Philadelphia Orchestra and the Mann Center hook up with Batman and Beck for summer

Amos Lee performs with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Mann Center.

Whenever I see the Philadelphia Orchestra hooking up with legendary musical artists such as Sting or playing before a big movie screen for a live scoring session, the first thing that I want to know is “how did that happen?” or “Who bugged who first?” when it comes to connecting one of America’s most notable classical orchestras with indie bands, rappers and films.

In advance of a summer’s season at the Mann Center when the Philly Orchestra plays live during June 20’s screening of Batman (Tim Burton’s kitsch 1989 version), along with alternate-roots ensemble Dispatch (June 22), indie-funk hero Beck (July 25), or in time with Disney’s Alladin (July 27), Metro spoke to Toby Blumenthal, the Mann’s head of programming about his matchmaking abilities.

“From the Beatles and George Martin’s arrangements to Issac Hayes; use of an orchestra to Quincy Jones adding strings to Michael Jackson’s ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,’ pop songs come to life in new ways when it comes to adding an orchestra,” Blumenthal says. “Orchestral arrangements enhance what an artist has to say.”

The artist has to be the right fit AND has to be the driving force behind the pairing, but Blumenthal has the meeting of strings, pop song – even images – down to a science. “So much of this too is about developing new audiences, showing them how powerful an orchestra can be,” he adds.

Dispatch is performing at the Mann Center later this month.DISPATCH / PROVIDED

Adventuresome artists’ agents and managers reach out to organizations like the Mann, as West Philly’s beloved amphitheater has a history in merging live orchestras with pop cultural totems.

“The Mann has been a leader in adding live strings to films, going back to 2012 and 2013 with the video game Zelda, then Disney’s Fantasia and the Philadelphia  Orchestra,” says Blumenthal, enthusiastic about bringing darkly epic strings to the gothic theatricality of Danny Elfman’s original score for Batman on Thursday night.

“We expanded on the movie thing by 2014 with bringing the Orchestra onstage with artists such as gospel vocalist Marvin Sapp, Philly folkie Amos Lee, and last year, with local rapper Chill Moody.”

Because the Mann has that stellar reputation for blending the Philadelphia Orchestra’s brass and strings to any manner of new artists and films, Blumenthal is on the top of their minds when artists want to experiment.

The Americana-focused Dispatch have tested the waters of strings-and-things at Red Rocks and its hometown Colorado Symphony, and wanted to repeat the “power of 50 to 100 musicians behind them, bringing new color to their music” in Philadelphia. In the case of psychedelic pop hop sensation Beck, his wild artistry and Technicolor musicality has been a “bucket list” desire for the Mann’s Blumenthal, especially since Beck’s father is famous Hollywood string arranger David Campbell. Arranger Scott O’Neill will be manning the strings behind the new staged sound of Dispatch.

Beck is coming to the Mann Center next month.BECK / PROVIDED

But since the Mann has a longstanding relationship with the Philadelphia Orchestra as its outdoor seasonal summer home, Blumenthal is quick to give the necessary props and kudos to that classical outfit’s arrangers and players, as well as those on his own team for knowing their flats and sharps. “And for allowing us to think outside of their traditional box, and present the Orchestra in very different ways than how you would see them at the Kimmel Center during their regular season.”

With that, there is constant dialogue between the Philly Orchestra’s team, the Mann’s team and any artist or film that comes to its stages, with questions of who’ll handle what, how many musicians are needed, an understanding of whose charts are being used, and how the Orchestra is being featured – “not as a support performing role, but truly as part of the actual performance.”