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“From Screen to Score”: Four major film composers take break from Hollywood to present new concert works for Pacific Symphony’s 14th American Composers Festival

April 05, 2014

ACF spotlights four of Hollywood’s biggest and best on May 8-10:
Elliot Goldenthal, James Horner, Howard Shore and John Williams

Pacific Symphony’s critically-acclaimed American Composers Festival (ACF) continues for the 14th year with “From Screen to Score: New Concert Music by Famous Film Composers”—who happen to be four of today’s biggest Hollywood heavy-hitters: John Williams (“Star Wars,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “E.T., the Extra Terrestrial”), Howard Shore (“Lord of the Rings,” “The Hobbit,” “Hugo”), James Horner (“Titanic,” “Star Trek,” “Apollo 13”) and Elliot Goldenthal (“Alien 3,” “Batman Forever” and “Batman and Robin”). Together, these iconic composers boast 11 Oscars and countless billions of box office dollars. They also hold the ironic position of simultaneously being the most-heard orchestral composers ever (the soundtrack for “Titanic” sold 30 million copies), yet their music is the least performed.

Although once disregarded by the modernist school of composition, film music has without a doubt come into its own as a fully recognized art form. And, of course, this recognition is not just academic. Millions of filmgoers have been exposed to and enriched by orchestral music through the movies. But debates over the value of film music versus concert music or what constitutes “commercial,” “serious” or “artistic” rage on. It is this controversy that lies at the heart of this ACF, as these extraordinary, if not revolutionary, composers prove their mettle through not film music but symphonic concert works.

Led by Music Director Carl St.Clair and curated by Richard Guerin, “From Screen to Score” takes place Thursday-Saturday, May 8-10, in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall; a preview talk with Alan Chapman begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25-$99. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org. ACF, presented as part of the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation Classical series, is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts with additional support from media sponsor KPCC.

“It is always an exciting moment when great film composers have the opportunity to step out of the world of movies and can present their ‘non-movie music’ to a concert audience,” says Music Director Carl St.Clair. “Without a storyline, plot or incredible sound effects, they have the opportunity to explore larger and longer musical forms, which are not bound to the timing or script of a film. They are afforded a musical freedom, as this upcoming program will reflect, that results in incredibly exciting concert works. Hearing these pieces will allow everyone to experience their immense talents and abilities as great American composers.”

For Symphony patrons, the “Hollywood” theme may seem vaguely familiar. In 2009,  the festival celebrated the art of film music, past and present, by exploring the differences between composing for concerts and composing for film—and how the two styles have evolved into what we hear today. Considering that film music has been an integral part of Southern California culture since the inception of the movie industry and has had strong connections to the world of “classical” concert music, the festival was not only relevant but it also began a conversation that begs to be continued.

Planning for ACF 2014 began in 2012, when Guerin approached Maestro St.Clair and Pacific Symphony about what he considered a “radical notion”—that the real orchestral legacy of Southern California was the great scores for Hollywood films and the composers who wrote them. He then proposed a selection of top-notch composers, principally known for film, as a viable way to celebrate the orchestra’s American Composers Festival.

“The tradition of Hollywood composers has been that of an artistic cast-off since the first generation of Golden Age composers fled the Nazis and found (fortunately) gainful employment in the flourishing industry of Hollywood films,” says Guerin. “This was largely due to the rise of German Academicism, dodecaphonic music, serial music and the strangle-hold by their practitioners over the definition of what modern music was supposed to be.” Guerin adds that the battle over ‘what is art’ in the Western world’s universities and symphony societies raged for decades and drove untold numbers of music lovers out of concert halls many years.

“Before the Second World War most American orchestras had no issue with composers who composed for films,” he continues. “After the war, a certain kind of rabid idealism took hold that drew a clear line between what was artistic and what was commercial. Nothing commercial could be considered serious art and echoes of such attitudes still exist today. Yet, after all, everyone from Britten to Copland to Shostakovich and Prokofiev composed for many films and their names remained unsullied by their interaction with film studios.” Guerin is compelled to ask: Why?

By example, Guerin points out that in the 1940s, one could attend a New York Philharmonic concert and hear Bernard Herrmann’s (“Psycho,” “Vertigo”) Symphony No.1 or his “Moby Dick” cantata (under Barbirolli) or the latest orchestral work by Korngold. And the evening that Leonard Bernstein had his big splash by filling in for an indisposed Bruno Walter, there was a new concert piece by Miklós Rózsa (“Spellbound,” “Ben Hur”) on the program.

