Annually, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra holds a concert event called "The Big Picture". In that concert, film music selections have been performed live to picture by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, usually under the baton of John Mauceri, who until recently was the music director for the Hollywood Bowl. This past Labor Day weekend, film composer David Newman picked up the baton for The Big Picture, and conducted some of LA's most talented musicians underneath the starts with "The Music of Paramount Pictures".
After the National Anthem, Newman went right into a seven-minute suite from Alan Silvestri's score to Forrest Gump, which had a montage of over 100 Paramount Picture films edited to the music. It was from every aspect of the studio's history, and interestingly included older Dreamworks films that have since been acquired as part of the recent studio merger, such as Saving Private Ryan. When it concluded, the evening's host, Leonard Nimoy, came out on stage to introduce the pieces. The first one was from Carl Davis' rescoring of the first Oscar-winning silent film, Wings, and the climax of the film was shown. This was followed by a scene Franz Waxman's Oscar-winning score to A Place in the Sun, complete with picture and dialogue. (On a technical note, it was interesting to see that some of the clips this evening were cleanly isolated dialogue and sound effects, while older films such as A Place in the Sun appeared to have sound editing done between the moments of spoken dialogue to remove the music.)
After two suites of music from The Godfather (Nino Rota) and Love Story (Francis Lai), we were treated to the classic scene from the 1961 comedy The Errand Boy, where Jerry Lewis pantomimes to Frank Foster's "Blues in Hoss Flat". The last two pieces of the first half of the show were definitely highlights: the entire opening sequence from Raiders of the Lost Ark (almost 10 minutes!) was performed live to picture, and was exceptionally well done. The difficult staccato brass during the boulder sequence was quite impressive. The other piece, which ended the first half of the concert, was the song "Summer Nights" from the 1978 musical, Grease. It's a pop song, but they clearly had the vocal tracks separated out, and while half the orchestra seemed to not be used, it was a very accurate representation of the original arrangement, and a fun way to go into the intermission.
When we came back, stunt performers dropped down from the top of the Hollywood Bowl's famed shell, to the opening strains of Lalo Schifrin's "Mission: Impossible". While it was neat to see them drop down and light a large "fuse", the music was sadly not up to snuff. I don't know if it was the chosen arrangement of the theme, but it just didn't have the "oomph" that almost every other recording I've heard of the theme has had. Frankly I was a bit surprised that they didn't use the fun arrangement that Michael Giacchino had created for last year's Mission: Impossible III. The next two pieces were paired together to represent the "sci-fi" films represented at the concert. The first was the main theme from Jerry Goldsmith's score to Star Trek: First Contact, and the second was unbilled and not on the program. It was the "Autobots Arrive" sequence from Paramount's summer hit, Transformers, composed by Steve Jablonsky. While both are slowly building melodic pieces, there were clearly more pre-records (percussion and choir) that needed to be tracked to the Transformers piece. It actually worked out rather well, with the exception of a technical problem at the beginning of the Star Trek piece that resulted in the one time during the whole evening that Newman addressed the audience.
Next came a sequence from the most successful film of all time: Titanic. The Hollywood Bowl orchestra performed the "Take Her To Sea, Mr. Murdoch" sequence in its entirety, and even managed to the synth choir sample fairly accurately. The finale from Elmer Bernstein's True Grit was followed by a suite from Goldsmith's Chinatown, for which four pianos and four harps were on stage. Jon Lewis, who readers have seen in many scoring session articles on SoundtrackNet, played the trumpet solos quite expertly and received tremendous applause when finishing.
Henry Mancini's "Moon River" from Breakfast at Tiffany's was played over montage from the film, followed by the finale from Franz Waxman's Sunset Boulevard. The last piece to be performed was done similarly to the track from Grease. It was "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from last year's Dreamgirls, featuring Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Hudson. Again performed live to picture, the vocals were pre-recorded (obviously) and the music was performed live. It was a nice way to end the evening, but it felt like it should have been something that had the orchestra as the focus - not an actress's vocals from a year ago. As an encore, they played (with "sing-along lyrics") Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" from the film of the same name. In a feeble attempt at audience immersion, they had fake snow being blown with fans on the sides of the Bowl, but the dark of night made it impossible to see, and the wind blew it in a different direction. But it's a nice though.
There are too many films in the Paramount vault that deserve to be showcased to fit in a two-hour concert. As such, many favorites that people might have been hoping to hear were overlooked, but you can't fault the choices. They were picked from a wide range of the studio's history, and covered almost every genre of film and score style. Personally I was hoping to hear things like Braveheart, The Hunt for Red October, and The Untouchables (among others), but maybe they'll do that next time they visit the Paramount vault for "The Big Picture" night at the Bowl. I would love to see them showcase music from all of the major film studios - I think it's a great way to bring film music to the masses, and should be fully supported.