Philharmonia Fantastique: The Making of the Orchestra by Mason Bates

| April 7, 2022

BERLIN, April 8, 2022Philharmonia Fantastique: The Making of the Orchestra, the most ambitious project to date from Grammy Award-winning composer, DJ, and curator MASON BATES, positions the modern orchestra as the perfect synthesis of art and technology. Co-commissioned by six of America’s top orchestras – Chicago Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the American Youth Symphony – it is a 23-minute concerto accompanied by a film that combines live-action and animation. Today, Sony Classical is proud to announce the release of the standalone soundtrack, recorded specially by the CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, conducted by Edwin Outwater. Listen here.

The magical intersection between music and technology has always been a central tenet of composer Mason Bates’ career, and Philharmonia Fantastique: The Making of the Orchestra is no exception. The bold project was designed to connect music, musicians, and audiences, and to explore the fundamental connections between music, sound, performance, creativity and technology.

The concerto portrays the four families of the orchestra as distinct “families,” each with their own unique sound worlds and musical motifs: the slinky, sophisticated noir-jazz of the woodwinds; the lush romanticism of the strings; the aggressive techno-fanfares of the brass; and the percussion section “drum circle” in all its versatility. Ultimately the work’s message is one of unity: the diverse instruments of the orchestra are most powerful when working together as one giant instrument.

“I wanted the four families of the orchestra to be highly differentiated so that we could create dramatic tension in the second part of the piece, where the families can’t quite unify,” explains Bates. “The way they finally come together is to learn to play each other’s themes. That element of coming together and transcending their differences became a key inspiration for us as the piece unfolded.”

Nearly every aspect of the concerto mirrors the central thesis that the orchestra is the ideal marriage of tradition and innovation. The title itself is a nod to Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique (a striking dramatic storm with innovations in orchestration), but the music of Philharmonia Fantastique ventures beyond the bounds of classical to bring in elements of jazz and techno.

Ultimately, it’s an exploration of human connection, and the bonds that art and creativity can forge across language and race. The orchestra is, says Bates, “a super instrument. As it brings its marvels of engineering together into a single pitch, we are witnessing both art and science. The same orchestra that explores our emotional depths is also our finest example of interactive technology.” The orchestra is also, he says, quite simply “one of the greatest human creations”, and Philharmonia Fantastique: The Making of the Orchestra is a fitting celebration.