“None of these composers was touched again for the next 50 years,” says Guerin. “To this day, hefty prejudice is levied against composers who are known as film composers. Bernard Herrmann always asserted that there was no such thing as a ‘film composer’ or ‘opera composer,’ there are only composers, period.”

The Concert Programming

St.Clair and Guerin settled on spotlighting four extraordinary living film composers who also had relationships to the concert hall. Keeping with the Symphony’s commitment to new work and fearless curiosity, the result is a distinguished program of concert pieces rather than film music. The artistic leap was in discovering what these composers chose to write away from arranging music around the context of a story told on film. The program, which includes some visual content, opens with John Williams’ “Tributes! For Seiji,” followed by Howard Shore’s “Mythic Gardens for Cello and Orchestra” and the concert premiere of James Horner’s “Flight.” It concludes with the world premiere of Elliott Goldenthal’s “Symphony in G-Sharp Minor.”

The concert features cellist Sophie Shao, who at the age of 19 received the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant and has since performed worldwide. Winner of top prizes at the Rostropovich and Tchaikovsky competitions, The New York Times has applauded her “eloquent, powerful” interpretations of repertoire.

Shao’s collaboration with film composer Shore (perhaps best known for his score for the movie, “Lord of the Rings”) resulted in a commission of “Mythic Gardens”—a concerto written for Shao and premiered with the American Symphony Orchestra in April 2012. It now appears as part of the ACF. The piece was inspired by the architecture of three classic Italian Gardens: Cimbrone, Medici and Visconti Borremeo Litta and is a companion piece for the piano concerto Shore wrote for Lang Lang, “Ruin and Memory.”

“Growing up in Canada, I spent many summers in Northern Ontario,” says Shore. “The surrounding natural beauty of the area was and remains a great inspiration. I believe that it is through this love of nature that I was able to connect so well to Tolkien’s work. The natural world influences the form of my compositions when writing for the concert stage as well. However, it is the incredible musicians themselves, such as Sophie Shao, whose artistry is always at the center of my creativity when composing.

“The concerto was conceived for Sophie’s masterful playing and the depth and beauty expressed through her 1860 Honore Derazey cello,” he says.

Shore is among today’s most respected, honored and active composers and music conductors. His work on “The Lord of the Rings” earned him three Academy Awards, four Grammys and three Golden Globes. He has scored 15 films by David Cronenberg including “The Fly,” “Dead Ringers,” “Naked Lunch,” “A Dangerous Method” and “Cosmopolis”; and he has collaborated with Martin Scorsese on “Hugo,” “The Departed,” “The Aviator,” “Gangs of New York” and “After Hours.” Other films include “Ed Wood,” “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Shore was one of the original creators of “Saturday Night Live,” serving as music director from 1975 to 1980. His opera, “The Fly,” had its world premiere in 2008 in Paris and its U.S. premiere at LA Opera. He is an Officier de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres de la France and the recipient of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award in Canada.

ACF’s concert opens with Williams’ “Tributes! For Seiji,” which is a collection of musical “thoughts and jottings” that form a kind of Festschrift (a collection of writings honoring a respected person) for orchestra, written for conductor Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra as they celebrated 25 years of artistic collaboration.

“These jottings also form little portraits of just a few of the great soloists in the orchestra’s ranks, and at other moments, sketches of entire sectional groups,” says Williams. “I’ve attempted to ‘freeze-frame’ some of the wonderful sonorities the orchestra produces that are among my personal favorites… I’ve dedicated all of this to Seiji, who has not only led the orchestra but has tended and nourished it through these many years, thus preserving and invigorating a great tradition. These few notes are but a small tribute to Seiji and the great Boston heritage we all so rightly treasure.”

Williams, one of the most popular and successful American orchestral composers of the modern age, is the winner of five Academy Awards, 17 Grammys, three Golden Globes, two Emmys and five BAFTA Awards from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Best known for his film scores and ceremonial music, he is also a noted composer of concert works and a renowned conductor. His scores for such films as “Jaws,” “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Schindler’s List” and the “Indiana Jones” series, have won him multiple awards and produced best-selling recordings; his scores for the original “Star Wars” trilogy transformed the landscape of Hollywood film music and became icons of American culture.

