VSO highlights the harmonies behind Home Alone

Conductor Julian Pellicano takes on John Williams’s serious score for the silly holiday movie

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      Thanks partly to his being an in-demand conductor, and partly to his being a father of two small children, Julian Pellicano figures that he’s seen Home Alone somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40 times. His love for the John Hughes–penned holiday season classic—which dates back to his own childhood—is as a result multifaceted.

      “I was 10 years old when it came out, so I thought it was hilarious and amazing,” Pellicano says, on the line from his home base of Winnipeg. “I now have two kids myself—my oldest daughter is eight and she thinks it’s just the funniest thing. This will be my third time doing a run of concerts with his movie as a matter of learning it and conducting performances, and I’m certainly not sick of watching it.”

      And a big reason for that is the music. While most of us tend to associate the film with Macaulay Culkin’s famous aftershave scene or his shooting Joe Pesci in the nutty buddies with a pellet gun, for Pellicano the work of legendary composer John Williams is as essential to the movie as the slapstick humour. He’ll be leading the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in re-creating Williams’s score when Home Alone screens as part of the upcoming VSO at the Movies series.

      “I don’t know if people really think of the music from Home Alone in the same way that some of the other John Williams scores—the music from Star Wars or E.T.—are so iconic,” says Pellicano, the resident conductor at the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. “But what he brings to this film, which is kind of a cute Christmas movie, is the same level of skill and artistry that he brings to his more famous works. You’ll hear that in the score. It’s really ingenious in the way that it’s constructed—the orchestration is spectacular. That it’s such great, high-quality music is one of the reasons why orchestras love doing this movie.”

      After getting his start playing everything from grassroots world music to punk rock as a percussionist, Pellicano went on to study at schools including the Royal College of Music in Stockholm and the Yale School of Music. His career trajectory has seen him perform around the globe, lead workshops for young classical students in Canada and the U.S., oversee operas like The Marriage of Figaro, and collaborate with the world-renowned Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

      He is also no stranger to turning well-loved movies into live-music spectacles, having led orchestras to classics ranging from Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights to The Wizard of Oz to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. For those unfamiliar with how the performances work, films are screened in versions with the orchestra tracks removed. Those parts are then filled back in by live performers.

      “So the whole idea is to try and get a good balance between the orchestra and the dialogue,” Pellicano explains. “If we do it right, you kind of end up really focusing on the film. When they are married together it becomes a really great experience—you aren’t necessarily distracted from the film. Obviously, there’s an orchestra on-stage, but I hear from audience members who say ‘I was so engrossed in watching the film, and then I noticed that there were 80 musicians on-stage and they sounded amazing.’

      “Sometimes you end up going back and forth between the film and the orchestra,” he continues. “With these performances you kind of become aware of what it takes to have all this music in a movie. What I always hope and what I’m trying to do is have an audience be aware of how much the music really adds to a film. Cinema is one of the main places where people hear orchestras regularly. These shows really raise an awareness that what you hear is music being made by live musicians, not by some machine.”

      The VSO at the Movies brings Home Alone to the Orpheum on Friday and Saturday (December 14 and 15).