On February 27th I attended one of the 3 performances of the Hollywood's Golden Age Program by the Orange County Pacific Symphony, at the Renee & Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, in Costa Mesa.
This was to be a concert featuring the music of Bernard Herrmann, Erich Korngold, Miklos Rozsa, and James Newton Howard, with Raymond Kobler on Violin, Timothy Landauer on Cello, and even a narration by John David Keller.
Herrmann, Korngold, Rozsa, & Howard are all well know for their film scores, and it is from that aspect of their careers that we would be hearing from tonite, in regards to the first 3 composers, but not that alone.
We would be hearing classical pieces by them, not used in film and, in the case of Herrmann, a West Coast Premiere.
As for Howard, what we would hear would be a World Premiere of a Classical Composition, his first major symphonic work.
Another interesting aspect of this program was that Conductor Carl St. Clair, & his Orchestra, were performing the non-film score concert pieces for the first time.
I arrived a bit after 6pm, and while in the line, before the hall opened, I chatted with a young couple who were kind enough to take my picture.
He was an Art Student, at Vanguard University, attending as part of a class assignment, and I was interested to learn that a relative of his had played a role in the way the famous "Vomit" scene, in the Exorcist, made it to the screen.
Once inside I chatted a bit with a nice young lady who took my photo in front of a poster for the film Kings Row.
I also chatted with one of the female ushers about our respective tastes in music.
Unlike me, this child of the 30's like the same music her peers did, but grew up to love classical music even more.
Soon it was time for the Pre-Show discussion, which featured Mr. Howard, and concert and film composer Paul Chihara.
Under discussion was the new piece written by Howard, and composing for film as opposed for the concert hall.
Howard is the award winning composer of scores for films such as Blood Diamond, Pretty Woman, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, I am Legend, Michael Clayton, Defiance, and many others.
Howard talked about how he found the experience of spending 8 mo. creating a symphonic piece radically different than composing for film.
Once the piece was written the performing of it is handed over to a conductor and his orchestra, for better, or worse.
He said he found it challenging because there is no director to tell him how to structure a 20 min. piece for orchestra, when it's not made for film storytelling.
Mr. Chihara felt that, as a composer, he has a dual creative personality, one as a film composer, and another as an orchestral composer.
Chihara comes from a generation that considers the 60's the "greatest period in the history of mankind".
Before you ask me if I asked him what he smoked back then, and just how much, consider what he said next about coming from an orchestral music composing backround to the world of film composition at the end of the 60's, and into the early 70's...
He felt it was a revelation for a guy like him. He felt that composing for film allowed him to write music that "people actually like!".
Film composition caused him to lose his identity for a while, but allowed him to have fun writing music for the ordinary public.
He is well known as the composer of the music for the film Farewell to Manzinar, Prince of the City, The Morning After, Crossing Delancey, among others, and was recelty named Composer of the Year by the Classical Recording Foundation.
He did Farewell with the backround of having spent time as a toddler in a WW2 Relocation Camp for Japanese Americans, in Idaho.
He said that that experience was, to him, "4 years of summer camp with no school", and also influenced a 1996 work for chamber orchestra that he wrote, called Minidoka.
30's and 40's concert music by film composers was often ignored by the influential poeple of the eastern establishment, and it was only later that those folks are getting recognition thru retrospectives such as this performance.
As the discussion continued the fact is brought up that the 3 other composers on the program all have very strong compositional identities which menas that you can usually tell that a piece is by one or the other just by the style of the composition.
HERRMANN: 51 films, including Citizen Kane, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho.
KORNGOLD: 21 American Films, including Captain Blood, Green Pastures, Adv. of Robin Hood, Sea Hawk, Devotion, and Of Human Bondage.
ROZSA: 97 films, including Thief of Baghdad, Jungle Book, Spellbound, Asphalt Jungle, Ben Hur, King of Kings, Green Berets, and Time after Time.
Chihara said that his generation of composers was often apologetic about being a film composer.
Howard said that film music today is in a state of decline, in his view.
He feels that film music tries to sell caviar at the same counter as tacos. ;-D
(To much audience laughter Chihara chimed in with "What's wrong with that?")
Technology, it seems, is a blessing, and a curse, as people with no music backround push buttons to get a sound, and that degrades music for all of us, in his view.
Chihara says that technology means that we are embracing methods, sounds, and idea, unheard of before, "like with tacos, and that's a good thing."
He says that the first responsibility of a composer for film is not to be a musician, but a dramatist.
On that note there was a bit more discussion, and then the talk ended, and we all traipsed off to find our seats for the performance.
The first piece to be performed was the Suite from Vertigo by Herrmann.
Hearing this piece outside of its film context was quite a different experience for me.
The tension, and emotion, evoked by the music, in the context of the story on the screen, is different than the feeling you have just sitting, listening, and watching as an orchestra performs the piece on a stage.
The West Coast Premiere of Herrmann's The City of Brass was an interesting performance.