Williams has composed the music and served as music director for approximately 80 films, including “Saving Private Ryan,” “Amistad,” “Nixon,” “Sabrina,” “Jurassic Park,” “Home Alone,” “Far and Away, “JFK,” “Hook,” “Presumed Innocent,” “Born on the Fourth of July,” “The Accidental Tourist,” “Empire of the Sun,” “The Witches of Eastwick,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Superman,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Jaws” and “Goodbye Mr. Chips”—to name just a few.

ACF’s program includes the concert premiere of a piece by Horner called “Flight.” Horner—who was born in Los Angeles in 1953 and spent his formative years living in London where he attended the prestigious Royal Academy of Music—was initially interested in becoming a composer of serious, avant-garde classical music. Equally comfortable with lush orchestral scoring and contemporary electronic techniques, he is best known for scoring more than 130 film and television productions, including dozens of the most memorable and successful films of the past three decades. He earned two Academy Awards and two Golden Globe Awards for his music for James Cameron’s “Titanic” (one for Best Original Score and one for the Best Original Song “My Heart Will Go On”), eight additional Academy Award nominations, five additional Golden Globe nominations, and has won six Grammy awards, including Song of the Year in both 1987 (for “Somewhere Out There”) and 1998 (for “My Heart Will Go On”).

His many film credits includeThe Amazing Spider-Man,” “Glory,” “Avatar,” “The Legend of Zorro,” “Troy,” “House of Sand and Fog,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “Iris,” “Enemy at the Gates,” “Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” “The Perfect Storm,” “The Mask Of Zorro,” “Deep Impact,” “ Ransom,” “Courage Under Fire,” “Braveheart,” “Apollo 13,” “Legends of the Fall,” “Clear and Present Danger,” “Patriot Games,” “Glory,” “Field of Dreams,” “ Cocoon,” “Star Treks II and III”—again, just to name a few!

Horner’s “Flight” was originally conceived and written as an orchestral piece to be used as the background music for a live aerobatic display of precision flying. Horner has been involved with planes most of his life, and in 2010, he was part of an aerobatic display team, whose members asked him to compose and record an orchestral piece that he says would “epitomize the beauty of flight, to which the team could choreograph and perform a thrilling aerial ‘dance’ of precision loops and rolls at 800 feet for an audience often numbering close to 160,000 people!

“The concept was to give the impression of a live symphony orchestra performing outdoors against the backdrop of a vast airplane-filled sky…something that had never been done before. When all the elements coalesced, the result was, in a way, the ultimate film score, combining the power of a full symphony orchestra with a thrilling display of formation aerobatics,” he continues.

 “It was the first project that I’ve been able to write in a very long time where I haven’t had a director dictating all of the parameters, or had a script that I’ve had to catch all kinds of details every minute or every hundredths of a second or things like that—the way I usually have to work. I was given a clean slate, from the beginning to the end, and [they] just said go—basically just said fly… That’s what I did. And it was so liberating to write a piece like that…” says Horner.

The final composer taking part in ACF is Goldenthal, who creates works not just for orchestra and film, but also theater, opera and ballet. Goldenthal has had a long relationship with St.Clair and Pacific Symphony. His large-scale symphonic piece, “Fire Water Paper: A Vietnam Oratorio,” was commissioned by Pacific Symphony to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. The more than hour-long piece was debuted by Pacific Symphony in 1995 and later performed at Carnegie Hall and The Kennedy Center. The recording was released in 1996 on Sony Classical Records and featured soloist Yo-Yo Ma.  The world premiere of Goldenthal’s “Symphony in G# Minor”—marks his latest piece written for Pacific Symphony

“This time, I was asked to write a symphony no more than 22 minutes in length,” says Goldenthal. “This was more of a challenge for me as I tend to be expansive in my writing when I get rolling. To offset this challenge, I needed to compose a first movement with the intent to ‘feel’ more expansive than its 13- or 14-minute duration. I did this by opening up the vistas and featuring the sections of the orchestra rather than presenting the orchestra as a block—with its composites melding as one.”

The second movement possesses more density, according to the composer, and features the brass and percussion sections of the orchestra. “The percussion, without giving away too much, has a moment in which the percussionists have a ‘conversation’ that attempts to bridge the gap of human long-distance communication....the first ‘wireless’ conversation that existed millennia ago, with hands and drum, warnings, war songs and love songs across tree tops, mountains, and time...”

