The venerable Varese Sarabande company — long seen as Hollywood’s leading soundtrack label — celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, so Variety asked me to look back at its history, interview composers about its impact, and research its biggest hits. It was a surprisingly fun assignment, as its full backstory had not previously been told: how a small classical outfit accidentally became a movie soundtrack label, spawned a million-selling hit, and may have even won an Oscar for one composer (that’s in dispute, but it’s a good story). Here is the main story, about the label’s history; here is a top-10 rundown (assembled from SoundScan numbers and Varese executives’ memories); and here are some thoughts from grateful composers.
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.
A new film on the craft of creating music for movies, Score: A Film Music Documentary, opens this weekend in New York (and next weekend in Los Angeles). It features new interviews with composers including Hans Zimmer, John Powell, Quincy Jones, Brian Tyler, John Debney, David Arnold, Rachel Portman and others; footage from earlier films featuring John Williams and Thomas Newman; and commentary from critic Leonard Maltin, agent Richard Kraft, Disney executive Mitchell Leib, record producer Robert Townson, director James Cameron, and many more. I am on camera from time to time to offer historical perspective. Filmmaker Matt Schrader filmed numerous scoring sessions in Los Angeles and London, and the result is a fast-moving, illuminating look at the art and business of movie music. You’ll see me in the trailer, which is here along with the New York Times‘ rave review.
This was one of those “how lucky am I?” moments: Suggesting Jerry Goldsmith’s Emmy-winning Americana score for The Red Pony to conductor David Newman for the afternoon performance, and then watching him conduct a new 15-minute suite from it with musicians from the American Youth Symphony. I moderated a discussion afterwards and, that evening, hosted a concert that included some of my all-time favorite Goldsmith: a new suite from Papillon, unused music (to picture!) from Alien, and music from QB VII and The Omen films. We walked out of there saying, “was this all just a dream?!” Here‘s a rundown of an unforgettable evening at Royce Hall.
I was delighted to participate in a panel talking about the career of film-composing great Franz Waxman. Conductor John Mauceri hosted, with producer Robert Townson and the composer’s son John Waxman also joining us. Here’s Susan King’s preview of the event.
I was so fascinated by the 42-years-late release of the composer’s final film score that I just had to write something about it for the L.A. Times.