March of the Penguins with Orchestra: iCadenza Case Study

July 8, 2015 was an important milestone in the life of iCadenza and Cadenza Artists. It was the culmination of months and years of work on a project that, at many times, we weren’t sure would come to fruition.

What was this momentous event?

It was the debut of March of the Penguins with orchestra, a complicated project driven by our long-time client, conductor Jeffrey Schindler.

Even better, the debut of this project didn’t just happen anywhere—it featured the Seattle Symphony, one of the very best orchestras in the world.

Meet Jeffrey Schindler

We began working with conductor Jeffrey Schindler about 4 years ago, both as a consulting client through iCadenza, as well as an artist we represent on our Cadenza Artists Roster.

A talented and accomplished conductor who had made a career in film music, Jeff wanted to get back to his roots and spend more time on the concert podium. As he put it, as magical it is to participate in the creation of music that impacts an enormous audience around the world through a film’s distribution, there is still nothing quite like the energy of a live audience responding to the creation of music in real time.

In addition to believing in Jeff’s talent, we’ve come to adore him and his wonderful wife Bonnie over the years. Jeff is thoughtful, perceptive, brilliant, and caring, with extremely high standards and a wicked sense of humor. We feel fortunate to have a true friendship with the two of them, as well as a business relationship.

Jeff was the original conductor for the soundtrack of March of the Penguins, which came out in 2005 and tells the tale of Antarctica’s emperor penguins’ annual saga to mate and raise their young—enduring the harshest winter weather on Earth.

Critics and fans agree that this is an exceptional film. It won the Academy Award for Best Documentary. And is the second-highest grossing documentary of all time.

Furthermore, Alex Wurman’s score is truly magnificent and is due substantial credit for transforming a visually stunning piece into a dramatic and emotionally compelling film.

How We Made It Happen

In the earliest month of working with Jeff, we began discussing the possibility of offering a live presentation March of the Penguins to symphony orchestras.

The film seemed to be a perfect fit. It was extremely successful and well-loved, it’s suitable for audiences of all ages, and it has a phenomenal score. (Also, who could deny that baby penguins are one of the cutest animals ever?)

And so began the very long journey to bring this project to fruition.

The concept of film with live orchestra is getting to be quite popular these days, and it is much more complex to put on than it seems.

For companies that have done this before, it’s probably old hat. But this was our first time working on such a complicated project, involving countless stakeholders.

While we were fortunate to have a few colleagues and mentors who could point us in the right direction, for the most part we (the Cadenza Artists team and Jeffrey Schindler) essentially had to start from the ground up. We figured out everything—from acquiring film rights to preparing the musical and technical assets.

You see, there are numerous components in getting a show like this off the ground:
—Acquiring film and music rights from a motion picture studio. This process took over 9 months, after spending over a year trying to connect with the right department/person
—Months of music preparation to convert a studio score into one that will work in a large concert environment
—Months of technical preparation of a conductor’s cuing video to ensure that the film and music are perfectly in synch during the performance
—For the concert itself, assembling the right audio team to balance all of the acoustic elements: the orchestra ensemble, the featured instruments, the film’s narration (Morgan Freeman’s majestic voice), and the sound effects

Before the Big Performance

Sitting in a totally empty Benaroya hall a week ago during the first rehearsal with orchestra, I felt overwhelmed with pride, joy, and gratitude for the successful culmination of a long process—one that is still just the beginning of reintroducing this film to audiences.

Seeing the film on the projector with Jeffrey joyously conducting, and hearing the exceptional Seattle Symphony bring the score to life in a new way, filled me with gratitude for everyone who worked so hard for such a lengthy period of time to make it happen.

Sitting here well over a year after the serious work began, I realize how much richer we are now for the relationships that we’ve built along the way.

There are so many people to thank:

The fabulous Warner Bros. team whose enduring patience and determination allowed us to gain the rights to the film.

The wonderful Seattle Symphony staff and musicians who took a chance on a new project and were so gracious, helpful, and collaborative at every step.

Our top-notch technical team who made sure the concert itself would go off without a hitch. Ed Kalnins was not only a pleasure to work with, start to finish, but also a true lifesaver at several junctures of the preparation process as well as the show itself! David Hoffis made sure that the sound was balanced between the sound effects, narration, and orchestra, and that it came across uniformly throughout the hall.

The Law Offices of Franzen & Funsten who helped us get in the door to Warner Bros. and advised us on the contracting process.

The entire Cadenza Artists team who oversaw all the moving pieces of this project (specifically Anjin Stewart-Funai, who arranged the fateful meeting with Elena Dubinets at Seattle Symphony and Julia, who was the driving force behind bringing this project to fruition).

Alex Wurman, the composer who delighted all of us by coming out to Seattle for the show.

And Alan Steinberger, the original pianist on the score who came out to recreate his part.

Most of all, I was filled with triumph for Jeff, who had personally prepared the entire score—essentially a full-time job for four months—and was up on the podium, conducting one of the best orchestras in the world.

Along the way, there were countless road bumps that could have derailed the process but somehow, we all kept moving forward. Could we get the rights? Would the music be finished in time? Would people show up?

The Moment of Truth

The concert the following night was nothing short of a success. The large Mark Taper Auditorium at the Benaroya Hall hall was filled to the brim with people of all ages, even children who had brought their stuffed penguins along.

Watching the movie in the dark with a full house—much larger than any movie theater—afforded an amazing shared experience, filled with countless giggles, gasps, and “awwws” over the adorable penguin chicks.

An elderly couple sitting next to us softly added narrations of their own, as their love for each other seemed to grow visibly stronger through the experience they had that evening.

Few things are as gratifying as the transformation of an idea into something tangible and real, one that provides others a meaningful experience. It is also one of the amazing things about live performance. While the preparation and rehearsal process has its rewards (and countless learning moments), nothing matches the excitement of revealing the final product to an audience and receiving a positive reaction.

That feeling of “we did it, and they loved it” is a cloud that we’ll be walking on for weeks to come.

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