Oscar scores come to life at Stamford Symphony

Mickey Mouse, Michael Corleone and Princess Leia will have something in common on Jan. 19.

All will come to life when the Stamford Symphony performs Oscar Comes to the Symphony at the Palace Theatre, featuring music from well-known films such as Fantasia, The Godfather and Star Wars.

“The idea is to show how certain classical pieces have become associated with specific scenes in films and also to feature music that has become real concert literature,” guest conductor Ted Sperling said.

Symphony CEO Russell Jones said the Oscars concert should appeal to a wider audience than those who normally attend one of the orchestra’s performances. “If you never thought you’d go to a symphony, come and hear this concert.” Jones said. “You’ll know the music.”

The Stamford Symphony has been reaching out to the community with recent performances at a brewery and shopping mall. “A symphony shouldn’t just play music it wants and say, ‘Take it or leave it,’” Jones said. “Orchestras must be flexible and bring music to everybody.”

Sterling is artistic director of MasterVoices, a 150-member chorus based in New York City that tours internationally. He’s worked on many Broadway shows and motion picture scores. He’s musical director for the current Broadway production of My Fair Lady and won a 2005 Tony Award for his work on the play, Light in the Piazza.

Sperling has a long history with the Stamford Symphony. His first professional job out of Juilliard and Yale was as the symphony’s associate conductor. During the past two holiday seasons, he conducted performances of Handel’s Messiah with the symphony.

Performing the soundtrack of a movie while it’s shown silently in the background has become popular in recent years, Sperling said, but the visual can be more powerful than the audio under those circumstances.

“So we decided to do a program where you can really concentrate on the music,” he said. “It gives people a chance to enjoy some of their favorite music, and appreciate hearing a live orchestra do it as opposed to listening through a movie theater’s speakers.”

The Oscars concert will present classical music used in films as well as music created specifically for movies. Almost all the films featured won Academy Awards.

Included will be songs from The Entertainer, Gone With the Wind, The Pink Panther, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Schindler’s List, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Platoon, The Sting and The Magnificent Seven, among others, with work by composers such as Beethoven, Scott Joplin, Henry Mancini and John Williams.

“People will find so much they recognize,” Sperling said. “And the concert will show off the many different ways of using the orchestra.”

Jones, who previously worked at the New York Philharmonic, said scores written for movies make up “some of the best music for orchestra.”

Sperling selected the music with input from Jones. “You want to build a well-rounded program that has good beginnings and ends for each section, a good mixture of very familiar and slightly less so, both up-tempo and slow,” Sperling said.

Sperling has focused much of his career on Broadway, beginning in the 1980s by working on Sundays in the Park with George. He was musical director of the 2008 revival of South Pacific, worked on many Off-Broadway productions, and has also been an actor and stage director.

“I was taken with the multi-faceted collaboration of Broadway, where everyone is pulling together from all angles — scenery, costumes, sets, lighting, sounds, music, choreography, direction, acting, singing — to realize one vision,” he said.

Lately, he’s gotten back to his classical roots by working regularly with large orchestras on limited engagements.

Sperling grew up in a family that loved classical music. His grandmother was a singer and voice teacher. “I studied piano, violin and viola starting at age 5 or 6,” he said.

He knows Connecticut well from attending Yale and his previous Stamford Symphony job. He has family members who live here and regularly vacations in Litchfield County.

The Stamford Symphony was founded in 1919 and is the only fully professional orchestra in southern Connecticut. It is known for its community engagement, with conductor talks before shows and free children’s programs.

The symphony’s season runs from October through April and has five programs that will be performed twice each, plus three other one-time concerts. “We have a responsibility to present all genres,” Jones said.

Upcoming performances include A Night at the Opera, with music from Porgy and Bess by Gershwin and Italian operas on Feb. 9 and 10; The Path to Jupiter, with selections by Haydn, Mozart and Schubert on March 9 and 10; and Russian Passion, featuring music by Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky on April 13 and 14.

For more information, visit StamfordSymphony.org.