky Collins, Ruth Johnston & Mary Pat Buerkle Soundtrack recorded by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Edwin Outwater
Commissioned by Chicago Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, American Youth Symphony, Sakana Foundation, John & Marcia Goldman Foundation and Paul J. Sekhri & The Sekhri Family Foundation.
With thanks to the Heinz Family Foundation, Bette and Joe Hirsch, Judy and David Anderson, Noelle and Evan Shahin, Robin Raborn and John Lazlo, Paula Blank and Irwin Derman for their generous contribution to the education program and digital materials for Philharmonia Fantastique and Sprite’s World.
With thanks to the John & Marcia Goldman Foundation, Carol M. Kaganov and Joseph & Bette Hirsch for their generous support of the inaugural educational installation of Philharmonia Fantastique at Moonshoot Studio at The REACH, Kennedy Center.
Sprite jumping on the Viola bow
Sprite inside the Whip
Sprite flying out of the Flute
Sprite inside the Flute tunnel
Philharmonia Fantastique portrays the four families of the orchestra, each with their own unique sound worlds and musical motifs: the slinky, sophisticated noir-jazz of the woodwinds; the lush romanticism of the strings; the aggressive techno-fanfares of the brass; and the percussion section “drum circle” in all its versatility. Ultimately the work’s message is one of unity: the diverse instruments of the orchestra are most powerful when working together as one giant instrument.
Guided by a magical Sprite, the film shows violin strings vibrate, brass valves slice air, and drum heads resonate. Imaginatively blending traditional and modern animation styles, it is a kinetic and compelling guide to the orchestra that engagingly illustrates the intricacies of how instruments work individually and collectively to produce such a huge range of sound.
Nearly every aspect of the production mirrors the central thesis that the orchestra is the ideal marriage of tradition and innovation. The title itself is a nod to Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique (a striking dramatic storm with innovations in orchestration), but the music of Philharmonia Fantastique ventures beyond the bounds of classical to bring in elements of jazz and techno. The combination of music and animation echoes classics like Fantasia or Peter and the Wolf, but with a fresh approach and a new journey led by the Sprite.
The film features a unique hybrid of animation and live action filming. Guided by Jim Capobianco, the animation team created a hand-drawn, 2D style reminiscent of 1950’s French films. To look inside instruments, the team used high-definition special effects cameras, including probe lenses, to peer inside a violin, flute, and up close to brass valves. The film also features sound design built from the key clicks of woodwinds, taps on the body of string instruments, and vintage analogue synthesizers.
Mason Bates directing Flutist Courtney Wise
Behind the scenes with Violist Keith Lawrence
Filming with Cellist Andrés Vera
Mason Bates directing Violinist Asuka Yani
Preparing the Cello for interior filming
Composer of the Grammy-winning opera The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, Mason Bates is imaginatively transforming the way classical music is created and experienced as a composer, DJ, and curator. During his term as the first composer-in-residence at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, he presented a diverse array of artists on his KC Jukebox using immersive production and stagecraft. Championed by legendary conductors from Riccardo Muti to Michael Tilson Thomas, his symphonic
music is the first to receive widespread acceptance for its unique integration of electronic sounds. He was named the second most-performed composer of his generation (to John Adams) in a recent survey of American music. Working in clubs as DJ Masonic, Bates created Mercury Soul, a show combining DJing and classical music, to packed crowds with clubs and orchestras around the country. Current projects include The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay for The Metropolitan Opera and a piano concerto for Daniil Trifonov. Bates has also composed for film, including Gus Van Sant’s The Sea of Trees starring Matthew McConaughey and Naomi Watts.
Gary Rydstrom (Director/Writer) has been nominated for eighteen Academy Awards, winning seven for his work in film sound, including Jurassic Park, Titanic, and Saving Private Ryan. As an animation director, he was nominated for an Academy Award for his Pixar short film Lifted, and in 2015 directed Strange Magic, a Lucasfilm/Disney musical that features innovative integration of music and animation. He has contributed sound design for the Mason Bates orchestral pieces Alternative Energy and Mass Transmission.
Jim Capobianco (Story/Animation) has worked as a story artist on many major animated films, including Lion King, Fantasia 2000, Finding Nemo, and Inside Out. He received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay for Ratatouille. His love of traditional animation is evident in the imaginative end credits he created for Wall-E, in his Pixar short Your Friend the Rat, and in Leonardo, a hand-drawn animation that has been screened at numerous international film festivals. He has recently completed supervising the animation sequences for Disney’s new live-action feature film Mary Poppins.