It included narration by Mr. Keller, 36 year member of the South Coast Repertory's Resident Acting Company, as an actor, and director.
This was a performance of powerful, and moving music, that very much matched and enhanced the emotion of the story as beautifully told by Mr. Keller.
Herrmann composed a series of radio "Melodramas", you know the ones I mean, compositions for actor & orchestra, and this piece, from 1937, was his biggest, with a text from The Arabian Nights.
Next up Mr. St. Clair and Mr. Howard chat about the music he composed for Defiance, and we are treated to scenes from the film with the orchestra playing the music, from Nothing is Impossible, as the film shows on screen w/o dialogue, thus keeping our attention on how the music affects the action.
Next up was the World Premiere of Howards piece I Would Plant a Tree.
It is a slowly building piece for strings, at first, with otehr instruments chiming in that builds in sound, and emotion, gathering more winds as it progresses.
At first there is no discernable melody, but then one begins to take shape, and loudly fill the hall with its power.
A seed is truly planted and a tree does seem to grow, loud and beautiful, from a quiet, tiny, seed of sound.
Finally things settle down again, with winds over strings.
The strings take over and the sound builds, with the winds again building to a crescendo, before the strings take over again, bringing a sort of calm, and peacefulnessto the proceedings as a horn solo unexpectedly, yet beautifully, brings the piece to a quiet end.
The more I thought about it, during intermission, the more I wonder what the piece could do as the score for a Disney-like, Fantasia film, but one about nature, and plants.
During intermission I look around at the mostly older audience, and I suddenly begin to chuckle as I realize that 40 to 50, or even 100 to 200 years from now, there will be "Concerts" like this, but for performances of the "music" of the 1970's to the first decade of the 2000's, and most of the atttendees will be gray-haired devotees of the "Classics". ;-D
Scary thought, that one.
And I was sober, too. ;-D
A couple of this "Older Demographic" noticed me writing on my notepad, and asked me if I was a journalist.
I laugh, and say "Yes & No". ;-D
They chuckle as I explain about my musings, above, and nod knowingly when I talk about my blogging.
After intermission the next piece up was the Suite from Kings Row, by Korngold, after we watch the first 4 min. of the film, with subtitles to illustrate the 3 score variations, thus showing how music is integral to the action.
It was very cool to hear the same music played live, as part of the larger score from the film.
Next up was the Scherzo from Symphony in F-Sharp , Op. 40 by Korngold.
It was an energetic, and spritely, showcase for the strings, with wings accompanying.
Next up was Theme and Variations for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra, Op. 29a, by Rozsa.
A wonderful showcase for Violin, and Cello solo virtuosity, and that is what we got.
Last up was the fantastic Parade of the Charioteers from Ben-Hur, by Rozsa, a piece that the conductor insisted on performing this year because of the import the orchestral score had on him as a 7 year old.
I loved the film, and this part of the score, as well,, and to hear it outside of its film context is a glorious experience.
I was smiling the whole damn time! ;-D
It's been a while since I last saw the film, but the emotions, the thrill up your spine this music brings is simply unforgetable.
Damn shame they didn't show the sequence on screen, too! ;-D
Afterwards there was an interesting Q & A.
Someone in the audience compared parts of Howards piece to works by Dvoraak, and Copeland.
A young film composer asked Howard about what he'd say to a new composer to bring him back to the Golden Age?
Howard says he'd tell the person to listen to, and learn from, the old scores.
Howard talked about Film Music Style: He felt that the 80's were were a heady time for orchestras then horrible synthesizers scores came along, for a while before orchestras regained prominence. ;-D
The opinion was tossed out by one of the people on stage that technology influences what composers do.
Howard said that film score composition occurs every immaginable way from readingthe script, or watching the footage, to both, or neither.
Something about "10% inspiration, 90% persperation, and spending time in a chair until somthing comes out, even if it's all day."
Composer Peter Bayer was in the audience, and asked about preparing to conduct a new piece.
St. Clair said he likes to listen over, and over, but he had problems with 2 parts of the new Howard piece, told him, feeling bad to tell him this over the phone from Berlin!
Howard said that this chat influenced him to re-write the parts in question, both of which hea had a problem with himself, but essentially had said "enough", and sent out "warts and all."
Howard said he's not fond of a lot of his early film work, but wouldn't change any of them.
I asked Howard about my thoughts on his piece, and if he thought such a notion was silly, or one with possibilities.
He pondered the question a moment, then said it was not a silly idea, seeing the possibilities in the music expressing plant life bursting forth all over.
St. Clair talked about how the fact that having a full orchestra, like that of the Pacific, to cmpose for was like Howard being a kid in a cany store.
This meant, and Howard agreed, that the composer has to re-compose the piece to suit smaller orchestras that can't afford all of the instruments of a larger orchestra, if the piece was going to have a life traveling across America, and around the world.
Finally the discussion came to an end, and it was time to go home.