Chicago Symphony Orchestra puts film and music in perfect harmony with Amadeus: Live



Tom Hulce stars as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the 1984 film “Amadeus.”

When Miloš Forman’s “Amadeus” first hit theaters in 1984, audiences were treated to a lavish, sprawling spectacle of a film that used an unlikely framing device as a way to explore the inner life of one of history’s most celebrated composers. 

Nearly forty years after the film’s original release, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra gave audiences the opportunity to experience the film in a radical new way: “Amadeus: Live.” The performance, which ran Oct. 14-16, saw the music of “Amadeus” performed live by the full might of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Chorus, alongside a screening of the film.

The film won a staggering eight academy awards, including best picture, best director and best actor. It follows the tumultuous life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) on his journey from child prodigy to court darling to haunted maestro through the eyes of unlikely rival, Antonio Salieri (F Murray Abraham). As Mozart barrels towards fame and Salieri grows increasingly jealous, rivalry descends into madness and obsession with Salieri’s plot to topple the maestro once and for all ends up wreaking havoc on both men’s lives. 

On its own, “Amadeus” is an explosive, dynamic film that takes a fittingly bombastic look at Amadeus’ life. In conjunction with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Chorus, “Amadeus Live” is an entirely different beast. It is a dazzling spectacle that combines the magic of film and live music. It should come as no surprise that a full orchestra and chorus performing a film’s score makes for an enhanced viewing experience. Such treatment would likely turn even the most maudlin of films into an exciting display, but there’s perhaps no better film to receive this treatment than “Amadeus”. 

When programming for a live series like this one, the no-brainer choice would be to choose films with famous, beloved scores: “The Princess Bride”, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” All wonderful, impressive films in their own right with scores well-worth celebrating, but admittedly predictable choices for showcases of film scores. “Amadeus,” on the other hand, is a deceptively unorthodox choice.  Celebrated, yes, but not a film with similarly universal appeal, or the same crowd-pleasing, family-friendly qualities that make up the latter films in the series.

While it may not have been as commercially successful as the rest of the films the CSO will be performing, “Amadeus” is without question the best film the Chicago Symphony could have chosen for such a series.  Instead of an original score by a contemporary composer, the entirety of “Amadeus’” soundtrack is composed of works plucked from Mozart’s vast body of work. Thus, instead of simply hearing an original score played live alongside the film, the audience is treated to a live concert of Mozart’s most iconic pieces performed alongside a dramatized narrative of his life.

The decision to program “Amadeus” as the first film in the CSO’s live series is an ingenious one – it is the perfect platform to showcase the beauty of Forman’s film, Mozart’s music and the talent of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. “Amadeus Live” is a near-perfect intersection of music and film with sound design integrated so seamlessly it is often difficult to discern where the original film sound ends and the live music begins. 

It is not hyperbolic to say that “Amadeus: Live” is perhaps the best way one could experience the film.  Scenes like Mozart and Salieri’s final composition of the death mass are made infinitely more impactful when the audience is treated to a live orchestra plucking each and every note the men dictate. Spearheaded by conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos, “Amadeus: Live” is a whirlwind of art,music and film working in tandem to create a truly singular and utterly moving theater-going experience.