This Month, New York Philharmonic Will Play the Score of Vertigo Live | Playbill

Classic Arts News This Month, New York Philharmonic Will Play the Score of Vertigo Live

Hearing this live rendition of Bernard Herrmann's score for the Alfred Hitchcock film makes you hear it in a whole new way.

Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak in Vertigo Rex Features

“It’s a very powerful experience, using a lot of your senses,” says Laurie Shapiro, a longtime New York Philharmonic subscriber, about The Art of the Score, in which films are screened while the Orchestra performs the soundtracks live. Shapiro feels that seeing a great film and hearing a live orchestra at the same time is “like one plus one doesn’t equal two—it equals four!” That math makes sense when you think of this month’s presentation, January 23–26, when the NY Phil performs Bernard Herrmann’s score for Vertigo while Alfred Hitchcock’s haunting film is projected on a large screen in David Geffen Hall’s Wu Tsai Theater. 

Conductor Norman Huynh, in his NY Phil debut, promises the experience will be completely different from seeing the film in a movie theatre. Speaking this November, he was practically giddy about the great level of detail you’ll hear, saying: “It’s just going to completely overwhelm you, and probably give you a true sense of vertigo when you experience it in the hall.”

Another aspect, adds Huynh, is the emphasis on the music. “When you go see a film in the theatre, the dialogue, special effects, and sound effects are the forefront.” You can hear the music, of course, but it’s not front and center as it will be in the NY Phil’s performances. He believes that part of the reason is actually visual: you can look away from the screen to see the conductor or the strings, which brings a fourth dimension to the film experience.

Huynh has a great admiration for the skill of the composer. Herrmann captures the unsettling feeling and mood all the way through. The conductor is not alone: classical music critic Alex Ross wrote in The New York Times that “Herrmann was an absolute master of the strange art of film scoring,” and that in the realm of movie scores, “there is none greater than Vertigo.”

As it turns out, the film’s soundtrack is not an ideal representation of Vertigo’s score. According to Ross, on the original “the playing
sometimes sounds ragged and murky.” That’s yet another reason to hear the New York Philharmonic play this full score live while watching the film.

Huynh explains that the biggest challenge in conducting these film scores is accurately syncing the orchestra’s performance with the action on the screen. With more recent films there are digital tools to help keep the conductor on track, but in the case of Vertigo and other older films, the technology to sync is somewhat primitive. On the version of the film that the conductor watches during performance, a clock displays a timecode that corresponds to notations on the score. Huynh has to practically memorize the entire film in order to properly keep the score aligned with the visuals.

That kind of analog cuing system—and the fact that the film’s essence is about atmosphere, drama, and dialogue rather than singing
and dancing—leaves more room for artistic discretion. Huynh says that he can “stretch and move the music, and not have to be exactly with what happens on the screen,” and so can create even more drama.

For those new to hearing the New York Philharmonic, Huynh says: “What I hope is that they fall in love with the orchestra as a live musical instrument and that it plants the seed for a lifelong love for orchestral music. That’s what happened to me when I was in college. It’s the perfect entry point to experience the orchestra.”

Laurie Shapiro agrees. She said the experience of using your eyes and your ears “is a great combination. It sets a film to life when it has a score that is, in and of itself, fabulous.”

Check out the remaining memorable movie-music events in this season’s The Art of the Score series

  • January 28: The Movie Music of Terence Blanchard (Presented by Lincoln Center in Collaboration with the NY Phil, part of the campus-wide celebration of the acclaimed composer. Thomas Wilkins conducts; Terence Blanchard and the E-Collective join Members of the New York Philharmonic.)
  • February 6: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis in Concert (Organist Cameron Carpenter performs his own original score.)
  • May 17–19: Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in Concert (Constantine Kitsopoulos conducts the NY Phil in John Williams’s score.)

Learn more at

Music journalist and media consultant Gail Wein has contributed to NPR and Voice of America and written for The Washington Post, Musical America, and Symphony Magazine.

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