As to the key signature G-sharp minor, he says: “A-flat was always a key I was attracted to, even as a 10-year-old. The note G-sharp on my family spinet had a particular timbre that has stayed with me since then.  On a theoretical note, G-sharp minor only represents the place where the symphony sits; it is not obliged to follow chromatic harmonic tradition. This key also creates tension for the string ensemble, with no opened strings and it demands great concentration on intonation.”  

A student of Aaron Copland and John Corigliano, Goldenthal (like his counterparts) is best known for his film scores, of which there are more than 30. He received an Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for his score for “Frida” and Oscar nominations for the film’s original song “Burn It Blue” with lyrics by Julie Taymor. He has also written scores for films such as the “Batman” franchise, “Interview with the Vampire,” “Michael Collins,” “Titus,” “Alien 3,” “Heat” and “Final Fantasy.” Additionally, Goldenthal has received two Golden Globe nominations and three Grammy Award nominations. He was inducted into the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) Hall of Fame in spring 2013.

Goldenthal’s original two-act opera “Grendel” was named one of the two finalists for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in music. He was also commissioned by the American Ballet Theatre to compose a three-act ballet of “Othello,” and he has composed music for more than a dozen theatrical productions including “Juan Darién: A Carnival Mass,” which received five Tony nominations including Best Musical, and Original Musical Score; an Obie Award Off-Broadway; as well as four Drama Desk nominations. 

Guerin adds a final thought: “It’s a dream of mine that orchestras someday when looking in the canon for a rousing overture will see pieces like the prelude to ‘North by Northwest’ or ‘Star Wars’ as legitimate possibilities.”

Pacific Symphony’s Classical series performances are made possible by the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation, with additional support from American Airlines, Avenue of the Arts Wyndham Hotel, KUSC and PBS SoCal.

 

AMERICAN COMPOSERS FESTIVAL HISTORY

Each year, the Symphony explores a different facet of American music through the ACF. Since 2000, the festival has featured composers from Aaron Copland to Ana Lara to Michael Daugherty and artists from Yo-Yo Ma to Stephen Scott’s Bowed Piano Ensemble. By examining this diverse musical heritage, the Symphony points a microscope at who we are as a culture, where we’ve been, and where we are going—some of the most important questions that music can raise.

In 2013, Pacific Symphony celebrated the music of two seemingly disparate figures, representing past and present: the iconic Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (1899-1974) and living saxophonist-composer Daniel Schnyder, neither of whom fit neatly into a single musical category. ACF seemed somehow incomplete without the inclusion of Ellington, whose works have inspired countless composers and musicians of the 20th and 21st centuries—including Schnyder. That year, the Symphony didn’t just refer to Ellington, but presented the ensemble that carries his name and has been playing together in one form or another for more than nine decades; the other half of the equation was composer-in-residence Schnyder—both of whom defied definition.

Pacific Symphony’s 2012 ACF celebrated the Iranian New Year festival of “Nowruz,” marking the arrival of spring and celebrated since ancient times. The festival explored the music of Persian-Americans through programs featuring authentic Persian music. Guest artists include the acclaimed Shams Ensemble, Grammy Award-winning soprano Hila Plitmann; Iran’s best-known conductor Farhad Mechkat and Pacific Chorale. Among the highlights was a world premiere by composer Richard Danielpour, whose own Persian ancestry served as inspiration for his oratorio, “Toward a Season of Peace,” commissioned by the Symphony.

The Symphony’s 2011 ACF focused on one of America’s most fascinating and pre-eminent living composers, Philip Glass, who went under the spotlight when Pacific Symphony partnered with Long Beach Opera (LBO) to present the first-ever Southern California Philip Glass Festival. ACF’s “The Passion of Philip Glass” and LBO’s production of the Glass opera “Akhnaten,” plus accompanying events (“Glass Plays Glass” piano recital, films, lectures, discussions) all probed deeply into the man and his music to gain new understanding and a deeper appreciation for one of today’s leading American composers.

The 2010 ACF explored “The Greatest Generation” with a look back at a time largely defined by The Great Depression. The term “The Greatest Generation,” coined by Tom Brokaw, refers to those who grew up in the United States during a time of extreme deprivation but went on to fight in World War II or contribute to the effort on the home front, eventually rebuilding America. The festival delved into this turbulent period and the music that could not have been composed without the somber impetus of The Great Depression. Highlights included a world premiere by composer Michael Daugherty: “Mount Rushmore”; and West Coast premieres of Weill’s “Song of the Inventory” and Walt Whitman Songs (orchestrated version).

