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Sunday, December 15, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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New assistant director for Spokane Symphony making debut with ‘Psycho’ concert

Jorge Luis Uzcátegui hopes for a killer debut

Jorge Luis Uzcátegui, the Spokane Symphony’s new assistant conductor, makes his local debut tonight. (Dan Pelle)
Jorge Luis Uzcátegui, the Spokane Symphony’s new assistant conductor, makes his local debut tonight. (Dan Pelle)

It’s nearly impossible to imagine now, but Alfred Hitchcock originally intended the shocking shower scene in his 1960 horror classic “Psycho” to be totally silent. The film’s composer, Bernard Herrmann, went against the director’s wishes and scored the sequence with shrieking violins and thrumming cellos, producing one of the most instantly recognizable pieces of cinematic music in the history of the medium. (Hitchcock later admitted that Herrmann’s decision was the correct one.)

That music is what gives “Psycho” much of its immediate impact, and the film remains as spellbinding a horror story now as when it first jolted audiences nearly 55 years ago. Tonight you can see Hitchcock’s landmark movie on the big screen while the Spokane Symphony performs Herrmann’s score live, led by Jorge Luis Uzcátegui, the symphony’s new assistant conductor.

“Being here in Spokane is really an exciting moment for me because it is such a wonderful orchestra, and it’s really a treat for the city,” Uzcátegui said. “Being a part of this is incredible.”

Uzcátegui, 32, is a native of Caracas, Venezuela, and he’s finishing his doctorate work at UCLA. He will move to Spokane when the symphony’s next season starts in September, and tonight’s concert marks his local conducting debut.

He says he had a passing familiarity with “Psycho” before preparing for tonight’s concert – after all, everyone knows the secrets of Bates Motel and its shifty proprietor Norman, as well as the fate of its most unfortunate guest, Marion Crane – but he had never seen the film from beginning to end.

“Now I’ve watched it many times,” he said. “It’s a fantastic movie and a great piece of art. … In a hundred years, people will continue to watch it.”

Uzcátegui will be conducting the symphony while “Psycho” is projected behind them, and the margins of his printed conductor’s score are filled with penciled-in cues to help him match the music with the action on the screen. His job is to keep the musicians synchronized with Hitchcock’s images while properly communicating the intended mood of Herrmann’s score.

“It’s a matter of being connected with the action, the music and the musicians, all at once,” Uzcátegui said. “As a conductor, you have to know the movie inside and out, making sure things happen musically the moment they’re supposed to happen. But it’s very exciting, because we’re in a live situation. … Every musician is creating that suspense, that tension, that drama, and that’s what the audience is going to feel while watching the movie.”

Herrmann is one of the most widely respected film composers of all time – he scored “Citizen Kane,” “Cape Fear” and “Taxi Driver,” and even wrote the theme song to “The Twilight Zone” – but his frequent collaborations with Hitchcock, including the music for “North by Northwest” and “Vertigo,” are among his most famous works.

“The way Herrmann builds tension musically (in ‘Psycho’) is fantastic and clever,” Uzcátegui said. “You feel, even without thinking, that something’s about to happen. There are many moments in the movie where the music is synchronized with the action very precisely. If you watch the movie without the music, it would not create the same tension.”

“Psycho” was produced on a low budget with the crew of Hitchcock’s TV show, but it was a huge box office success in 1960, the year’s second highest grossing film behind Stanley Kubrick’s “Spartacus.” The film’s unconventional structure, tantalizing ad campaign (no one was admitted after the movie started) and highly publicized violence attracted audiences in droves, and watching the film in a theater is the ideal way to experience Hitchcock’s master class in manipulation.

“Imagine watching ‘Psycho’ in the Fox Theater, with the symphony playing the music of ‘Psycho’ live,” Uzcátegui said. “I don’t think it gets better than that if you’re a movie lover.”

Editor’s note: Nathan Weinbender, who also hosts “Movies 101” on KPBX, will be introducing the film tonight.

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