This Halloween, the Boston Pops will perform the original score of the classic Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho in sync with the film on screen at Symphony Hall. DigBoston caught up with Pops conductor and musical director Keith Lockhart ahead of this very special event.
Why did you decide on Psycho for this year’s Halloween performance? Is there something particular about the score that stood out to you?
Well, Psycho is such an iconic horror film that it’s almost become a stand-in for the entire genre. I think there are now generations of people who have never even seen the film who when they come to a scary point and go [imitates “Shower Scene” noises] to imitate the shower scene. It’s an outstanding score. It’s a score certainly worthy of people hearing this performed live and it’s kind of the granddaddy of all horror films and really makes a great addition to certain people’s Halloween festivities.
Have you done any work with other pieces by Bernard Herrmann in the past? Where would you say he stands in the music community?
I have. Bernard Herrmann was one of those greats of Hollywood’s golden era. Herrmann was an American-grown product—a very successful composer, arranger, music director. In Alfred Hitchcock’s first American directorial role, the two of them got hooked up and they decided that they understood each other’s language really well. Herrmann wrote other things, including most of the music to The Twilight Zone, and dozens of other TV shows, but it appears that he liked to go dark. And the collaboration with Hitchcock included The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, and North by Northwest, but probably the most famous of those is Psycho. I have to say he’s kind of the dark prince of the film score.
Is the entirety of the Pops playing or is it only certain sections for this performance?
It’s interesting because that film is black and white, even though it’s from 1960. Pretty much everybody was expecting color. Herrmann’s quote about that was that “Hitchcock has written a black-and-white film, and I’d like to write black-and-white music to go with it.” And what he did was use only strings. So you will see the orchestra will consist of a large string section, but not the winds, brass, and percussion that you would expect in the standard Hollywood film score offering. That makes it incredibly inventive, because all the sounds are handled by the strings. The strings make the music and make the tension and make the horror. And the other thing, it keeps it very monochromatic, which is exactly what he was trying to do.
Wow, that’s really interesting.
Yeah, you know, as I’m doing the film I’ve read a little bit more on the background and one of the things that I’ve found most interesting that the one thing everybody knows is the shower scene, right? Originally, Hitchcock didn’t want music in that scene. But when he ran the almost finished product, he didn’t like the way the scene played, and Herrmann said, “Well, you know, I did write music for that part, in case you decided you wanted to use it.” And so they put it in. And Hitchcock said “Oh, that’s much better.” And Herrmann never stopped giving him guff about it.
Will the musicians be in costume with the audience?
I don’t actually know what we’re doing about that. One of the things is we’re part of the experience for the audience, you know, it’s not about us. We’d like the audience to come dressed in costume. But the, you know, it’s sometimes on the stage where you’re trying to watch the movie and hear the music, if you see clowns with flashing red ears, or something like that, it distracts from the screen, and we try not to do that.
I guess people have to come and see for themselves.
Exactly, and more importantly that movie. It’s funny, I’m thinking that there are so many people who know of Psycho, but so many people, I think under 50, who’ve never seen the film from one end to the other, let alone on a big screen. You have to imagine how it struck people in 1960. For one thing, we’ve just become so inured to violence. The Freddy Krueger, Friday the 13th, Halloween, sort of genre—every bit of guts being spilled is shown. And Hitchcock does so much by suggestion and innuendo and raising the tension on the audience. But you do see where so many things that we’ve taken for granted actually came from.
PSYCHO WITH ORCHESTRA. 10.29 & 10.31 AT SYMPHONY HALL, 301 MASS. AVE., BOSTON. BSO.ORG