Note: As of Aug. 20, 2019, the work in question here has been retitled Philharmonia Fantastique: The Making of the Orchestra.

Next season will bring the world premiere of World’s Greatest Synth: The Making of the Orchestra, written by acclaimed composer Mason Bates and co-created with writer-director Gary Rydstrom and story artist-animator Jim Capobianco to celebrate the centennial of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s concerts for children. A multimedia work integrating film, animation and pre-recorded sound with live performance, World’s Greatest Synth examines the inner workings of an orchestra. Described as “a concerto for orchestra and animation,” it presents the modern orchestra as the perfect synthesis of art and science.

Co-commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra, World’s Greatest Synth will receive its world-premiere performances March 26-28 by the CSO in School and Family Matinee concerts led by guest conductor Edwin Outwater at Symphony Center. 

The commission marks the founding in 1919 of the CSO’s children’s concert series by Frederick Stock, the CSO’s second music director. This programming continues today along with other  educational and community engagement programming by the CSO’s Negaunee Music Institute.

World’s Greatest Synth: The Making of the Orchestra flies inside musical instruments to explore the age-old connection of creativity and technology,” said Bates, who served along with Anna Clyne as the CSO’s Mead Composers-in-Residence from 2010 to 2015. “The centennial of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s education program is the perfect launching point for this multimedia work. It’s so meaningful to bring this piece to life with the musicians of the CSO, whose artistry under the direction of Riccardo Muti has hugely impacted my musical imagination over the years.”

In the new piece, the character of Sprite, an energetic guide, leads audiences on a visual tour by taking listeners inside the instruments of the orchestra and interacting with the conductor and musicians. The story unfolds through music and visuals alone, without narration, creating a piece that’s accessible and entertaining for audiences of all ages. World’s Greatest Synth follows in the tradition of classic works such as Prokofiev’s Peter & the Wolf and Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra that introduce the orchestra’s instruments to new listeners.

“The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association is very pleased to continue our relationship with Mason Bates through this new commission,” said CSOA President Jeff Alexander. “Mason is one of the most singular and creative voices in orchestral music today, and he is gifted with a collaborative spirit and a passion for education and innovation. World’s Greatest Synth: The Making of the Orchestra presents a wonderful opportunity to welcome a new generation of listeners into the inspiring world of orchestral music.”

“Discovering the music of Mason Bates during his time with the CSO was so joyful,” said Helen Zell, CSOA Board Chair and sponsor of the CSO commission. “His music takes audiences on journeys of the imagination, and I look forward to the ways that his new work will engage listeners.”

Bates, whose opera The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, received this year’s Grammy for best opera recording, also serves as the first composer-in-residence of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. His music fuses orchestral writing, narrative forms, jazz harmonies and techno rhythms. In a recent survey of American music, he was named the most-performed composer of his generation. His activities as a DJ as well as his many curating projects have influenced his compositional approach. Bates champions bringing new music to new spaces, whether through institutional partnerships such as his former position as the CSO’s Mead Composer-in-Residence, or through his club/classical project Mercury Soul, which transforms commercial clubs into hybrid musical events. He also has composed for films, including Gus Van Sant’s “The Sea of Trees” (2015), starring Matthew McConaughey and Naomi Watts.

Writer-director Gary Rydstrom has been nominated for 18 Academy Awards, winning seven for his work in film sound on films including “Jurassic Park” (1993), “Titanic” (1997) and “Saving Private Ryan” (1998). As an animation director, he was nominated for an Academy Award for his Pixar short film “Lifted,” and directed “Strange Magic” (2015), a Lucasfilm/Disney musical that integrates music and animation.

Story artist-animator Jim Capobianco has worked on many major animated films, including “The Lion King” (1994), “Fantasia 2000” (1999), “Finding Nemo” (2003) and “Inside Out” (2015). He received a best original screenplay Oscar nomination for “Ratatouille” (2007). His love of traditional animation is evident in the imaginative end credits he created for “WALL-E” (2008) and in his Pixar short “Your Friend the Rat” (2007). He also recently supervised the animation sequences for Disney’s live-action film “Mary Poppins” (2018).

World’s Greatest Synth: The Making of the Orchestra is made possible through the generous support of Helen Zell.

TOP: Mason Bates takes a bow after the world-premiere performance with the CSO of his Anthology of Fantastic Zoology. | ©Todd Rosenberg Photography 2015