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August 8, 2003
Mancini Institute Honors Film Music Diversity
by Jon Burlingame

A near-capacity crowd of 1,700 attended The Henry Mancini Institute's second annual Tribute to American Film Music on Saturday, August 2, at Royce Hall on the campus of UCLA in Westwood, California.

It was as eclectic a program as one could imagine, with Randy Newman sitting next to John Corigliano – both figuratively, on the program page, and literally, backstage – and a healthy dose of both Golden Age pieces as well as movie music by such contemporary greats as John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith.

The Mancini Institute, now in its seventh year, is a program that accepts 84 young musicians (77 players and seven composers), ages 18 to 30, and gives them full scholarships for four weeks in L.A. There they take master classes and perform in several concerts (four orchestral, two big-band, one chamber and two a mixture of jazz and chamber groups). It exposes the jazz players to classical music and vice versa, and helps to prepare them all for careers as professional musicians.

Jack Elliott (Barney Miller) founded the institute, and Patrick Williams (Lou Grant) became its artistic director last year after Elliott's death. Williams, a Grammy- and Emmy-winning composer who is also the only contemporary Hollywood composer to have been nominated for the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in music, carries on the tradition of concerts that mix jazz with concert music, the traditional with the provocative.

(A disclaimer: The Mancini Institute asked me to write the notes for this summer's program, as well as separate notes for the movie night. So while I attended the concert as a spectator, I am also a supporter of the Institute and its aims, and may not be entirely unbiased.)

All of the selections on this year's program were accompanied by clips, some of them better-chosen than others. Williams kicked off the program with Erich Wolfgang Korngold's theme for Kings Row (1942) and followed it with the "Ireland" segment of Franz Waxman's Oscar-nominated music for The Spirit of St. Louis (1957), conducted by Richard Kaufman.

Ernest Gold's Exodus theme, amazingly, did not exist in performable orchestral form – this despite the fact that it's one of the most recognizable movie tunes ever, and that Gold himself wrote a six-and-a-half-minute concert version in the mid-'60s. Veteran L.A. arranger Jon Charles created an accurate new version of the main title based on listening to the original 1960 soundtrack.

Randy Newman wowed the crowd with back-to-back performances. First he conducted an eight-minute suite from his nostalgic, poignant and Oscar-nominated score for Avalon (1990), then played and sang "You've Got a Friend in Me" from Toy Story (1995).

Corigliano was on hand to introduce his "Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra" from his Oscar-winning music for The Red Violin (1999). He explained how the piece came about: Sony Classical had scheduled a performance of a concert work based on the score even though Corigliano had only written the pre-production music (not the dramatic underscore) at the time, and that when given only two weeks to write the underscore, he based it largely on the "Chaconne" material.

With Karla Lemon conducting, and Maria Bachmann as violin soloist, the 17-minute "Chaconne" was a high point, drawing the first of the evening's two standing ovations.

All five orchestral selections post-intermission were by composers still active in the medium. Among them were Jerry Goldsmith's end-title music from Star Trek: First Contact (1996), conducted by Kaufman; Dave Grusin's theme from The Champ (1979), conducted by Lemon; and Thomas Newman's end-credits music from Little Women (1994), conducted by Williams.

James Newton Howard, in a rare public appearance, conducted a six-minute suite from his underrated Americana score for Wyatt Earp (1994). And Kaufman conducted John Williams' delightful main-title sequence from Catch Me If You Can, with Bob Sheppard on saxophone. Patrick Williams – no relation – said he had been told that the composer was conducting the same piece on the same night in Tanglewood, Massachusetts.

In addition to Newman's Toy Story tune, four more songs were also featured. The great jazz vocalist Sue Raney sang the Marvin Hamlisch-Alan & Marilyn Bergman Oscar winner "The Way We Were" (1973); Monica Mancini sang "A Love Before Time" from Tan Dun's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon score (2000) and Frank Churchill and Ned Washington's "Baby Mine" from Dumbo (1941), with Ramon Stagnaro on guitar.

And in the evening's finale, Andy Williams brought down the house with his signature song, "Moon River." Written for Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), which won the 1961 Best Song Oscar for Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, and remains one of the '60s best-known movie tunes. The crowd rose to its feet in appreciation.

© 2003 Jon Burlingame

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