This weekend John Williams, the most famous composer in Hollywood history, celebrated his 40th anniversary conducting at the Hollywood Bowl. His very first concert leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Bowl was on July 28, 1978, subbing for an ailing Arthur Fiedler, who had been scheduled to conduct a pair of “Pops at the Bowl” concerts that weekend. Since then, the much-honored dean of American film composers has returned to the Bowl on dozens of occasions, conducting not only his own music but that of other composers, most of whom were active in Hollywood at one time or another. The program included not only Williams compositions but also those of a friend and mentor, Leonard Bernstein (whose centennial is also being celebrated this year). Steven Spielberg served as host; David Newman conducted the first half. Here is my review for Variety.
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.
The music of On the Waterfront and Casablanca were the subject of “Upbeat Live” talks I moderated on Friday and Sunday prior to the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s first-ever live-to-picture concerts of both scores at Disney Hall. David Newman, who conducted both, was on hand to offer musical insights into the classic Leonard Bernstein and Max Steiner scores. On Friday we were also joined by composer Laura Karpman, and on Sunday our guest was composer Charles Bernstein. Both Karpman and Bernstein are current governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences; this past weekend’s concerts marked the first of several events in the new three-year partnership of the Phil and the Academy. I also contributed the program notes for both films (Casablanca is here; On the Waterfront is here).
The Los Angeles Philharmonic, in partnership with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, is doing a weekend of live-to-picture concerts of classic films. I’ve been asked to do the pre-concert talks, but instead of a lecture, I’m interviewing the conductors and current/former Academy music-branch governors. We began Thursday night with Leonard Rosenman’s score for the 1955 James Dean classic Rebel Without a Cause. Joining me in Disney Concert Hall were Scott Dunn, who not only restored the score for live performance (this was its debut) but also knew the composer quite well; and Charles Fox, the Grammy- and Emmy-winning composer and songwriter who is also a former Academy governor. We all talked about Rosenman’s life and career, and more specifically about his unique approach to Rebel — which combined his groundbreaking modernist style with a lively urban-jazz touch. Philharmonic performances of On the Waterfront and Casablanca will follow.
Mission: Impossible composer Lalo Schifrin says he’s given up scoring movies (maybe!) but, at 84, he is still writing potent music for the classical world. His new guitar concerto, his second for renowned soloist Angel Romero, will debut Tuesday night at the Hollywood Bowl (with Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic). In this piece for the Los Angeles Times, I interviewed the five-time Grammy winner about his concerto, about writing for films vs. the concert hall, and about the enduring legacy of a 1966 TV theme that remains his most famous work. (I also talked to Romero, who laughed and said Schifrin’s guitar writing was “diabolical” — as in difficult.)
Last weekend marked the first time that the paying public had ever seen Steven Spielberg’s classic E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial with live musical accompaniment. (John Williams conducted a studio orchestra before an invited audience at the Shrine Auditorium in 2002.) More than 35,000 attended over three nights as David Newman conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Williams’ iconic score at the Hollywood Bowl. I wrote the program notes for the evening, but I felt it was also important to report on the event. My overview contains details you won’t find anywhere else.
Talk about a fun assignment: Last night, the Los Angeles Philharmonic played Alan Silvestri’s music for the 1985 film Back to the Future “live to picture,” with the estimable David Newman conducting. It was a near-sellout with more than 16,000 people attending, and the crowd cheered every iconic moment in the time-travel romp starring Michael J. Fox. I interviewed the composer about his memories of scoring Back to the Future — which was only his second opportunity to write for orchestra — and why he wrote another 20 minutes of music specifically for these live presentations.
I wrote the program notes for last fall’s Los Angeles Philharmonic opening night concert and gala — “A John Williams Celebration,” as it was called, with Gustavo Dudamel conducting and Itzhak Perlman as violin soloist. It was a wonderful mix of John’s concert music (“Soundings,” written for the opening of Disney Hall), his film music (Schindler’s List, Catch Me If You Can, Star Wars, Jaws, Amistad, etc.) and his Olympic themes. I’m delighted that C Major, which has produced this 103-minute DVD and Blu-Ray of the evening, has chosen to include my notes, which include comments from both Williams and frequent collaborator George Lucas.
Classical KUSC’s Brian Lauritzen asked me to join him on stage at Disney Hall last night to help preview the L.A. Philharmonic concert that included Leonard Bernstein’s fabulous suite from On the Waterfront. We talked about the circumstances of Bernstein’s hiring and his remarkable grasp of writing dramatic music for film (his one and only attempt at it). James Gaffigan conducted, and it was a thrilling performance (the concert also included Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” and Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 3). Brushing up on my Waterfront lore (using the book chapter I wrote and the Criterion disc commentary I had done), I discovered that I had once written about this score for the Los Angeles Times! Here’s that piece.
Composer John Williams is being honored this week at the gala opening concert of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, so Classical KUSC has taken excerpts from my 2012 Williams radio special “American Journey” and incorporated them into this week’s Arts Alive program. In addition, I’ve written the program notes for the concert (including his Olympic Fanfare, “Soundings,” and pieces from Schindler’s List, The Adventures of Tintin, Catch Me If You Can and Star Wars).