Several months after the Juneau Symphony performed Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony last spring, Roald Simonson began sorting through the live concert footage he’d gathered on film. Though he’d attended both of the April performances, and is very familiar with the power of that piece of music, he was newly amazed at what he saw unfolding in front of him on film.
“It quickly became very alive, what I was looking at,” Simonson said earlier this week.
“What was invigorating — and, to my mind, extraordinary — what I could see with the different camera angles was a particular community being enlivened in an amazing way by this thing that was written 200 years ago. Just igniting people – the orchestra, the conductor, the soloists and, even particularly, the chorus,” he said.
He’d gathered the footage intending to use it as raw material for a future film project, and to produce a simple concert DVD for the symphony. But as the footage began taking on a life of its own, he started to rethink his plans.
“I suddenly realized that I could be in something that was really deep and would require scores of hours of work — and it was obvious that it was going to be worth the effort,” Simonson said.
Simonson invested that effort and will reveal the fruits of his labor tonight during the debut showing of the film at the 20th Century Twin on Front Street downtown. The film will be shown at 5 p.m. and is free. Prior to the screening, beginning at 4:30 p.m., Simonson and symphony conductor Kyle Wiley Pickett will discuss the project and take questions.
In making the film, Simonson enlisted the aid of eight local camera people, including Brian Wallace and Patty Kalbrener, who were given high-definition video cameras and plenty of artistic freedom. Simonson said the camera crew’s process of discovery in filming the concerts paralleled his own in making the film – and both worked to his advantage.
“Because my camera people hadn’t had a plan, hadn’t had marching orders, they were just finding what they thought was interesting. They were on their own, bringing their personality to it and their judgments.”
Simonson said the film includes individual shots of everyone on stage — about 150 people.
The way the film reflects the personalities of the camera operators — and of the performers themselves — makes it different from concert footage of professional orchestras like the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Simonson said, which tend to be tightly planned and very buttoned down.
“By professional standards, the (Juneau Symphony) chorus is misbehaving,” Simonson said with a laugh. “They’re jumping around and moving ... and you can see that some of them have reached a point where they’re not going to hold anything back.”
Another scene illustrates the connections between the performers in the community orchestra: a young French horn player, Kristina Paulick, completes a difficult solo, while her father, Bill, also a French horn player and a longtime symphony member, can be seen in the frame, listening to her with emotional pride.
“You can see her dad in front of her, doing what a dad would do whose daughter has followed him in the path of the French horn. It’s very moving,” Simonson said.
Simonson has worked with the Juneau Symphony on film projects in the past, producing original videos to accompany live concert performances, and has worked with Pickett in California, where he leads the North State Symphony. In Juneau, Simonson has also directed seven local opera productions, created several films, and taken part in the CrossSound Music Festival, among other projects.
Outside of Alaska, Simonson has worked on several recent multimedia collaborations with New York Philharmonic Music Director Alan Gilbert and others, and formerly worked with opera director Peter Sellars and theater director Robert Wilson in the U.S. and in Europe.
Simonson’s brother, Bruce, is also a very active member of the Juneau arts community and a music lover — he heads up the Juneau Bach Society — and their older brother, John, is a professional musician in Europe.
Simonson, who has lived in Juneau for more than 10 years, said his latest project reflects not only his appreciation for the symphony and his love of Beethoven, but the city he calls home.
Said Simonson, “This isn’t a document of a performance, it’s a portrait of a community.”
KNOW AND GO
What: “Ode to Joy” film premiere
When: Thursday, Jan. 30 at 4:30 p.m.
Where: 20th Century Twin theater downtown
Details: Free film screening. DVD is $25, with proceeds going to the symphony.
What: Juneau Symphony’s “Wild West” pops concert, featuring 2013 Youth Solo Competition winner, Ethan Seid on Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4.
When: Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 1 and 2
Where: Thunder Mountain High School Auditorium