On Wednesday night, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Motion Picture Academy joined forces to present an evening-long celebration of film music, highlighting this year’s five Oscar-nominated film scores. But that was only the second half of the concert (featuring conductors John Williams, Alexandre Desplat, Carter Burwell and Thomas Wilkins). The first half took a fascinating look at various literary ideas (love, fear, courage, the chase, etc.) and how composers have musicalized those ideas over the years. Here is an overview of the concert; I was privileged to write the program notes for the evening.
One of my favorite end-of-year assignments involves choosing the top 20 albums of “classic film music” released during the previous 12 months. This year’s task seemed harder than ever, because several labels gave us truly remarkable discs — some of them expanded classics, some previously unreleased scores, some of them reissues of very rare LPs. I enjoyed all of these, from the music of John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith to that of Aaron Copland and Vince Guaraldi and many more. The list spilled well over the 20 slots, so I added an “honorable mention” paragraph to sneak in a few more titles.
Renowned film and TV composer Lalo Schifrin turned 85 this year, and the occasion was commemorated Saturday night with a concert featuring many of his memorable themes — everything from Mission: Impossible and Mannix to Bullitt and Dirty Harry. It was a co-production of Musicians at Play Foundation and Varese Live, with proceeds benefiting the Music Fund of Los Angeles. The show consisted of nearly three hours of great big-band performances, beautifully rendered songs and rare video clips of the maestro at work; veteran Varese producer Robert Townson hosted. My review of the evening is here.
The annual John Williams concerts at the Hollywood Bowl are always cause for celebration, and they remain as popular as ever, generally selling out three consecutive nights on a late-summer weekend. But this year offered a surprise: Williams conducted, live-to-picture, his score for the animated short Dear Basketball, based on Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant’s farewell poem to his beloved sport, narrated in person by Bryant himself. I contributed the program notes, as I often do for this concert (co-conducted by David Newman), but this year I also had the opportunity to preview the Dear Basketball premiere (including a new interview with director-animator Glen Keane), and I wrote about the concerts afterward.
As Emmy Awards season begins, we take an overall look at the nominations in all of the music categories, including the ones for original composition (for a series, for a movie or miniseries, for theme, and original song), for music direction, and the new sixth category, for music supervision. Music supervisors are hailing this decision by the Television Academy to begin honoring their work, which for the most part involves finding the right song for the right scene. But there is a lot more in this story, including surprising nominations for documentary scores and even for Lady Gaga’s half-time performance at the Super Bowl — and a brief look at what highly touted songs weren’t nominated.
Let’s face it, there is no more famous Spider-Man music than the cartoon theme everybody remembers from the 1960s. (“Is he strong? Listen, bud: he’s got radioactive blood!”) Composer Michael Giacchino, commissioned to score the new Spider-Man: Homecoming film for Marvel/Sony, knew this and decided to replace his own Marvel logo music at the start of the movie with a 38-second version that — as played by a 90-piece orchestra — is probably the biggest sound it’s ever had! I decided to look into this, and interviewed both Giacchino and Guy Webster, the son of the Oscar-winning lyricist who penned those immortal words and who cut the original, very lucrative, business deal for the song in 1967.
The surprise of the year in terms of soundtrack releases is an original score album of music from The Rifleman — the beloved 1958-63 Western drama starring Chuck Connors and Johnny Crawford. Composer Herschel Burke Gilbert had always intended to release an album, as far back as 1960, but never quite got around to it. His son John Gilbert, who inherited and now runs the composer’s classical label Laurel Records, has just released a 2-CD set of music composed for, and used in, the classic TV series. This story explains how it all came about and why it took nearly six decades to see the light of day.
One of the most startling developments in the burgeoning field of film-music instruction is the “Hans Zimmer Teaches Film Scoring” online primer now available from San Francisco-based MasterClass (which has recently offered videos of Aaron Sorkin teaching screenwriting, Steve Martin teaching comedy, Kevin Spacey teaching acting, etc.). It’s a series of 31 lessons, totaling over four hours, in which Zimmer discusses how he does his work and offers examples from his most famous scores. The Oscar- and Grammy winner launched it at an event on Wednesday in West Hollywood; he talked about his reasons for doing this and a bit about his own mentor, British composer Stanley Myers, in this new interview.
Yes, those final moments of Sunday’s Oscarcast were bizarre and won’t soon be forgotten. But, that aside, there were a lot of great musical moments in the broadcast and we recount them all here — the wins by the La La Land team for score and song, the performances of all five nominated songs, the beautiful “In Memoriam” performance, and more. Plus a rundown of Saturday’s always-entertaining Society of Composers & Lyricists champagne reception for Oscar music nominees.
Each year at this time I rummage through 12 months of CDs to chronicle the best of the year in “classic film music” — that is, the expanded reissues, the newly recorded scores, and in some special cases the first releases of great old scores that always deserved an album but never got one. There are 20 entries, all listed here, but this year there were so many excellent releases that I added an “honorable mention” section at the bottom with more of my favorites that didn’t quite make the main list. Intrada and La-La Land were this year’s top labels (that is, with the most entries) but there are worthy contributions here from Kritzerland, Quartet, Varese Sarabande, Play-Time, Universal France and Dragon’s Domain. Check them out.