In 2009, “Hollywood’s Golden Age,” celebrated the art of film music, past and present by exploring the differences between composing for concerts and composing for film—and how the two styles have evolved into what we hear today. This festival revisited a unique period in our country when a number of refugee composers fled to the United States from a turbulent Europe and found Hollywood hungry for their work. The period was explored by focusing on a handful of composers, including Miklós Rozsa,Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Bernard Herrmann, who were contrasted against modern-day masters James Newton Howard and Paul Chihara.

In 2008, “The West: Music Inspired by the American Frontier,” examined “the idea of the West” in American music, sketched by Dvorák and clinched by Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson and Roy Harris. In a later stage, the idea migrated to the West Coast in the music of such Californians as Lou Harrison, whose “Four Strict Songs” were a revelation—as was the Bowed Piano Ensemble of Stephen Scott. The festival’s commissioned composers were Scott and Curt Cacioppo; festival partners included Chapman University, which hosted a multi-media event.

In 2007, Los Sonidos de México journeyed south of the border to celebrate the remarkable range and variety of Mexico’s musical odyssey, much of which is rarely performed in Mexico or elsewhere. The festival included some two dozen compositions over the course of six concerts and included a commissioned new work by Daniel Catán—one of three participating Mexican composers (also Ana Lara and Enrique Diemecke). A three-hour multimedia Interplay tracked music and visual art from pre-Hispanic times to the present.

In 2006, “Uncharted Beauty: The Music of Lou Harrison” honored one of the great American composers of the 20th century, as well as a pioneer in the use of alternate tunings, world music influences and new instruments. It was the last in a three-year sequence exploring the influence of non-Western music on American composers of the 20th and 21st centuries. The festival included a variety of intimate chamber programs plus a large-scale concert celebrating the music of Harrison. It also featured film footage from Eva Soltes’ documentary “Lou Harrison: A World of Music,” courtesy of the Lou Harrison Documentary Project.

ACF 2005, “Illuminations in Sound,” featuring Colin McPhee, George Crumb and John Adams, was the second of the three-year festival sequence (ending with Lou Harrison) devoted to the influence of non-Western music on American composers. Richard Stoltzman played works by Adams and Steve Reich. Concentrating on the rapturous, the Symphony explored the influence of Indonesian gamelan, featuring little-known works by McPhee and Jose Evangelista. Two rarely heard transcriptions by Percy Grainger of piano works by Debussy and Ravel were performed alongside the original pieces.

“Tradewinds from China,” the first festival of the trilogy, premiered works in 2004 by Chen Yi, Zhou Long and Joan Huang in the course of sampling the historic contribution of present-day Chinese-American composers. Yo-Yo Ma performed a new cello concerto and Min Xiao-Fen played Theonious Monk on her pipa. A children’s chorus sang Chinese folk songs; the Orange County High School for the Arts Chorus performed Chinese revolutionary songs.

In 2003, prior to the trilogy, was “An American Odyssey” featuring the West Coast premiere of William Bolcom’s monumental setting of William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and of Experience” in the course of exploring the interface between concert and popular styles. Additional festival events included a recreation of Paul Whiteman’s 1924 “Experiment in Modern Music,” with its premiere of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” a newly scored set of Leonard Bernstein songs, and an evening of Blake settings by Virgil Thomson, Arthur Farwell, Henry Cowell, Alan Ginsberg and other Americans.

ACF’s “Dvořák in America,” in 2002, applied a visual presentation of the “New World” Symphony, a Hiawatha Melodrama, and costumed Native American dancers to an examination of Dvořák’s American style in relation to such diverse turn-of-the-century Americans as Scott Joplin, Harry Burleigh, Victor Herbert, George Chadwick and Arthur Farwell. Mstislav Rostopovich performed the Dvořák Cello Concerto.

The first ACF took place in 2000 with Aaron Copland and the “Sound of the Americas,” featuring a unique screening of the classic 1939 documentary “The City” with live symphonic accompaniment—the first in a series of Copland film scores that supported his creation of a 20th-century American concert voice. Additional festival events included three films, chamber and keyboard music and special guest William Warfield.