Planet Earth Live

Planet Earth Live

BBC Earth presents its ground-breaking nature documentary as it makes its world-premiere tour, featuring a score by two-time Emmy Award winning composer George Fenton, who also conducts. Planet Earth Live screens on the Jay Pritzker Pavilion stage with the Grant Park Orchestra performing the score along with the nature documentary. This astonishing film will, in the words of David Attenborough, "take you to the last wildernesses and show you the planet and its wildlife as you have never seen them before."


Grant Park Orchestra

George Fenton, Conductor


First Steps
Gone Fishing!
Journey to the Okavango
The Snow Leopard
The Cranes
Wish You Were Here! (Nice Work if you Can Get It)
The Seasons
The Caribou Migration
Snow Geese
The Hunter and The Hunted
The Lucky Planet

Download Program Notes PDF

The Grammy Award-winning composer of the soundtrack for Planet Earth, George Fenton discusses the process behind creating the score for the renowned nature documentary, the relationship between music and science, upcoming projects and other topics.

Planet Earth Live is currently in the midst of its world-premiere tour (Chicago is one of six cities where it will be performed, along with Dallas, Baltimore, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Philadelphia). What’s surprised you in the process of performing the music live?

Without doubt one of the most pleasant surprises has been the audience reactions: they laugh out loud at certain moments, they gasp with astonishment, they express sympathy. This is pleasing, because it means they’re very relaxed and engaged with the narrative arc. When we set about transforming the ten hour series into a one and a half hour concert version, we wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just a collection of excerpts but that it had an arc to it.

To me, the story of Planet Earth was above all about the unusual relationship between the Earth and the sun and how we became known as the lucky planet. It’s all due to the fact that there was this massive cosmic event four and a half billion years ago, a collision, which tilted the Earth to this particular angle and of course that’s what gives us our varying seasons. All of these factors have contributed to giving us this really unique existence.

What relationships do you see between science and music? Does music have a special capacity to help us experience a sense of the immense spaces and spans of time of the cosmos?

The mathematics of music is very much part of the same type of thinking as the larger scientific, existential questions. That’s something I increasingly understand. One of the things about an orchestra in particular, is that it is a very organized thing, an organism, and a methodical environment in which to be creative. Because it is so complex, it is also fluid and versatile. It’s really an amazing tool for solving problems. There’s something scientific about it in this sense. There’s very much a problem-solving aspect to it all.

In the live performance, there’s also something very nice about people being able to identify the musical color in action, to unravel the sound. If their eyes go down from the screen to the orchestra, they can see what instruments are playing along with any particular moment of the film. An orchestra is an amazing machine. Although it is one body, it’s made up of 80-some people all working together and that kind of communal effort is quite enchanting.

Part of the magic of Planet Earth, however, is that it often focuses on initially fairly small events and it’s really not about technology. For instance the scene of the Demoiselle cranes flying over the Himalayas in their annual migration, which musically is one of the biggest moments in the performance. But it’s all about this fact of the birds struggling to beat their wings in the high altitude, with the lack of oxygen. These sorts of things are happening all the time, but the unique thing about the BBC and this series, is that they were able to wait to capture these things happening. And what you see is absolutely real. There’s no CGI, no computer graphics.

The final part of the trilogy of BBC nature films (that began with Blue Planet, and continued with Planet Earth) is Frozen Planet, which focuses on arctic environments and is due to finish in 2011. Can you tell us a bit about that project and your musical involvement?

In Frozen Planet, they are celebrating landscape that is changing dramatically, month by month. In fact they are at this very moment filming, now, things that will never be seen again, because the ice-cap is melting. Not long ago the filmmakers took me to the Arctic on a field-trip, so I could see them working and I have to say that this final film will be visually the most spectacular.

Musically, I’m approaching it in a different way. When I finish this tour I’m going to go straight back to working on it. All of my research has been about incorporating music that belongs to those arctic regions. I’m also working with sounds recorded on location, using hydrophones to record things like the sounds of ocean currents under the ice and the ice moving. For example, the ocean currents flowing deep beneath the ice make a kind of singing that’s really extraordinary. Those sorts of actual sounds will play a big role in the score.

This event is sponsored by:

BBC Earth

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Preview of Planet Earth Live