It’s a Wonderful Life at the San Francisco Symphony

The San Francisco Symphony’s popular Film Series continues with the Orchestra performing the live accompaniment to films – most recently the beloved holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life. Justin Freer conducted the SF Symphony and Chorus December 11-12.

For those who’ve never experienced these type of performances – the sound tracks in the film are stripped away leaving the dialogue and the visuals. The live orchestra then performs the soundtrack with a conductor who keeps them together with the film by using a “click track”, often a visual flashing light cue. 70 members performed along with the 50 members of the SF Symphony Chorus. “It really makes the music much more prominent, giving the orchestra a prominent role in the experience. It becomes quite obvious how much drama the music adds to the film in this setting. Music is always more exciting to hear live,  and the SF Symphony is top caliber, said SF Symphony spokesperson Lisa Petrie.

The Symphony’s accompaniment to It’s a Wonderful Life brings Frank Capra’s Christmas film to the concert hall for the first time, including newly restored music composed by Dimitri Tiomkin (High Noon, Dial M For Murder, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington). Nominated for five Academy Awards when it was released, It’s a Wonderful Life has become one of the most well-known holiday films ever made. Tiomkin’s music score is regarded as one of the composer’s great accomplishments, highlighting the fanciful and uplifting spirit of the film.

“We believe that people who are new to the concert hall experience and classical music in general will especially be interested in attending our film series. The audience gains more of an understanding about acoustic instruments and the power of a Symphony Orchestra, while being thoroughly entertained. Also, people who just love film will be amazed at the important role that the music plays in the drama of the story, and how individual film composers accomplish this,” said Petrie.

The Symphony prides itself on screening films in their Film Series that are either brand new productions, or bringing back popular productions when the music is excellent. “These performances of It’s a Wonderful Life were the World Premiere performances of this version with newly restored music from the original soundtrack that was cut in production,” said Petrie.

If you want to check out the film series – February 12-13 brings Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo back to Davies Symphony Hall. The series concludes March 23-26 with the SF Symphony performing John Williams’s Academy Award-winning score to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. For their performance schedule visit

Screenshot 2015-12-16 08.26.25

Jennifer Boden is a KRON 4 contributor and editor of California Wine and Travel. Jennifer, a former news anchor, lives and plays in Northern California’s Wine Country. Find Jennifer online at

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