March 3, 2014
Oscar Music Scores The Power of Gravity
Sensation "Let It Go" is Frozen in Hollywood song history by Jon Burlingame
HOLLYWOOD—Gravity and Frozen took top musical honors at the 86th annual Academy Awards Sunday night, concluding a music-filled weekend of Oscar festivities in Westwood, Beverly Hills and Hollywood.
Both wins had been widely predicted. Gravity composer Steven Price won for Best Original Score, and Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez won Best Song for their "Let It Go" from Disney's animated Frozen.
The Oscars marked a return to tradition in that all four nominated songs were sung by the original performers: Pharrell Williams (with trademark hat) opened with a lively, infectious "Happy" (from Despicable Me 2) backed by a chorus of street dancers; Karen O performed her delicate, touching "Moon Song" (from Her), accompanied on guitar by Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig; and U2 earned a standing ovation for their "Ordinary Love" (from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom).
Arguably the most-anticipated musical moment of the evening, given the worldwide phenomenon that "Let It Go" has become, was Idina Menzel's performance of the song. It was unfortunately marred by presenter John Travolta's mangling of her name ("Adele Dazeen?") and by a truncated arrangement that cut a full minute from the song.
It was another head-scratching musical decision by Oscarcast producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, especially given Pink's musical miscasting to sing "Over the Rainbow" during a 75th anniversary tribute to The Wizard of Oz (which ran three and a half minutes), and Bette Midler's anticlimactic, post-In Memoriam "Wind Beneath My Wings" (even longer at three minutes, 40 seconds). The slicing of a third of "Let It Go" seemed misguided. Luckily, host Ellen DeGeneres correctly identified Menzel after her performance, which elicited another standing ovation from the crowd.
Further, Oz musical tribute presenter Whoopi Goldberg failed to credit the 1939 film's only two Oscar wins, both for music – Herbert Stothart for scoring, and Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg for "Over the Rainbow."
The Lopez's acceptance speech was done in rhyme, and Price's acceptance was preceded by an enchanting shot of him sitting with, and congratulated by, fellow nominees John Williams and Thomas Newman. Robert Lopez now becomes only the 12th person in history to have managed the elusive EGOT – winning the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Awards. (Backstage, wife Kristen presented him with an EGOT macaroni necklace fashioned by their children.)
As he did last year, musical director William Ross conducted a 60-piece orchestra at Capitol studios, a few blocks away from the Dolby Theatre where the show itself was being staged. They played John Barry's touching theme from Somewhere in Time during the In Memoriam necrology (which included one composer, Italian Riz Ortolani of Mondo Cane fame) and bits and pieces of many great film themes throughout the evening (among them Vertigo, To Kill a Mockingbird, Laura, Spartacus and Lawrence of Arabia).
The three days leading up to the Oscar ceremony itself were filled with memorable moments. Thursday night, the Academy staged its first-ever "Oscar Concert" at UCLA's Royce Hall, where an 80-piece orchestra performed suites from all five nominated scores. About 1,700 attended.
Academy music governor Charles Fox, the prime moving force behind the concert, praised the players as "some of the greatest studio musicians in the world" and gave them the title of "Academy Symphony Orchestra." He went on to conduct a never-before-heard two-minute version of Jerry Goldsmith's "Fanfare for Oscar," commissioned by the Academy in 1997 and often played on the Oscarcast.
Alexander Desplat conducted a seven-minute suite of his score for Philomena; Thomas Newman conducted an 11-minute suite from Saving Mr. Banks; and Joseph Trapanese (composer of Oblivion) conducted Steven Price's music from Gravity, which ran seven and a half minutes. Owen Pallett conducted his own arrangement of Her (running nine and a half minutes), co-written with William Butler, and John Williams conducted an eight-minute suite from The Book Thief.
The nominated songs, introduced by Fox's fellow Academy governor Arthur Hamilton, began with "Let It Go," performed by its songwriters Bobby Lopez (at the piano) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (singing well, and wisecracking that she was "no Idina Menzel"). Cristin Milioti (an actress from The Wolf of Wall Street) sang "The Moon Song" (with George Doering on ukelele), while Matt Cermanski (recent contestant on The Voice) sang U2's "Ordinary Love."
Jill Scott brought the house down with her lively rendition of "Happy" with the help of a dozen little dancers from Debbie Allen's school. Standing ovations went to John Williams (twice) and veteran Disney songwriter Richard Sherman, who regaled the crowd with tales of working with P.L. Travers on Mary Poppins, the subject of Saving Mr. Banks. All of the composers chatted with film critic Elvis Mitchell about their challenges.
On Saturday, the Society of Composers & Lyricists held its annual Oscar music reception at the Beverly Hills home of the late composer John Cacavas. About an hour into the festivities, during a downpour, a part of the plastic sheeting sheltering the 300 guests gave way, accidentally drenching Desplat from the knees down.
SCL board member Charles Bernstein, introducing the event, referred to it as "the year of the deluge" and passed along a quip that John Williams had told him right after the incident: "it makes it very Biblical."
SCL president Ashley Irwin introduced all of the score nominees, all of whom were present. Newman, anticipating a 12th loss, drew laughter from the crowd when he said "right after the award is announced, you can find me at the bar, drowned in bourbon." English composer Price, a newcomer to the Oscar madness, said he had "never had such a warm welcome or such a lovely experience."
Williams said "I can only be grateful to the music branch for putting up with me for so many years," while Robert Lopez suggested everyone join in "Singin' in the Rain" as an acknowledgment of the inclement weather and the roof accident.
©2014 Jon Burlingame