“Gladiator” was life affirming Nathan Friedland

When I told my ten year old daughter I’d bought a ticket to see “Gladiator Live” at Place des Arts, she responded, “Daddy, why would you pay 120$ to see a movie that’s like 15 years old when you can see it on youtube for free?”
Part of the Montreal en Lumiere festival, “Gladiator Live” featured the film shown on a huge screen with all its music played live by an orchestra of 82 players with a choir and a female soloist conducted by Justin Freer. The challenge: how do you keep a massive orchestra in time with a film that has so many action scenes and so many cuts that the music must be accurate to a split second with what’s transpiring on the screen? Not to mention that this must be done in front of a massive crowd of roughly 3000 people in a jammed Salle Wilfred Pelletier theater filled with fans who paid as much as 150$ to see the show go on without a hitch? This was a massive endeavor.
As the show began, and I watched a film I had seen 15 years ago at the movies, I remembered that back then I was not married and did not yet have a child. My father, a musician, teacher, and conductor, was well back then and when this film came out, he considered an attempt to play it live with his former orchestra from Concordia University. As a child, I remembered him conducting concerts at Concordia, but never really understood what the audience got out of watching a bunch of people play a bunch of seemingly unrelated notes. He used to say “You’ll understand when you’re older.”
As the film unfolded and its themes about family, home and honor took shape, with a magnificent soloist echoing a haunting theme while a massive orchestra backed her up, I looked up at the conductor and realized what my father meant. I was there to see him. It reminded me of my youth when he seemed like a king on stage. I was there to see where I had ended up. I began to cry as I had realized that perhaps through music, I had become what I am now: a father, a nurse, a husband, and then, just after the intermission, it happened.
Up until that moment, Justin Freer kept the orchestra in time with a small computer in front of him. It played the film but with small captions and a white dot that flashed periodically to be sure he could keep the music dead on with what was happening on the audience’s gigantic screen. All of a sudden, the computer went black. He did not panic but began shaking his head pointing at the screen attempting to signal someone to try and fix it and 3000 people now knew that because technology had failed him, he was flying blind. The action continued and he kept his orchestra in time by looking up at the massive screen and remembering what notes they had to play, exactly when they needed to. A technician crawled up onto the stage like he was a sniper in a jungle. Flat on his belly, he was at the conductor’s feet, fiddling with wires as Russell Crowe battled for his freedom. The technician failed and the screen stayed black. For ten minutes, Mr. Freer and his orchestra wowed the crowd with their impeccable timing that seemed accurate to a split second and I thought to myself :”My Dad could have done that”. Magically, the computer lit up, there was a brief pause in the score for the time being, Freer wiped his brow and the orchestra had not even missed a beat.
The film’s ending features a heroic death of the main character and a soaring moment of music that is life affirming. I watched it until the very end then 3000 of us stood and gave a 5 minute standing ovation.
I realized that my Dad is a hero, and that maybe I am too.

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