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“Titanic Live” – A new perspective

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“Titanic Live” performed outdoors by the New West Symphony last month the William Rolland Stadium on the campus of California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks

A neverending fatal voyage

Under the stars with “Titanic”

by Bondo Wyszpolski

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April 15, 1912. Within the span of two or three hours it was as if an entire city had slipped beneath the surface of the ocean. And as that city disappeared it was also becoming mythic and legendary, an architectural Atlantis. Several decades passed before human beings again set eyes on her. Found, at last. Yet in some ways the most intriguing years of the Titanic were those prior to its discovery by Robert Ballard in 1985.

The mighty vessel didn’t go gently or in silence.

In the Seventeenth Canto of his epic poem, “The Sinking of the Titanic,” Hans Magnus Enzensberger writes:

“‘It was a rumble, or rather a roar, a smash, or rather
a succession of smashes, as if in an enormous vault
tons and tons of heavy things were hurled down the stairs from the top,
smashing each other and the stairs and everything in their way.
It was a noise no one had ever heard before,
and no one wishes to hear again in his lifetime.’
From this moment on there was no more ship.
The next thing we heard were the cries.”

Things falling, smashing, crashing, shattering, are worked into James Horner’s stunning score for James Cameron’s epic film, “Titanic,” released nearly 22 years ago, in December 1997. The film garnered 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Score, and Best Song for “My Heart Will Go On,” sung by Celine Dion. On the day the film opened, after working at the newspaper office for a few hours, this writer and his editorial colleague Will Shuck headed over to the South Bay Galleria in Redondo Beach where we caught an afternoon screening. I still remember the occasion and the anticipation that led up to it.

Sayonara. See you in New York. This is perhaps the last photo of the Titanic afloat, taken April 12, 1912

The evaporating ship of dreams

Time has been cradling that mighty corpse for well over a century. At the bottom of the sea, the wreck probably remained in good or shall we say recognizable condition for a decade or two. But then the so-called “rusticles” began forming and weakening portions of the structure and causing inner rooms and decks to collapse. (It should be recalled the the stern of Titanic, which broke loose from the forward and streamlined front section, had a less attractive fate, spiraling straight down into a heap of twisted, broken metal)

It only gets worse with each passing year, and Titanic’s final destination is to collapse entirely into a formless pile of rust on the ocean bed, nearly two and a half miles below the surface.

Because for the past quarter-century I’ve been hanging out with someone who’s watched James Cameron’s film perhaps a dozen times, I’ve subsequently viewed it in 3D on a big screen as well as on home video. So perhaps it was inevitable that I’d also see it, as I did recently, in a new and entirely different setting:

Billed as “Titanic Live,” “Titanic” was screened June 22 outdoors in the William Rolland Stadium on the campus of California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. The film was projected onto an LED screen, set up specifically for the occasion, with James Horner’s score performed live by the New West Symphony, conducted by Ludwig Wicki, with the All-American Boys Chorus and Los Robles Children’s Choir, featuring Eric Rigler on uilleann pipes and Irish whistle and vocalist Maria Zouroudis. Rigler was also a featured player on the original soundtrack recording.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in James Cameron’s “Titanic”

Because of its length (3 hours, 22 minutes with intermission), the screening began even before the sun had set over a distant ridge. Several hundred people had shown up, paying as little as $25 to sit on the turf and then somewhat more to sit on lawn chairs. Anticipating, and rightly so, that outdoor acoustics would be different than those inside an enclosed auditorium, subtitles accompanied the screening, and this also made it easier to focus on the music.

The movie holds up well, and personally I’ve come to enjoy it more than I did when viewing it 22 years ago. Of course, being outdoors as night settled in, it began to get a little chilly just before intermission. But after intermission, and perhaps because Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet and their fellow shipmates were starting to get a lot colder than we in the audience could even imagine, it somehow didn’t seem cold at all during the second half of the long evening.

The orchestra and the singers performed well and there’s nothing like live music, but the sound would have been more intense inside of a cinema with speakers in front and on the sides. Seeing the film outside you knew going in that there’d be some tradeoffs.

The event was presented by the New West Symphony in partnership with CSUN/The Soraya and California Lutheran University. This outdoors showing of “Titanic” was only the second such screening in the U.S. (despite presentations worldwide). It’s clearly not an easy event to mount, but audience reaction was positive throughout and enthusiastically appreciative afterwards. The ship sleeps beneath still waters but sails forever in our memory and imagination. ER

Part two

Eric Rigler, playing one of the instruments from the “Titanic” soundtrack

From the stage: Another perspective (and an appreciation of James Horner)

Eric Rigler is noted for his musical contribution (uilleann pipes and Irish whistle) to the soundtrack for “Titanic,” composed by James Horner. He was asked via email for his thoughts on the concert and the experience of performing the movie’s score alongside screenings of the film, here and abroad. He agreed that it was a cold evening and “not easy on the fingers (or for the instruments) in those conditions.”

But in one sense, the event in Thousand Oaks was highly significant. In Rigler’s own words:

I’ve been touring Titanic Live since it started as a “live” production in 2015. I’m sure that you are familiar that I was a featured soloist on the original motion picture soundtrack, so it has been a joy to perform the music in a concert setting, an event that never used to happen with movie scores until recent years. As a studio musician in the “old days,” we would go into the scoring stages at Warner Bros., Sony, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, etc., and record on a film for as long as two weeks, and then never really play that music ever again. So far, I’ve performed Titanic Live in London, Paris, Berlin, Prague, Barcelona, Moscow, Shanghai, Auckland, Chicago and many other cities. Unfortunately, this last performance in Los Angeles was only the second time performing the show in the USA, primarily for the reason of high production costs and overtime for orchestras and stage crew here in the United States.

The show is almost always performed in a large concert hall or, on a few occasions, an outdoor amphitheater. You mentioned some difficulty in seeing the vocalist or myself — we’re seated next to each other atop a riser behind the string section — mainly because, as I said, the show usually takes place in a concert hall setting where the audience is looking down on the stage rather than being below it, in Thousand Oaks. The production, I feel, is better suited to a more formal setting than a summertime “concerts in the park” scenario, but hey…it came to LA and people seemed to have loved it.

June 22nd in Thousand Oaks, as you probably were aware, had a very special significance. Four years ago to the day, composer James Horner was tragically killed while flying his private plane nearby. I happened to be in Cologne, Germany that night before his accident, ironically, performing the first European arena tour of Titanic Live. He sent me a text that I received just prior to taking the stage, asking how the shows were going. I figured that I would text him back the next morning, only to be awakened by a barrage of emails and texts from all over the world asking if I’d heard the news or if the tragedy was true. It was surreal, to say the least.

James Horner’s music lives on within the films he helped to make. I am honored to have been his soloist on five feature films: Braveheart, The Devil’s Own, Titanic, Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius, and Troy.

Thanks for reaching out!

Eric

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