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Pacific Symphony will ‘be right here’ when it accompanies a screening of ‘E.T.’ at the fairgrounds

Pacific Symphony will ‘be right here’ when it accompanies a screening of ‘E.T.’ at the fairgrounds
This image released by Universal Pictures shows Henry Thomas as Elliott and E.T. in a basket on a bicycle in a scene from director Steven Spielberg’s 1982 movie “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.” (Photo by Universal Pictures)

In a practice that hearkens back to the age of silent movies, the Pacific Symphony will present a beloved movie classic intact — minus its music track.

That’s because the orchestra, positioned below a giant screen, where the film will be shown, will provide the music live before the audience during the showing of the movie.

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“There are wonderful scores written for motion pictures, and more and more, these scores are being presented live in concert with the film shown at the same time,” said Richard Kaufman, principal pops conductor for the Pacific Symphony and conductor of the Aug. 18 event, “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial”: In Concert,” at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa.

Kaufman will conduct the Pacific Symphony, which previously has provided live music to live-action films and cartoons (Bugs Bunny, anyone?). Likewise, Kaufman brings many years’ film experience to the table, having served with the music departments of 20th Century Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

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“It’s like being in a recording stage,” said the Grammy Award-winning Kaufman. “I’ve done ‘E.T.’ before in concert like this, and I never tire of it. It’s one of John Williams’ greatest scores for one of the most exciting films ever made.”

The symphonic score by the classically trained Williams garnered him one of his five Oscars. It is one of four Oscars for the 1982 Steven Spielberg film, which has grossed more than $435 million domestically.

Live musical accompaniment to film has been around just about as long as film itself — more than 100 years. At first, it was functional: The music, whether from a tinny piano or guitar, was there to cover up the sound of the noisy projector (not to mention noisy moviegoers).

It wasn’t long before filmmakers saw great potential in this, and soon collections of mood music were compiled for the accompanist to play in every possible scene: heroic, dangerous, villainous, stormy, chase, etc.

Almost simultaneously, composers — Camille Saint-Saens, Arthur Honegger — saw possibilities in motion pictures as a new art form and would write original scores to be played by a full symphony orchestra accompanying “The Birth of a Nation,” “Intolerance,” “Napoleon” or some other epic film in one of those Art Deco movie palaces of the Roaring ’20s.

Live accompaniment to movies that already have sound is a more recent development.

“We use various tools to help us through, like streamers, the click-track — and just plain watching the action on the screen,” said Kaufman, who has done this kind of work on films including “The Wizard of Oz,” “Casablanca” and more recent works like the “Harry Potter” and “Star Wars” films.

Although he does not take part in the actual separation of the music track from the motion picture soundtrack, Kaufman is involved in preparing what the audience will see.

“It’s re-creating the original film but with the music played live,” he said. “So it has to be done in exact synchronization with the action. I have to make sure it’s all done so the audience will see the film as they remember it.”

If you Go

What: The Pacific Symphony presents “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial”: In Concert; Richard Kaufman, conductor

When: 8 p.m. Aug. 18 (gates open at 6 p.m. for picnics)

Where: Pacific Amphitheatre, OC Fair & Event Center, 100 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa

Cost: Tickets start at $33.

Information: (714) 755-5799, pacificsymphony.org

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