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Brief Encounter with...Disney's Jonathan Heely

Kieran Johnson talks to Jonathan Heely, the Executive Producer of Disney's ''Fantasia - Live In Concert'', which makes its UK debut this Christmas season

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Disney's Fantasia - Live in Concert arrives in Birmingham this festive season. With carefully selected symphonic music and animation, the famous score will be bought to life. Kieran Johnson talks to the shows Executive Producer, Jonathan Heely, who explains some of his memories working with Disney.

© Disney

What can we expect from Fantasia Live In Concert?

You will see animated sections from the original 1940 film Fantasia and also from the 2000 version of Fantasia. These have been selected for their musical ambition and most memorable moments from each film. The charming original hand drawn sequences are in 4:3 aspect ratio and later film with newer techniques bring a different sophistication to the wide screen projections all newly restored in high definition quality. We find that children, couples, and people of all ages are nearly mesmerised by the marriage of the artist pen and maestro's music. Walt Disney was so far ahead of his time that this concept is still state of the art nearly 75 years later.

How will it compare to the film version(s)?

The original animation was "cut" to recordings made in the late 1930s under the baton of Leopold Stokowski who was known for unique interpretations of the masterworks. Now we are turning this process backwards by playing the music to match unyielding action on screen. This is a very challenging task for the conductor and musicians.

What is the single most exciting thing about working inside such a creative company?

The vast amount of wonderful material to choose from of course! I speak to people all over the world who have their favourite Disney film, music score, or memorable moment from Disney. So we must choose carefully where to invest our time and attention as we develop concerts for our core audience.

What is your biggest achievement in working with Disney?

Proposing and gaining approval to create these concert packages for a full evening of Disney music and film. My unique background producing music content as a music arranger and position in the Music Publishing and licensing area made me desire to get back to live performance with the wonderful Disney copyrights. The trick was convincing the "big players" at Disney that this could be a viable business, a Disney brand enhancer and that I was the right person to spearhead the projects. Over a million people all over the world have attended our concerts in the past 7 years. It's been a success!

Which piece of work are you most proud of?

I am going to say Fantasia, unreservedly. My first music work in Hollywood was at Disney as an assistant to the assistant preparing the music for the new digital recording of the Fantasia soundtrack in 1982. Later while I developed the orchestra rental business at Disney Music Publishing I would be asked regularly by artistic managers "can our orchestra play Fantasia?" and I would say "no" sorry, it is too difficult working with film projectors, the music materials are not prepared and I'm not allowed to license these rights to others. But now I can say "yes" and I'm very proud that I had a part in bringing this wonderful property back to the concert hall.

What is your favourite Disney film and why? I have many favourites, but Mary Poppins was a childhood favourite. The charming music and animation with live action scenes were amazing in their day.

Tell us about some exciting upcoming productions that you are working on. We are working currently on the Tim Burton version of Alice in Wonderland film with a beautiful score by Danny Elfman. This fantasy genre with a rich literary following has been very popular with audiences. We hope to bring a complete film from the Pixar properties to the concert stage, and we would like to invite a Superhero or Imperial Storm Trooper to our concert audience in the near future.

Disney's Fantasia with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will be at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham on 29 December.