The Matrix gets the symphony treatment
by Everett Evans
Neo, Trinity and Morpheus are back - and this time, they've brought a symphony orchestra with them. The Matrix, the groundbreaking 1999 sci-fi blockbuster, returns as The Matrix Live Thursday at Jones Hall. The Houston Symphony will perform the film's score, conducted by its composer Don Davis, while the movie shows on a giant screen above the stage.
Brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski wrote and directed the saga in which computer hacker Neo (Keanu Reeves) discovers he is living in an illusory world run by machines that have enslaved humanity. Winner of four Oscars including those for editing and visual effects, The Matrix is famous for such innovations as the "bullet-time" effect - the digitally enhanced slow-motion shot with the camera encircling its subject.
Besides film scores, Davis also composes chamber and orchestral works. His first opera, Rio de Sangre, premiered at Milwaukee's Florentine Opera Company last year. Considered avant-garde for movie music, his Matrix score shows influences of John Adams and Witold Lutoslawski.
Davis spoke with the Chronicle Monday.
Q: How do the rewards of movie work compare to your other composing?
A: The great advantage of scoring movies is that a much wider audience is exposed to your music - whereas even the most successful composers of opera or concert music have a limited audience. Having said that, the thrill of having my opera performed last year was something singular. Film is the director's medium, but opera is the composer's medium.
Q: I understand there's been just one previous performance of The Matrix Live, in London last month.
A: I didn't conduct, but I attended, and I was very excited to hear my music presented that way.
Q: Wouldn't it be as satisfying to hear an orchestra play the film score, or a suite of music from it, without screening the movie?
A: If you're not seeing the film while hearing the music, you're not getting the reasons the music was written as it is, not seeing the action that is why the tempo changes at a certain point. You wouldn't be getting the full picture.
Q: Have you made any changes, or is the music exactly as it was in the film?
A: The one significant change is in the final scene, when Neo is on the phone talking to the machines, then hangs up and flies away. In the film, you hear the Rage Against the Machine song Wake Up. During filming, the directors weren't certain they'd get the rights to use the song, so I wrote music for the scene. As it turned out, we were able to use the song, so my music wasn't used. For this presentation, we felt it made more sense to close with the music I'd written.
Q: No doubt many more movies will get the film-with-live-orchestra treatment, as symphonies explore new programming alternatives to expand their audience. Is that good for orchestras and composers of concert music?
A: I see it as a very positive development. If this sort of event gets film fans into the concert hall to hear a real orchestra, they will discover the unique thrill of orchestral music and want to return for classical concerts. The other side is that film music to some extent has been looked upon as a bastard child - perhaps justified in some cases, but not in most. For those film scores that have real merit, being heard this way gives them the chance to be taken more seriously. It's a win-win situation.
Q: What determines whether a movie is suitable for this format?
A: It has to have some epic dimension, not just great music.
Q: What's another film you'd like to see presented this way?
A: North by Northwest