Pacific Symphony's Ninth American Composers Festival Explores The Composers And Music That Belonged To "Hollywood's Golden Age"
Orange County, Calif. — Dec. 20 — This season, Pacific Symphony's 2009 American Composers Festival (ACF) looks at the differences between composing for concerts and composing for film and how the two styles have evolved into what we hear today—all the while celebrating the art of film music, past and present. This ACF is particularly relevant, considering that film music has been an integral part of Southern California culture since the inception of the movie industry; plus, it has strong connections to the world of "classical" concert music. Once disregarded by the modernist school of composition, film music has now 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 delighted by—orchestral music through the movies. For tickets or more information on the ACF, call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org/ACF.
"Hollywood's Golden Age," led by Music Director Carl St.Clair, revisits a unique period in our country when a number of refugee composers fled to the United States from a turbulent Europe and found Hollywood not only receptive, but hungry for their work.
While some might argue the point, the period best known as the "Golden Age of Hollywood" occupied the first half of the 20th century—and was both glamorous and prosperous for the movie industry and those associated with it. The festival explores that period through the present by focusing on a handful of composers, including golden-era figures Miklós Rozsa and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, both established European concert/opera composers who transformed themselves into Hollywood composers. And Bernard Herrmann, an American radio/film composer who also produced concert works, was the embattled genius behind Alfred Hitchcock's finest scores.
The stories of these three individuals are contrasted against modern day masters James Newton Howard, a seven-time Oscar nominee whose list of films reads like an endless list of contemporary big-screen hits, including "Michael Clayton," "The Fugitive" and "The Dark Knight" (with composer Hans Zimmer) and Paul Chihara, who wrote the music for such films as "Crossing Delancey" and "Prince of the City." "One of the special features of our ‘Hollywood' festival is the opportunity to present composers who straddle two different worlds," says Maestro St.Clair. "I think people will be surprised to find that the composers' concert music isn't all that different from their unforgettable film scores. Plus, we'll be discovering new pieces—all of which I'll be conducting for the first time—that need to be heard." Joseph Horowitz, the Symphony's artistic advisor, continues to serve as host and ACF advisor, as he has done since the festival's inception in 2000—showcasing each year a different facet of American music.
The Festival's Programming
The festival kicks off with a special event featuring composer Howard — details TBA! ACF continues on Feb. 26-28, 2009, with "Hollywood's Golden Age" — a concert led by St.Clair and featuring music by Herrmann, Rozsa, Korngold and Howard, spotlighting performances by Concertmaster Raymond Kobler and Principal Cellist Timothy Landauer. The program examines the difference between the two genres: composing for film and composing for classical music in the concert hall. A pre-concert discussion includes Horowitz and Howard.
The program includes "I Would Plant a Tree," a world premiere by Howard that is also his first major concert work for orchestra;; the West Coast premiere of Herrmann's "The City of Brass," melodrama for radio (with narrator), and Herrmann's Suite from the Hitchcock film "Vertigo" (Prelude, Nightmare and Love Scene); Korngold's Theme and Variations from the film "King's Row" (with film clip); and Herrmann's Scherzo from Symphony in F-sharp; Rozsa's Theme and Variations for Violin, Cello and Orchestra; and Rozsa's Parade of the Charioteers from "Ben-Hur." On Sunday, March 1, 2009, at 3 p.m., "Classical Connections: Hollywood Haven" led by St.Clair, features Kobler and Landauer returning to perform music selected from repertoire featured in "Hollywood's Golden Age." For this afternoon event Maestro St.Clair probes beneath the surface and offers insight into the composers and the music.
And on Monday, March 2, at 8 p.m., in the Samueli Theater, the festival concludes with "Cinema to Symphony: How Movies Become Music," spotlighting the festival's composer-in-residence Paul Chihara. This multimedia performance includes film clips and discussion by Horowitz and Chihara. The program includes Korngold's Five Songs from the film "Sea Hawk," Chihara's "Minidoka" adapted from the film "Farewell to Manzanar," Herrmann's Clarinet Quintet, from Hitchcock's "Vertigo," and Rozsa's "Toccata Capriccioso" for solo cello, a rarely heard showpiece with Hungarian flair.
The "Golden Age" composers
Korngold (1897-1957) arrived in America from Vienna, one of a number of immigrants who would become important Hollywood composers. He was already as famous and established abroad as Stravinsky or Schoenberg—and upon arriving in Hollywood in 1934, his fame continued. In fact, no other screen composer was as successful or prestigious; he scored 21 American films and enjoyed the privileges of a pampered star. Korngold was grateful to the United States for rescuing him from Hitler and more specifically to Hollywood for the creative opportunities it offered. But after the war, he felt the need to retire from film music, reverting to composing for the concert hall—and proceeded to embed pieces of his film scores into classical works. He also yearned to return to opera, which for him seemed no different than composing for film. His other great desire was to return to Vienna—but unfortunately, the country had by then lost interest in him.
Like Korngold, the Hungarian Rozsa (1907-1995) arrived in Hollywood with a solid European concert reputation. Both composers were drawn to film in America because they needed to make a living and the United States was less receptive to contemporary operas and symphonies than Berlin, Budapest or Vienna. Like Herrmann, Rozsa felt split between two musical worlds. In Hollywood, he scored 97 films and won three Academy Awards—but his summers were reserved for concert composition abroad. In his 1983 autobiography, "Double Life," he examined what would have become of him if had not been drawn into cinema.
