When Jason Platt got turned onto classical music as a 20-something, he remembers some of his college friends asking him, “How old are you now? Aren’t you young and hip anymore?”
Two decades later, Platt, now 44, still finds himself sticking up for his love of classical music and combating the stigma that it’s “stuffy and only for a certain kind of people.”
“The energy of being there and seeing it live in front of your eyes is so special,” Platt said. “You’re a part of it. That's something that everyone can enjoy, no matter how old you are."
In his latest endeavor, the Quad-City Symphony Orchestra commissioned Platt, a Davenport-based freelance cartoonist, to create a five-part video series telling the story behind “Symphonie fantastique,” which the symphony will perform on Oct. 7 at the Adler Theatre, kicking off its Masterworks series.
Reaching a wider -- and younger audience -- is constantly on the mind of Marc Zyla, the Quad-City Symphony Orchestra’s principal horn player and director of education and community engagement. After meeting Platt at the Figge Art Museum last year and seeing his artwork, Zyla came up with the idea to animate he “Symphonie fantastique" narrative.
“I love this piece so much and it’s innovative,” Zyla said. “I thought, ‘How are we going to tell this story?”
Creating the cartoons
Hector Berlioz, the French composer behind the piece, which was published in 1830 and translates to “Fantastical Symphony: An Episode in the Life of an Artist, in Five Parts,” wrote program notes to accompany his music, which frames a wild tale about a young artist’s unrequited love and his eventual nightmare where he hallucinates, while under the influence of opium, about killing the woman he loves.
"You can sit down and read the program notes for context," Zyla said. "I wanted to have a project that takes it out of the imagination and puts it right in front of you."
Cue Platt's black-and-white comic strips, which modernize and localize the story. The main character is a teenager wearing a beanie and headphones. In several of the scenes, Platt incorporated Quad-City fixtures, such as a Genesius Guild play in Lincoln Park in Rock Island and the Quad-City Symphony Orchestra’s Riverfront Pops concert in LeClaire Park. His version is also drug free: During the dreamscape scene, which takes place at Blackhawk State Park, Platt’s character ingests a magic potion.
“They told me the background story and that they were looking to put it in a modern world,” Platt said. “It looks more familiar. It’s far from a guy wearing a tuxedo and going to the opera.”
While drawing, Platt recorded his screen -- a 13-inch Wacom tablet -- so the comics could be turned into animations and later sped up by about 9,000 percent, said Nicolas Propes, QCSO’s music librarian who lended his videography skills to the project. Propes also added in narration from conductor Mark Russell Smith and pieced in the music.
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The resulting five mini-movies, each lasting less than three minutes, will be released one at a time each day next week, starting at 4 p.m. Monday on the organization's Facebook page.
“We see them as self-standing pieces of art,” Zyla said. “If your only interaction with the symphony is this video, that’s great. If this peaks your interest and you want to see it live, that’s great too.”
Symphony gets social
The video series is part of a larger effort by the Quad-City Symphony Orchestra to “be innovative about the way we speak about what we do,” Zyla said.
Specifically, the symphony is stepping into the digital sphere.
That includes amping up its presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even Snapchat with the purpose of “Showing everyone who we are,” Zyla said.
He hopes to take away the “mystery” attached to the 89 members, ranging in ages 23 to 70, in the Quad-City Symphony Orchestra.
“We’re all individuals who do this because we love it,” he said. “And that’s a remarkable thing.”
Here’s an example: Leading up to the Quad-City Symphony Orchestra’s Riverfront Pops concert last month, clarinetist Daniel Won, who lives in Chicago, took over the symphony’s Instagram account, sharing scenes from his day, including rehearsal and lunch at Barrel House in downtown Davenport and his view from the stage in LeClaire Park.
Admittedly, Zyla says, “It’s strange to be talking about social media this way in 2017,” as if to say, yes, they have some catching up to do.
But they’re up for the challenge -- and already have seen success.
Another one of the team’s videos, released in March via Facebook, was viewed nearly 45,000 times, which Zyla equates to going “orchestra viral.”
“I reject the notion that orchestras are failing,” Zyla said. “There is as much interest in what we’re doing as ever. And we’re getting more comfortable talking about what we do and why.”