Sunday, September 1, 2013

...impressions of 'Maestro of the Movie' Hollywood Bowl Saturday August 31st 2013...

The orchestra filed to their seats with only ten minutes to showtime, the evening's event started promptly at 8pm.  A consummate professional, as he is just as prompt: Mr. John Williams, in white jacket and black slacks, comes out to thunderous applause.  Most of the theater took to their feet, since the man is deserving of some adulation after all: he has scored some 100 films in his life, and many, despite the wide chasm of knowledge to orchestral music, will know the familiar themes in some shape or form.  He is a living icon, and tonight's event, 'Maestro of the Movies' at the Bowl, will play to that.  To me, the first half of the card won me over, where the second was for the 'chasm'.

Mr. Williams quickly launches into his first piece, Flight to Neverland, with a soaring video montage of flight in movies.  It includes very early films, like Wings, through to Star Wars and to Star Trek.  Clips of the Reeve Superman delighted many and cheers would ring out.  It's a rousing piece and a great one to start the concert with.  [Although, as you will read soon, there was a dearth of video at the end, more than likely a hint at the recent acquisition of Star Wars by Disney perhaps preventing clips at this particular show.]
We are soon presented by a few words with Mr. Williams and he introduces Mrs. Blake Edwards, or Ms. Julie Andrews.  Ms. Andrews is stunning, as always, and appears stage left with a similar white on black ensemble.  She takes a podium and speaks to the relationship of Henry "Hank" Mancini and her husband of 44 years, Blake Edwards.  They had a unique relationship, he a comedic and musical director, while Mancini was an icon of his time with many familiar and poignant cinema classics.

To start the sequence off, a quick medley is performed with a mix of Mancini's television and movie work.  A great series of clips play-out of Peter Gunn, Hatari and shifting to the movie Charade.  All were a delight to see on the big screen again - especially Charade, since you get to see the best clips of Grant and Hepburn play with only the orchestration.  The orchestra is on point, with the crisp execution being underscored in timing with the clips (there did seem to be a bit of a stumble with one of the theme songs, where it broke with a guitar solo that seemed to falter a bit, but it may have been the intentional timing of the piece).  They are shifting gears quickly, but it sounds great.  My only real complaint is the acoustics of the venue, and more than likely the weather: the air was particularly humid this night, and the sound was a bit muffled.  I felt the lower end was struggling to stay balanced with the high - especially as William's arrangements were very based on brass and timpani.

This launches into some words about other works by Edwards and Mancini - in particular, The Pink Panther.  This is a crowd delight, where the comedic clips of Peter Sellers, in what I still maintain is an undisputed comedic high point of the 60s and 70s, had the crowds more into the video than the orchestration.  These movies should be mandatory for anyone who delights in comedic works - Sellers and Edwards had perfect visual timing.

Not sure in what sequence this was, but Ms. Andrews breaks from the comedy and speaks to her marriage.  This leads to a wonderful clip I had never see before and the interplay between the orchestra and the clip were wonderful.  The clip was the beginning of the first movie Edwards' would direct his new wife, which was Darling Lili and its first number, Whispering in the Dark.  Within the context of the introduction and never had seen the clip (few have, it was a box office disaster for 1970 Paramount) - anyone who appreciates Edwards' work will find this single shot, sparse lighting and haunting melody something of a high point of his career.  I recommend trying to find an HD version of this clip.  When we came back to Ms. Andrews, I almost believed we would see her tearing up.

For the iconography of the night, Moon River, from Breakfast at Tiffany's, would be next.  The glowing introduction, with the story of how the executives of the movie studio hated the song would get a curt retort from Audrey Hepburn, "Over my dead body [will that song get replaced]."  Next, a perfect rendition of Moon River punctuating a series of clips of George Peppard and Hepburn.  This coming out of the beautiful clip of Hepburn performing it lazily on a guitar on her fire escape.

