Pittsburgh Symphony Pops to perform 'Wizard of Oz' score

| Thursday, March 7, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

You'd better believe Lawrence Loh is up for his next Heinz Hall concert series.

“This will be my first time accompanying Judy Garland,” he says. “When you hear her sing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,' it's hard to think of it going any other way.”

Loh will conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops for the film “The Wizard of Oz” at concerts March 14 to 17 at Heinz Hall, Downtown. The orchestral portion of the soundtrack has been removed, leaving all the original singing, dialogue and sound effects.

The continuing relevance of “The Wizard of Oz,” which won Oscars for best song and best musical score in 1940, stakes out a singular place in the hearts of children — one that lasts a lifetime.

Loh first saw it as a child. Now it's a favorite of his children.

“I remember being very frightened by certain parts of it, but loving the songs, loving the music in general,” he says. “My kids have seen it too. The first time (for them) was in Broadway form when it came to Pittsburgh. They didn't have the same reaction that I did because they were in Heinz Hall and felt safe. Now when they watch it on TV, they already know the story. I think it was really fun for them. Hilary is 7, and she runs away when the witch is on, or the cyclone.”

The symphony has performed film music live with movies before. In 1994, conductor Michael Lankester coordinated with the Russian classic “Alexander Nevsky.” The orchestra will do it again next season when Sarah Hicks will conduct Leonard Bernstein's music for “West Side Story” with that film in March 2014.

Loh rewatched “The Wizard of Oz” to prepare for the concerts. When he received his study material, he found not only the score in two acts, but also a DVD with the film and a clock timer. While the audience will just see the film, he'll have screens with the film on one side and the clock on the other.

“I have reference timings on the music that will help me be in the right ballpark. I'm trying to treat the score as an organic music performance, but there are places where I have to be a little stringent or exact. You have to be right on the spot for the singing. If I know I have something particular at, say, 11:06, at 11:00, I can adjust by slowing down or speeding up to hit 11:06 exactly.”

Having studied Herbert Stothart's score of the film, Loh is in an almost unique position to assess the performance of the 1939 studio orchestra heard on the film.

“I think they play OK, but it's not like it's going to be with the PSO, every note beautifully performed. You can't always hear the orchestra very clearly on the film, but it deserves a great performance,” Loh says. “This performance will bring the orchestral component of the film to the foreground. You'll hear it like you never did before.”

Mark Kanny is the classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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