After winning first prize at the National Higher Music Conservatory in Paris, Robert Fienga followed a very comprehensive training course in the United States before playing with prestigious orchestras, such as the Paris Opera, the Paris Orchestral Ensemble, and the Ensemble Intercontemporain. He then immersed himself in jazz, primarily with Michel Legrand’s Big Band, and took part in the recording of many film scores and classical, light entertainment, or jazz works, before joining Disneyland® Paris as its Orchestra Conductor. Inspired by sources as varied as Stevie Wonder, Ravel, Mozart, Chicago or Miles Davis, to mention just a few, Robert Fienga talks about his various assignments with passion.
You hold the musical responsibility for the musicians and singers who perform in the Parks. Can you explain what the job of Orchestra Conductor at Disneyland Paris entails in more detail? However, can your first and foremost say a few words about your career?
I joined Disneyland Paris 23 years ago, even before the opening. I was part of the Grand Opening Team. Music has always been my vocation, and I was lucky enough to follow a very comprehensive academic training course at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in the United States. This dual French and American cultural background has served me throughout my career, and has been a precious source of inspiration, since being an Orchestra Conductor means being versatile, and taking an interest in all existing music trends. When I began working at Disneyland Paris, I was responsible for managing the Marching Bands, i.e. the orchestras that paraded in the Disneyland Park. Then, each Land set up its own orchestra in keeping with its story as from 1994, i.e. 1920s music for Main Street U.S.A., Dixieland music for Frontierland, and music inspired from fairy stories for Fantasyland… The musicians were selected depending on the theme of the location.
My day-to-day role as an Orchestra Conductor primarily consists in working with the Producers in order to set their shows to music. This is an adaptation and harmonization task that I particularly like. Among the productions that have had the most impact on me, I would mention the Winnie the Pooh show on which I worked with Katy Harris, as well as the annual celebrations for Mickey’s Magical Party, or High School Musical for three seasons, as well as The Lion King or Playhouse Disney – these are wonderful musical memories that are completely different from one another.
You are permanently working on new arrangements and orchestrations together with the creative teams. What are the main challenges that you face from the beginning of an idea to the recording or the live performance?
I have been working since the opening with a group of 36 passionate and professional musicians, most of whom work at Disneyland Paris; they make up the orchestras of the Lucky Nugget Saloon or Studio 1, among other musical groups. Other additional participants are added depending on the seasons. Being an Orchestra Conductor naturally implies being very flexible. You need to be able to adapt to very varied requests, juggle between the styles dictated by the Lands and the seasons, as well as master the specific features of each instrument. All this sometimes requires calling several months’ work into question, and changing everything at the last minute, as happened to me with a Mickey’s Magical Party show last year. However, the other major challenge involves human factors, i.e. managing sensitivities, harmonizing musical sensitivities within an orchestra, and dealing with unforeseen events! This is what makes this work so diverse!
Music is at the center of the Guest experience, since each Park, every Land, and every attraction, restaurant or boutique have their own musical identity. Can you tell us about the projects that have had the most impact on you and your proudest achievements since you joined Disneyland Paris?
I particularly like to write for singers, with the musical arrangements that it implies. You should know that every musical production at Disneyland Paris is based on several key stages: preparing the outline with the Producers, orchestration, recording, and then adding the finishing touches, including the final musical arrangements. It is this highly detailed work, this artistic challenge that is fascinating. The aim is to find the musical solution for an artistic requirement, including essential work on the length, since the length is the structural cornerstone in the music.
One experience that made a profound impression on me was the International “College Band” program between 1997 and 1999: we had organized worldwide auditions at Disneyland Paris in order to form a jazz orchestra, and I was able to witness the emergence of extraordinary talents!
I also really like working on putting the seasons into music with the Producers, in order to write the music for the Parades and the Shows. For instance, I had the honor of conducting the Orchestra that played at the Castle Theatre every day for Swing into Spring, working together with Christophe Leclercq, Kat de Blois and John Berrick; I was in charge of the Jingle Bell Boys for the Christmas 2013 Season, and I also worked very closely with Emanuel Lenormand where the staging was concerned.
The Halloween Season was also very interesting. We wanted to create a new musical identity in keeping with the determinedly festive tone that Disneyland Paris wanted to set for this season with its vibrant colors and merry ring, by adding an old-fashioned introductory tune, “Shine on Harvest Moon”, which was originally sung by Ruth Etting in 1931, and that we re-arranged for the occasion.
In essence, what I really like about my work as an Orchestra Conductor is the fact that I still learn something every day! There is constant creativity at Disneyland Paris and the scope for musical possibilities is endless!