by Dan Goldwasser
This past summer, there were numerous film music related concerts across the nation. In Los Angeles, SoundtrackNet had the opportunity to attend two such concerts: The Henry Mancini Institute's Tribute to American Film Music, and the John Williams concert at the Hollywood Bowl. While the HMI concert was varied and showcased different featured performers, the Williams concert (appropriately enough) focused primarily on Williams's own work - but there were a few small exceptions.
In the evening of Saturday, August 2, 2003, the famed Henry Mancini Institute held its annual film music concert: a tribute to American film music. The orchestra was comprised of this years current students, and HMI Artistic Director Patrick Williams was the host for the evening. The concert began with cues from such films as King's Row (Erich Wolfgang Korngold), The Spirit of St. Louis (Franz Waxman) and Ernest Gold's moving theme from Exodus. The music was accompanied by clips from the films on screen, which helped the audience really get into the performances.
Guest conductor Randy Newman showed up on stage to conduct a suite from Avalon, followed by him performing and singing "You've Got A Friend in Me" from Toy Story. Suffice it to say, it was an excellent treat. That was followed by Academy Award-winner John Corigliano introducing his "Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra" from The Red Violin, which was excellently performed by soloist Maria Bachmann - resulting in one of the few standing ovations of the evening.
After the intermission, we were treated to Jerry Goldsmith's Star Trek: First Contact, David Grusin's The Champ, Thomas Newman's Little Women, John Williams' Catch Me If You Can, and James Newton Howard even made an appearance to conduct a suite from Wyatt Earp. If there was one major flaw about the venue, it was that the clips from the films shown on screen tended to encapsulate the entire film. So we in essence saw (minus dialogue and sound effects) 5-6 minute long versions of the films above. It's not enough to completely replace the film, but in some cases, it was enough to ruin it!
There were also vocal performances: Sue Raney sang "The Way We Were", while Monica Mancini sang "Baby Mine" from Dumbo and "A Love Before Time" from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. She had an excellent voice, and "Baby Mine" was truly moving. But the capper for the evening, and a real treat, was Andy Williams singing "Moon River", which brought the concert to a delightful close.
A few weeks later, on Labor Day weekend, John Williams returned to the Hollywood Bowl for his signature film music concert. The program for this year's concert was short and punchy. The first half of the concert began, as always, with the "Star Spangled Banner". Followed by an arrangement of "Hooray for Hollywood", the real interesting piece was that came immediately afterwards. Williams had personally arranged a suite of the "best of Hollywood" - music from dozens of films - into a "Tribute to the Film Composer". Running a scant six-minutes or so, this suite was tight - with music from Gone With the Wind to Psycho to Titanic to Lawrence of Arabia to Jaws, it was all over the place - and was seamless in its transitions. After that, we had a suite from Catch Me If You Can, in 3-movements, featuring the soloists from the soundtrack album. The first half of the concert ended with a suite of music from the Harry Potter films.
Returning from the intermission, we were graced with actor James Earl Jones's presence on stage, who was there to narrate the "Grand Suite from Star Wars", a musical journey through the 5 films (conveniently skipping over the events in the 3rd film). Beginning with the "Main Title", Jones's booming and wholly unique voice quickly pulled the audience into the galaxy, far far away. With over 10 hours of music to pull from, the selections were a bit standard, if not expected: "Duel of the Fates" (sans chorus) from The Phantom Menace, "The Dune Sea of Tatooine" from A New Hope, "Across the Stars" from Attack of the Clones (probably one of my favorite pieces), and "The Imperial March" from The Empire Strikes Back. Not quite expected (but pleasant to hear) was the "Cantina Band" from A New Hope. "Princess Leia's Theme" from A New Hope followed, a beautiful and simple sweeping theme that is truly a classic.
Part of Jones's poetic narration involved quoting certain lines from the film (ironically, none of them were any lines Vader spoke!), and hearing him talk about the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field was rather amusing. That was, of course, followed by "The Asteroid Field" from The Empire Strikes Back. From there, we got "Yoda's Theme", and "Parade of the Ewoks" from Return of the Jedi. Wrapping up the Grand Suite was "Throne Room and Finale" from A New Hope, with a new extended ending that seemed to make it go on a tad longer than it should have. I was a little disappointed that many classic themes did not make an appearance in this suite, but then, it "only" ran about 40-minutes in length!
For an encore, Williams returned to the stage to conduct music from Max Steiner's Now, Voyager, a personal favorite of his. The audience would have no-doubt rioted if that were the end of the evening, so Williams returned twice more to grace us with his music: Superman, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. After those, he gave us his classic "I'm tired and must go to bed" hand gesture, and the evening came to a close. Overall, it was a solid concert by Williams, although I would have liked to hear a suite of music from Minority Report. Perhaps he'll have one prepared for next year's concert.
Special thanks to Sasha at the Henry Mancini Institute and Elizabeth Hinkly at the Hollywood Bowl Press Office.