Fresno Philharmonic sighting: It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a guy with a baton!
Meet Stuart Chafetz. By day he’s a mild-mannered, unobtrusive musician who’d blend into any crowd.
But by night Maestro Chafetz becomes — wait for it now — Superconductor!
Just to clarify, that’s using the second definition of the term. (We aren’t talking about a metal that allows electricity to pass through it without resistance.) This superconductor will emerge when Chafetz takes the podium Saturday, Sept. 22, to lead the Fresno Philharmonic in “Superhero Soundtrack,” the opening concert of the season and the first in the pops series.
The program includes movie themes related to superhero films old and new, from “The Lone Ranger” to “The Avengers.”
“This is really a great way to show off the chops of the Fresno Philharmonic,” says Chafetz, principal pops conductor of the Columbus Symphony. He conducted the Fresno orchestra last season in “The Music of John Williams.”
Even people who say they aren’t into classical music — who wouldn’t think of trudging out to a stuffy concert hall and sit quietly while listening to an orchestra — are tempted with a program like this, Chaffetz says.
“Superheroes have become quite the thing in pop culture,” says Chafetz. “I thought this was a great way to get people in the community who wouldn’t necessarily go to the symphony to go through the doors.”
Fresno will be the third venue for his superhero program. He previously conducted it with the North Carolina Symphony and the Fort Worth Symphony.
One advantage of a concert setting for such classic soundtracks as “Batman,” “Superman” and “Spider-Man” is that you can focus on the music itself while still carrying over the memories and emotional attachments you still have to the movies.
“What I love about this concert is you don’t need the visuals,” Chafetz says. “We have that vivid imagery in our own minds.”
Orchestral movie scores can also serve as a sort of gateway for listeners to appreciate more “serious” forms of classical music. Often the great movie composers, such as John Williams, refer back to earlier composers. The “Superman” love theme is a direct quote from Strauss’ “Death and Transfiguration,” Chafetz notes. Williams was also greatly influenced by Holst and Prokofiev. Once you get hooked on movie scores as a listener, it’s almost natural to want to move onto other orchestral works as well.
That “borrowing” tradition continues today. Michael Giacchino, who has composed scores for such films as “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “The Incredibles,” is himself a big fan of Williams, says Chafetz, and you can hear homages in Giacchino’s works to the older composer.
As for our “superconductor,” it helps that Chafetz has a deep and abiding love of the superhero movie genre. He loves the enthusiasm of the audience. Those attending Saturday’s concert are invited to dress up as their favorite superheroes. At the Fort Worth concert an entire family dressed up as the Incredibles. “Another guy looked like the scariest Batman I’ve ever seen,” he says.
And if Chafetz could be any superhero for a day, which one would it be?
He ponders the question. “I’d say the Invisible Man,” he says.
Wouldn’t that be a moment? He’s up there on the podium and then, whoosh, he’s gone. But hopefully maybe we could still see the baton. Someone has to keep the beat, after all.