Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra Makes Exclusive Deal With Disney

Feb 25, 2016

'Alice in Wonderland' in concert in Lucerne, Switzerland
Credit Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra

This April, Miller Auditorium in Kalamazoo will show the Tim Burton film Alice in Wonderland with a live performance of the score by the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. This may not sound like a big deal to you - but to the symphony, it’s huge. Why? Three words: Walt Disney Pictures. 


You see, Disney doesn’t just let anyone play the score to its films. In fact, Executive Director Peter Gistelinck says the Kalamazoo symphony is the only orchestra in the country to have this three-year deal.

Gistelinck says Disney is very proud of its product and very protective of its brand. He says even the date of the performance had to be cleared with Disney.

“They are very very keen and very insistent on transparency. And when you’re talking about quality, it’s quality of the movie and quality of the orchestra and also the amount of time that we are willing to put in this production. For example, one of the conditions - and it’s in the contract is that we have to have a minimum rehearsal requirement of four sessions. And you know it’s all those things because they want to make sure that the product or the outcome of this concert is top notch.”

In December, KSO flew conductor Raymond Harvey out to London to see the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra perform to Alice in Wonderland. Kalamazoo will be the first orchestra to perform it in the United States.

“It all begins here at least for this one [film]," says Gistelinck. "And I’m actually very excited about this, I’m also very proud.”

Gistelinck says the symphony won’t be alone. The Kalamazoo Singers and the Kalamazoo Children’s Chorus will join them on stage - making 120 performers total. Gistelinck says performing a soundtrack is different from a regular concert - especially when it comes to timing.

“Once that movie starts, that orchestra better be there. You know what I mean? It’s like you have a clock and our music director Raymond Harvey follows the clock. But it’s not like ‘Oh, let’s stop. Let’s try again.’ It’s like - there you go.”

Just like other orchestras around the country, Gistelinck says the Kalamazoo symphony is always looking for ways to grow its audience while still playing high-quality music. A Disney film does bring in people who might not otherwise see a classical concert. Gistelinck recalls being part of the Star Wars in Concert tour in 2009 with the famous score by John Williams.

“One of my former board members of my former orchestra said to the producer, ‘How can you get so much people to a classical concert?’ - because John Williams is classical music. And he said he laughed about it, he said ‘show them a movie.’”

The Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra perform to the Tim Burton film Alice in Wonderland on April 2nd at Miller Auditorium. They’ll play Ratatouille next March and plan to perform Fantasia in the next few years.