CSO to perform live-to-film concert of Tim Burton’s ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’


Illustration by Grace Bukowski/DESIGN EDITOR

What’s this? It’s Christmas in July, and what better way to celebrate than with Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas”? The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Chautauqua’s Principal Pops Conductor, Stuart Chafetz, will get into the spooky holiday spirit by playing the live soundtrack to this family favorite at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater.

Seeing this Christmas classic with the CSO playing composer Danny Elfman’s score, Chafetz said, will be like watching the movie for the first time again.

“It’s that much more intense because you’re not watching it on a little screen like your laptop or television ­­— especially coming out of the pandemic where everyone stayed home and watched things on some kind of small device,” Chafetz said. “Being able to hear a live orchestra surrounding you makes a huge difference. The music surrounds you in a way that you don’t get anywhere. It’s really cool.” 

Being surrounded by the sounds of the orchestra will give the community a whole different perspective to this movie. 

“A movie with a good soundtrack completely changes the impact the movie has on the audience,” said Ming Gao, first violinist. “Music creates all the passion and excitement and expresses whatever the words cannot express. The music takes that on.” 

Live soundtrack performances by symphonies are becoming more popular, and for Chafetz, they are invigorating.

“It’s incredible, the energy,” Chafetz said. “This is a really great thing, and the Amphitheater is a beautiful place to put on a movie like this.”

The textures of Elfman’s work are something the musicians are looking forward to exploring as well.

“Danny Elfman was able to produce special colors of sound that amplify people’s feelings while watching what Tim Burton created,” said Marian Tanau, first violinist. “For example, there’s a contrabass clarinet that makes a sound that sounds like it came from a different world. His music is rich, mysterious and dynamic.”

This live to film concert is a bit different and challenging for the CSO in various ways. Chafetz will rely on a little monitor to keep up with counting and staying on beat. The musicians themselves have a click track that allows them to notice details such as tempo changes. This timing is a challenge — the CSO must precisely keep up with the movie as it plays on a big screen above them. 

“With classical concerts you have more freedom to do what you want to do musically. It can be different each night, depending on how things feel,” Chafetz said. “Everyone notices if you’re a measure off with a movie. You have to be totally precise. It takes a lot of work and there’s no flexibility. There’s no way to put your guard down.”

However, the end result is nothing short of spectacular. 

“It’s just so nice when everything lines up,” Chafetz said. “The movie is fantastic and the score is wonderful. It’s one of the hardest movies to conduct. But, it’s fun when it lines up and comes together. It’s just so gratifying.”

The CSO faced restraints when it came to which movies to perform due to COVID-19, like a 90-minute time limit. However, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a choice that families can come together to experience, and Deborah Sunya Moore expects that under the baton of Chafetz, the CSO will put on a show to remember. 

“It’s such a thrill to have Stuart serve as our first-ever principal pops conductor, and starting with a family friendly movie feels like a perfect way to share rich orchestral music in a setting that is fun, full and fabulous,” said Moore, senior vice president and chief program officer (interim); vice president of performing and visual arts. “It was his good idea to have Christmas in July, and this concert will serve as a present to all those that attend.”

Tags : Chautauqua Symphony OrchestraChristmas in JulycsoStuart ChafetzThe Nightmare Before ChristmasTim Burton

The author Nichole Jiang

Nichole is a rising senior at Penn State University majoring in digital print journalism with a minor in Chinese. At PSU, Nichole served as a web writer for Valley Magazine and is currently an editor and writer for College Magazine. As a first-timer at Chautauqua, Nichole is excited to be working with the Daily and experiencing everything the area has to offer. Nichole loves going to the beach and trying out new recipes.