Q&A: Justin Hurwitz discusses musical adaptations for La La Land in Concert
Dressed in all black, Justin Hurwitz stands amid a sea of picnic blankets at an outdoor screening. This Saturday, the award-winning “La La Land” composer returns to Los Angeles for another screening where he will conduct a live orchestra as part of “La La Land in Concert.” (Courtesy of Street Food Cinema)
“La La Land in Concert”
Street Food Cinema
LA State Historic Park
Sept. 16, 2023 11:18 a.m.
After several trips around the sun, the music of “La La Land” has made its way back to the city of stars.
Oscar-winning composer Justin Hurwitz will conduct a 52-piece symphony orchestra and jazz band at La La Land in Concert on Saturday, six years after performing the concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Alongside a screening of “La La Land,” the orchestra will perform the soundtrack live-to-film at Los Angeles State Historic Park. Hosted by Street Food Cinema with collaboration from Hurwitz Concerts and Lionsgate, the concert will also feature various food and drink vendors, as well as displays of costumes and props from the film.
Ahead of the concert, Hurwitz spoke with the Daily Bruin’s Graciana Paxton about adapting the score of “La La Land” for a live setting and the cultural longevity of the film and its soundtrack.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Daily Bruin: In the past, you’ve spoken about the care and level of precision that goes into selecting what instruments you are actually operating with, whether that means opting for a specific model or seeking out an instrument from a certain decade to achieve the right sound and feel for your compositions. Was the goal to make the structure of the orchestra as close as it could be to the original recordings, or were there evolutions needed for this concert’s live setting?
Justin Hurwitz: After the movie came out, and I started planning this concert back in 2017, I did a bunch of work to translate the film orchestrations into live orchestration. We wanted it to sound as close as possible to the film score, so really it was about making little changes to the music so it could be played all the way straight through. When you’re making a film score, you record everything in pieces. This concert, the entire movie plays and the movie doesn’t stop, so I had to do some things to make it all flow from one thing into the next, into the next.
Jazz is created each night, in a way that it’s different every single night. So that’s one of the really fun things about this show. All the orchestral music is written, all the notes are on the page, but then you have all the things that Mia and Sebastian see at the jazz club or some of the things that Sebastian plays where there are opportunities for the amazing musicians that have been hired for the concert to improvise. When it comes to the musicians who were hired, I tried to use as many as the same musicians who recorded the original score just because they are the best players in Los Angeles, and really the best players in the world.
DB: With this type of concert, attendees have the visual element of the film playing on a giant screen, but they also have the visual of these musicians in action which serves as its own spectacle. Is that something you are conscious of when approaching and structuring these types of performances?
JH: The orchestra is such a big part of the show, and we want people to be able to appreciate the orchestra and the musicians. We’re doing something that we don’t do at all of the shows but we do for the bigger ones, which is to have three screens. The center screen is showing the movie, and then the screens on the sides are cameras that are showing close-ups of musicians and some of me conducting as well so that people can really see what we’re doing on that stage a lot closer than you would see from your seat in the audience. So you can really look back and forth between the movie and the orchestra and appreciate all of it.
DB: It’s been six years since the last time you conducted this soundtrack in full in Los Angeles. Can you talk about the experience of touring “La La Land in Concert” worldwide and whether it has changed your relationship to these pieces of music?
JH: What I love about it is I get to really experience what the movie means to people and what the music means to people. Because it’s kind of an abstract thing sometimes as a filmmaker when it’s out there in the world, and I know that people have seen it and I know it was a success, but I don’t really get to understand what that means exactly. But when I’m conducting concerts, and I can feel all those thousands of people behind me enjoying the movie laughing, crying sometimes, clapping, it reminds me of what this movie means to so many people.
I love that I’ve heard so many stories where families have brought their kids to see the show and it’s like the first time the kids have seen a symphony orchestra. If film music concerts are the things that get people to fill the orchestras, that is totally fine with me. It’s really exciting to be the thing that gets people to see an orchestra play.