Wolf Trap and The Movies – A Modern Way to Preserve the Arts

This past weekend I attended a sold out show at a popular DC concert venue. The lawn was full well over an hour before show time and the place was a mad house. People were in costumes and wearing merchandise everywhere. No, it wasn’t Lady GaGa or Bruno Mars- it was an outdoor screening of the 1993 film Jurassic Park… with the National Symphony Orchestra providing musical accompaniment. It was the 4th event to sell out this summer at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was the other film to sell out this summer, making half of their top performances films. It is clear that this series is a popular one, and I think, a cool look at the future of classical performances.

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In the DC region there are a lot of concert venues to pick from. They all have their unique styles. There are large rock stadiums like Verizon center, outdoor amphitheaters like Merriweather Post Pavilion, and … odd places like Wolf Trap that are trying to combine the old with the new to fill their own niche.  In an era where Classical Music as our parents knew it is dying, Wolf Trap seems to be trying to breath new life into symphonic music.

And it is going surprisingly well.

Every summer of course they’ve got their traditional fare of Operas and international orchestras. They also sprinkle in some rock shows like Goo Goo Dolls and older hits like Beach Boys- but among the normal fare are movies like “La La Land” and “Lord of the Rings”. The performances balance modern interests with tradition- a giant screen hanging over the orchestra playing out the popular films of the last 30+ years.

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A cynic could say that younger generations don’t appreciate an orchestra by its own merit, but times change, and Wolf Trap has done well changing with it. John Williams and Hans Zimmer attract more fans these days than Mozart or Vivaldi do. While Wolf Trap has not entirely abandoned the latter, they are welcoming in this new market with smiles and open arms. I for one love to see this.

At the heart of it, seeing an orchestra live is about sharing in the emotional experience brought about by a piece of music. Add favorite characters, moments and giant dinosaurs to the mix and you have a recipe for a lot of fun. Seeing a major film classic on the screen, live with an active audience was a blast. The most famous lines “Hold onto Your Butts”, “Life uh finds a way”, “Women inherit the Earth” and apparently Jeff Goldblum posing shirtless all earned claps and cheers. We all grew up loving this film, and there were parts where peoples’ love of the film just spilled over into applause. It was so fun experiencing that energy and enjoying such a beloved film with thousands of other people.

But it was still a concert too. People applauded for the individual songs, as we would in a traditional concert. It was a weird combination, to be sure, but it actually worked really well. Songs I had never paid any attention to on previous viewings of this film suddenly stood out to me, like the tense music that played in the opening scene when the raptors attacked people through their cages. It made the tension, action filled second half of the film really jump to another level. And yes, the part where they reveal Jurassic Park with the main theme was as hair raising and majestic as you could hope for. It was truly a great cinematic moment brought to life by the live orchestra.

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While it is certainly not a common way to enjoy a film, and it comes with a price tag ($35 for lawn tickets) it was well worth the price of admission. Wolf Trap has found a wonderful way to earn a new audience and preserve the symphony for a new era, and that is also exciting to see. If I had one critique it is actually that they need more screens for their films going forward, as the one central screen meant people to the far left or right had a poor view. However, this issue was not enough to deter me from returning in the future. Personally, I will definitely be on the lookout for more of these movie showings at Wolf Trap next summer as well.

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You can view remaining events at the Filene Center here.

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