Music by SF Symphony sends extra shivers through ‘Psycho’ 

Fifty years ago at the summer box office, “Psycho” was all the rage.

The film was released on June 16, 1960, as the Nixon/Kennedy presidential race was beginning to heat up, and Middle America might have been feeling a bit touchy about serial killers. Charles Starkweather had rampaged Nebraska in 1958, killing 11. He had faced the electric chair the next summer, in 1959; only a few months later, the Clutter murders, later depicted in Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood,” shocked Kansas.

For “Psycho’s” 50th anniversary, the San Francisco Symphony took on Bernard Hermann’s score. The film was shown on a big screen behind the orchestra. Davies Symphony Hall was filled with Hitchcock devotees and 20-somethings in vintage clothing — and it was hard to imagine that any of them left without a thrill.

“Psycho” ends with a smarmy, cigarette-wielding Freudian explaining Norman Bates’ psychology; the crowd here couldn’t restrain their laughter when he damningly calls Norman Bates a transvestite. Capote would devote hundreds of pages to a more nuanced study of the criminal minds.

In distilling this apprehension with the editing of “Psycho,” Alfred Hitchcock nearly gave up on the film — until he found it transformed by Hermann’s music. The music raised the impact of the film by 33 percent, he claimed, and ultimately saved “Psycho” from being cut up and run on television.

At Davies Symphony Hall with a live orchestra, the film is even better. The piercing screams in the vaunted shower scene come to life like never before, and the incidental music has a depth beyond foreshadowing. Donato Cabrera led the orchestra masterfully; when he raised his baton, the audience knew they were in for some goosebumps.

It proves that no theater sound system can match live musicians. It’s a rare treat, and a scarier “Psycho” than anyone has seen yet.

The San Francisco Symphony’s pop appeal isn’t stopping with Hitchcock.

On Saturday, “Summer & the Symphony” hold its grand finale, featuring Chris Noth of “Sex and the City” fame narrating Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait.” Members of the UC Berkeley Marching Band will perform the show tune “76 Trombones”; the original jazz version of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” also is on the program. 

Dancing to the Martini Bros. and desserts and drinks are offered an hour before the performance.

On Sunday, Mexico’s independence bicentennial will be celebrated with the symphony in a free concert in Dolores Park. Mexico City native Alondra de la Parra conducts musical favorites from Mexican composers, including Arturo Marquez and Carlos Chavez. Pre-concert festivities will begin at 12:30.

Examiner staff writer Tasha Kelter contributed to this report


IF YOU GO

Summer & the Symphony

Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $15 to $90

Mexico’s Bicentennial

Where: Dolores Park, 18th and Dolores streets, San Francisco

When: 2 p.m. Sunday   

Tickets: Free

Contact: (415) 864-6000, www.sfsymphony.org

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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