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August 22, 2016
THE WOMEN WHO SCORE: SOUNDTRACKS LIVE
Hollywood's top female composers unite for historic concert by Jon Burlingame
LOS ANGELES—Another glass ceiling smashed.
Friday night in downtown Los Angeles, an estimated 1,500 watched as a 55-piece orchestra and 30-voice choir performed the music of 20 composers for film, television and games – all of whom happen to be women.
"The Women Who Score: Soundtracks Live," presented by the Alliance for Women Film Composers in association with The Film Music Society and White Bear PR, conclusively demonstrated not only that there are many great female screen composers but that they are equally as versatile as their male counterparts, creating music in a wide variety of styles and genres.
"Women composers are no longer invisible. They are no longer silent," said Classical KUSC's Gail Eichenthal, who introduced what she called "tonight's historic concert" in the open-air Grand Performances venue. The concert was dedicated to the late, Emmy-winning, pioneering composer Shirley Walker, whose thrilling Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) was met with cheers from the audience.
Canadian composer Lesley Barber's quiet, classically styled music for the film Manchester by the Sea (2016) – which is expected to be a major awards contender later this year – was followed by Kathryn Bostic's moving performance of her song "Safely Home" from her album From Me to You (2011), and Nan Schwartz's suite of music written for the TV series In the Heat of the Night (1994), which mixed jazzy sounds and the soulful vocals of Carmen Twillie.
Principal conductor Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum, who led the orchestra with elegance and precision, struck a suspenseful mood with her theme from the thriller Stockholm, Pennsylvania (2015). By contrast, music from the TV series Bones (2008-16) by Julia Newmann offered a lighter, pop-orchestral sensibility. Oscar winner Rachel Portman's tender theme for The Cider House Rules (1999) featured a sensitive piano solo by Mike Lang.
Emmy winner Lolita Ritmanis conducted a suite from her music for Warner Bros. comic-book adaptations, including soaring themes from Justice League (2001) and Superman: The Animated Series (1996). Germaine Franco's music from the immersive-reality experience Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016) was both energetic and exotic, featuring evocative erhu solos by Karen Han.
BAFTA winner Jessica Curry's theme from the video game Everybody's Gone to the Rapture (2015), with violin solo by Julie Gigante, was both beautiful and all too brief. The first half closed with a musically eclectic suite of television themes by Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman, including Nurse Jackie, Carnivale, Touch and Heroes (2006-14) – a post-modern mix of pop and orchestral sounds set against arresting visuals on the big screen behind the orchestra.
Miriam Cutler's charming music for the documentary Ethel (2012) opened the second half, followed by Starr Parodi's warmly melodic theme from Laguna Beach's arts-festival Pageant of the Masters (2015). Eight-time Oscar nominee Diane Warren, who rarely performs in public, brought down the house with a raw and honest performance of "Til It Happens to You," written with Lady Gaga for the documentary The Hunting Ground (2015).
Sharon Farber conducted a dramatic and compelling suite from three scores (Children of the Fall, 2016; When Nietzsche Wept, 2007, and The Dove Flyer, 2013) with colorful solos from Navid Kandelousi and Sirvan Manhoubi on the Middle Eastern stringed instruments kamancheh and oud, respectively. Heather McIntosh played cello with gusto on her own classical-meets-rock score for the thriller Compliance (2012).
Wendy Blackstone created a sense of foreboding in her dark, string-dominated music for the film noir Love Walked In (1997). Lili Haydn did triple duty as composer, violin soloist and vocalist on her "Powers of 5" from the Place Between Places album (2008). She remained on stage to feature violin as Penka Kouneva conducted an exciting excerpt called "Earth" from her concept album The Woman Astronaut (2015).
Emmy-winning composer, newly elected Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences governor, and president of the Alliance of Women Film Composers Laura Karpman concluded the concert with a suite of music for her WGN series Underground (2016) that was alternately gospel-tinged, percussive, dramatic and upbeat (with vocal solos by co-composer Raphael Siddiq, Taura Stinson, Clydene Jackson and Butterscotch). All of the composers present joined her on stage for the rousing, stomping, hand-clapping finale.
Individual segments of the two-hour concert were introduced by Academy CEO Dawn Hudson, writer Rebecca Walker, Marvel Studios executive Victoria Alonso, artist Margaret Garcia and rapper Butterscotch. Karpman was artistic director and curator for the concert, which was produced by Marilee Bradford.
©2016 Jon Burlingame