"Materially, certainly, I would have been greatly the poorer; and when I look at the careers of many of my Leipzig colleagues—gray, unfulfilled, limited lives lived out for the most part amid humdrum provincial and academic surroundings—I feel grateful for the challenges and excitement offered me by my work in a complex, unpredictable, often exasperating but always vital medium." He was less certain about whether it affected the course of his musical development in a crucial way. "I have no time for any music which does not stimulate pleasure in life, and even more importantly, pride in life," Rozsa once said.
Another composer, Herrmann, an American and a contemporary of Korngold and Rozsa, began as a radio composer, migrating to film and only marginally composing. Born in 1911 and dying in 1975, Herrmann scored 51 films, including "Citizen Kane" in 1941, "Vertigo" in 1958, "North by Northwest" in 1959 and "Psycho" in 1960. And yet, his relationship with Hollywood was not a happy one. He fought with directors and studio heads, and while he defended film music when it was slighted, he sought recognition as a concert composer in the midst of his peak success in film.
The actor/producer John Houseman once recalled Herrmann as "consumed with rage and envy and malice and hatred....you couldn't spend an evening with Benny without his spending half of it in terrible diatribe about one of the young musicians who'd gotten a job."
In 1948, Herrmann proclaimed: "I will never do a movie again... I now understand that it was the movie that exhausted me and sapped my strength. I sincerely hope that I will never see Hollywood as long as I live." Of course, he did see Hollywood again, and began some of his legendary collaborations in the 1950s through the 1970s.
The Living Composers
James Newton Howard — one of the two ACF composers-in-residence—whose "I Would Plant a Tree" makes its world premiere at the festival—is one of the foremost film composers of his generation. Throughout his prolific career he has scored films of all scales and genres, earning multiple award nominations for his work. Born in Los Angeles in 1951, Howard grew up in a family that fostered training in classical music. He began studying music as a small child and later majored in piano performance at the University of Southern California. After college, he toured with Elton John as a keyboardist during the late 1970s/early '80s before moving into film music.
"Few film composers today write symphonic film scores so compellingly, with such a keen sense of orchestral affect and musical shape," says music historian Christopher Reynolds. "Howard's film career shows a trajectory from keyboard to symphony, from pop and rock styles of his friend and employer Elton John to sounds influenced by the classical scores of Bartok and Stravinsky."
By the 1990s, Howard's career took off, scoring the film "Pretty Woman" and receiving his first Academy Award nomination for "The Prince of Tides." His skills encompassed a plethora of genres, including four more best original score Oscar nominations for "The Fugitive," "My Best Friend's Wedding," M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village," (in fact, he has scored all of Shyamalan's suspense thrillers), and most recently, "Michael Clayton." In addition, Howard scored "Wyatt Earp," "Waterworld," "Primal Fear" and "King Kong," which earned a Golden Globe nomination. He has also collaborated on the score for "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight." Some of his most recent works are "Blood Diamond," "I am Legend" and "Charlie Wilson's War." Additionally, he has contributed music for television, earning an Emmy nomination for "ER." The list goes on.
"A distinguishing feature of my musical style, I would say, is the blend of classical influences with contemporary electronic music," says Howard. "Unfortunately, the technology has allowed for the creation of a lot of second-rate music. In my opinion, film music is definitely a receding art form—mediocre scores can garner a lot of attention. There are many opportunities to write a score with the scope of ‘Vertigo.' I go after these opportunities." "Howard's scores are among the most remarkable currently being composed in Hollywood," says St.Clair. "I was thrilled to discover how excited he is about composing his first symphonic work. He has obviously taken his commission very seriously."
Chihara — ACF's other composer-in-residence — also represents the next evolution of film composers. And interestingly, like many of his predecessors, he was a refugee. Horowitz explains Chihara's inclusion in ACF like this: "If Erich Korngold viewed composing for the concert hall and composing for film as one and the same; if Bernard Herrmann questioned his stature as a composer because he mainly wrote for film; and if Miklos Rozsa experienced a ‘double life,' then Chihara's creative odyssey is one in which a double life in film and concert music conflated to a single life conditioned by a new aesthetic age."
Chihara, who is head of the visual media program at UCLA, was born in Seattle in 1938, and is known as both a composer of concert music and film/television music. He was recently named Composer of the Year by the Classical Recording Foundation (CRF), and he has composed scores for more than 100 motion pictures, including "The Morning After," as well as for television. He is also a prolific concert composer. Chihara's 1996 chamber work, "Minidoka," which is being performed as part of the ACF, incorporates musical materials that originate in his film score for the 1974 television film "Farewell to Manzanar." Based on a true story, the film narrates the ordeal of a Japanese-American family compelled to spend World War II in an internment camp—something he knows about personally.
"I was 4 years old when our family was relocated in the spring of 1942," says Chihara. "My father was taken first, and sent to some camp... My remembrances of the succeeding three years were the reverse of my parents—to whom it was heartache, terror, rage and humiliation. For us kids it was an adventure."
Goals and Aspirations
Each year, Pacific Symphony explores a different facet of American music through the ACF. Since 2000, the festival has featured composers from Aaron Copland to Ana Lara 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.
Sponsors for ACF include Narratus Solution, American Express, the National Endowment for the Arts, The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, and Meet The Composer/MetlLife Creative Connections.