Next, Monica Mancini, daughter of the composer, came out to sing a pitch perfect rendition of Days of Wine and Roses.  If only we could have gotten one more tune of out her!

That wound down the first act, with Ms. Andrews receiving roses from a Pink Panther.  She gave Mr. Williams a rose from her spray.  Then, a smoke break.  [As an aside, my friend Eric was absolutely incensed that Julie did not sing.  Something from anything would have done the trick.  I had to point out, as disappointing as it is, the ticket did make it clear that Ms. Andrews was narrating and not singing.  To be honest, considering the venue and seating, I highly doubt being able to project in such a place.  Remember that her range was incredible and time may have done its worst.  Besides, who knows, perhaps she doesn't sing after her husband died?  Speculation? ]

from Los Angeles Times
I would be remiss if I didn't say that this was a historic event of sorts.  The degree of separation is only off by Ms. Andrews and being orchestrated by a living legend - so, the first act paid off for me.  It was a celebration of these two icons - with Edwards' one of my favorite directors as a child and I listened to Mancini outside of the movies (what would be considered 'musak' today was actually the rotation on 104.3 KBIG back in the late 70s).  I listen to Mancini as I would many other jazz musicians from that time.  Overall, the first act was fifty minute exactly, and they filled it in with a fulfilling variety of pieces, asides and video that paid homage to a variety of themes.

The next act was 'for the fans'. 

Mr. Williams started off saying that he would like to explore a bit of Indiana Jones, to the applause of the Bowl.  In that, he started off with a series of fun clips, which I believe was the 'Scherzo' piece of the films (don't have the notes with me).  It then led into Marion's motif from the first movie Raiders.  I have to say that was a favorite of mine and nice to hear the orchestration unimpeded by the movie.

Beyond that, we get treated to a funny Lego clip of how Mr. Williams is 'inspired' in his collaboration with George Lucas.  It's a great clip with Darth Vader leading him on the piano with the familiar theme "dum-dum-dum da-da-da dum-da-dum".  This launches a couple hundred light sabers to go up in the audience, with the orchestra smiling and staring out into the cacophony of light.

Interestingly, as stated before, we have no clips.  I hope that Disney reconsiders providing it for such events - since it's what the people want to see.  But, for the majority of the second act, we only have the Indiana Jones video, nothing of Star Wars or E.T.

The only other highlight to speak of is that, on the second encore (of three), he delighted me with piece Yoda's Theme.  Now, if I can make a pitch.  Back when Empire came out, the break from the space pop was a genre-shifting twist, especially for the generation of kid's at that time.  With it, beyond just being a solid movie, it had an incredible soundtrack. I would listen to that cassette probably a hundred times all the way through.  If you enjoy Mr. Williams work, I would suggest the investment of the full sountrack and do something we don't do nearly as much anymore - just listen to it without distraction.  Don't go running, don't read a book, just sit in a dark room and listen.  It is a delight of a soundtrack and he finds the right notes in the film.

Listening to Yoda's theme, there is a majestic quality: a transcendence of the form they are working in.  It calls a back story to Yoda that is implicit, and that is what Williams does best here.  He is additive to the story with Empire - not just underscoring moments.  His ballad and quieter motifs do this in all his works.

He ends off with E.T.

Overall, a tremendous performance and a 'fun' night.  How many orchestral moments will you be able to say that with?  I love the concerts I've been too and gotten the visceral needs from it, don't get me wrong.  But to have a living legend perform the songs that are part of our DNA is simple, geeky fun.

Now, to my friend's concerns, he wanted more.  There was Jaws, there Close Encounters...yes, so many.  However, the ticket was clear as it being Star Wars.  Personally, I could have used Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan and other personal favorites - but it's a two hour show and an 81-year-old man.  Let's let him rest up since he hinted at 'being here next year and playing you pieces from the new Star Wars'.  There's nothing wrong with that statement and I'm at peace hearing what I heard tonight.

from Wikipedia

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