The Film Music Society FMS FEATURE...

August 9, 2007
"Voices of Hollywood"
Music festival features chamber music by noted film composers by Jon Burlingame

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.—It's a rare treat to hear the concert music of the great film composers of our time, and nearly 100 had that opportunity Monday night, Aug. 6, as part of the fourth annual Beverly Hills International Music Festival.

The setting was the picturesque Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church. Composer Gernot Wolfgang, who curated the program (called "Voices of Hollywood"), introduced the subject and briefly recounted some of the film credits of the composers whose works were on the program.

Flutist Susan Greenberg and pianist Genevieve Lee began with two movements of Aaron Copland's 1970-71 "Duo for Flute and Piano," a lovely piece that bore Copland's unmistakable Americana signature.

Greenberg returned – along with oboist David Weiss, clarinetist Gary Gray, bassoonist Judith Farmer and horn player Richard Todd – for Lalo Schifrin's nine-minute "La Nouvelle Orleans," a 1987 work that conveyed the feeling of a New Orleans jazz funeral, with moments suggesting both Dixieland and blues. It's not every day that you get to hear an oboe swing.

Lee soloed on the evening's most dissonant, but also fascinating, work, Ennio Morricone's five-minute "Rag in Frantumi" ("Rag, Torn into Pieces"), which took rag-style piano phrases, then altered and distorted them.

The program's earliest piece was Robert Russell Bennett's rarely heard "Hexapoda: Five Studies in Jitteroptera for Violin and Piano," played by violinist Lorenz Gamma and pianist Ming Tsu. Written in 1940 for the legendary violinist Louis Kaufman, it's a unique setting of five jitterbugs and proved a lively and fun way to close the first half.

Two artists who left us much too early were spotlighted in the second half: Bernard Herrmann and Shirley Walker. Violinist Gamma, violist Andrew Duckles and cellist Diane Roscetti performed in both; clarinetist Helen Goode-Castro and violinist Linda Rose joined in the Herrmann, pianist Ming Tsu in the Walker.

First was Herrmann's melancholy 1967 "Souvenirs de Voyage," for clarinet and string quartet, and as much as Herrmann buffs can admire the (at least three) recorded performances, it was a joy to hear this piece performed live.

Two movements of Walker's 2001 "Spring Hodge-Podge" were performed, the gentle second movement and the sharp and angry fifth. Her whimsical titles ("Perhaps It's Just a Tune" and "What We Need Now Is an Invasion From Outer Space") added additional poignance to the performance, knowing that she passed away just a few months ago and would have relished the moment.

Two American premieres were also on the program. Composer Benedikt Brydern ("Rhyme & Reason") offered six lyrical minutes of his 2002 "Summer Sketches" for oboe, bassoon and piano (Weiss, Farmer, Lee), while composer-pianist Todd Cochran ("Keep the Faith, Baby") performed his sometimes dramatic 17-minute suite "The Secret Gardener."

"Voices of Hollywood" was one of eight concerts in the series. Festival Music Director Gregory Cherninsky was honored at the start of the concert by Mayor John J. Duran of West Hollywood, which sponsored the program.

The Beverly Hills International Music Festival runs August 3 through 13. For more information, call (310) 360-0676.

©2007 Jon Burlingame