USC Thornton School Orchestra at the Granada

All-Russian Program Includes New Animation Technology

<b>COMING ALIVE:</b> On September 12, conductor Carl St. Clair will lead the USC Thornton Symphony through Russian musical repertoire using cutting-edge animation technology.

“They are like a Juilliard orchestra,” said USC Thornton School of Music professor Daniel Pollack, speaking proudly of the group that he will be joining at the Granada Theatre for two concerts this weekend, September 12-13. “They are that superbly trained and confident.” And Daniel Pollack should know. In addition to his post at USC, he has held teaching positions at Juilliard, Columbia, and Yale. But his musical heart belongs — as does this program — to Russia. He will be playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, a work with which he has been associated for decades and which he has performed on several important anniversaries with the top orchestras and conductors in Russia. “Along with Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, it’s probably Tchaikovsky’s best-known work,” Pollack told me, “and it is certainly my favorite for its wonderful pathos, flavor, and color.”

With such a distinguished musician on the bill, little else would be needed to make this an important concert to kick off the classical season at the Granada, but there’s considerably more to this special event. Also on the program is Modest Mussorgsky’s most famous composition, Pictures at an Exhibition. In 2010, 13 artists from USC’s School of Cinematic Studies John C. Hench Division of Animation and Digital Arts embarked on an ambitious project to bring this great piece of music to life, Fantasia-style. Working with the legendary conductor Michael Tilson Thomas at the New World Center with the New World Symphony in Miami, they exhibited this work for the first time.

Since then, two important things have happened. The first is that a new technology called Muséik has been developed by Ion Concert Media, and it will revolutionize the way that orchestras perform live with animation. Instead of synchronizing the music to the image, Muséik allows a human player to control the tempo of the images to match with what the orchestra is doing. For these performances, Scott Wilson, the founder of Ion Concert Media, will be in the pit “playing” the images along with the other musicians under the baton of maestro Carl St. Clair. The second development is the installation of the Granada’s state-of-the-art, one-of-a-kind rear-projection screen, which will allow this to be done in glorious color and at a high resolution. Together these innovations promise a unique experience that’s unavailable anywhere else in the world at this time.

Under the direction of USC faculty members Candace Reckinger and Michael Patterson, the animation students have employed a broad range of techniques to realize their visions — CG, digital hand-drawn, analog hand-drawn, rotoscope, long-exposure photography, green-screen live action, and practical VFX are all represented in the work, which is by Emily Henricks, Andy Lyon, Elizabeth Willy, Ryan Kravetz, Cecilia Fletcher, Melissa Bouwman, Seong Young Kim, Steven Day, Alesandro Ceglia, Ria Ama, and Santa Barbara’s own Carolyn Chrisman.

In addition to the Tchaikovsky concerto and the Mussorgsky, the program will also include the overture to Glinka’s opera Ruslan and Lyudmila. Starting with great music, adding imaginative animation, and then finishing the offering by introducing innovative technology, USC and the Granada have come together to present something very special to Santa Barbara.


Pictures at an Exhibition concert takes place Saturday, September 12, at 8 p.m., and again on Sunday, September 13, at 3 p.m. For tickets and information, visit or call 899-2222.


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