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Giving new musical life to a classic movie

Play it again, Sam? Actually it's Steven – Steven Reineke, the TSO's principal pop conductor, who'll lead the orchestra in a live performance of Max Steiner's soundtrack to Casablanca when the classic Bogart-Bergman romantic film from 1942 is screened at Roy Thomson Hall on Valentine's Day weekend.

We spoke to Mr. Reineke from his home in New York.

Can you break down how presenting a live score to a screening of a film is done?

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Sure. What we receive is the version of the movie with the soundtrack wiped out. All the dialogue and all of the sound effects are still with the film. We provide the music live. The movie will be shown on a big screen above the orchestra. But in front of me, I will see a version of the movie with, in one corner, a big clock. I use that to time up with the music score, which has been labelled to say I need to be at this measure of music at six minutes and 32 seconds, and then at this bar at six minutes and 48 seconds. So I base the tempo of the music on this.

What about Sam the piano player, in the film. It will be his singing and playing, right?

He's kept there. We'll provide the strings, for the underscore. But he's not taken out.

With the clocks and cues, it all seems so meticulous. Is it even any fun to play music in this way?

Oh, you know what, it's actually a lot of fun. When a movie is made and the soundtrack is put to it, it can never be adjusted. It's that way forever. But now, when we get into it live, if I want to stretch the music or push it a little bit or intensify something to make you feel differently as you watch a scene, I can do that. It's live – it will ebb and flow in its own way, and I, as the conductor, have complete control over that. So, it is fun.

What attracts you to this particular soundtrack?

Well, in the great film-score fashion, there are motifs that represent people and ideas, such as As Time Goes By or La Marseillaise that keep getting played throughout the piece. But beyond that, the characters have their own original music – their own motif. It's so deeply romantic and lush and chromatic. It really comes from the great European orchestral masters of symphonic orchestra writing. Max Steiner, that's where he comes from, being Austria born. He could have just as easily been writing a symphony when writing this. It's serious music.

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As Time Goes By, written by Herman Hupfeld in 1931, is the inescapable theme to the film. The music is timeless, and that's what the lyrics are getting to, timelessness, and that the world will always welcome lovers, as time goes by.

Isn't that amazing? To write a song like that. I'm sure when it was written, no one had an idea that more than 80 years later it would still be as appropriate and beautiful and still performed and recorded today as it was then. I mean, that's when you know you have a hit.

Casablanca: The Film with Live Orchestra: Feb. 14 and 15, 8 p.m. $46 to $110. Roy Thomson Hall, 60 Simcoe St., 416-593-4828 or

Editor's note: A previous version of this article had Steven Reineke's name misspelled.

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More


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