Los Angeles Music Review: THE OSCAR CONCERT (A.M.P.A.S. and LA Phil at Disney Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on March 1, 2018

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles


The logistics of putting together this terrific night, including an assemblage of Hollywood’s A-List composers and directors, must have been daunting. Indeed, so much work went into The Oscar Concert that it’s a shame it only played once. A co-production of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the program celebrated film scores past and present. Act I delivered emotionally evoking nuggets of soundtrack gold by genre (fear, love, etc.) — all accompanied by correlating clips on a giant screen over Disney Hall’s stage. Act II honored this year’s five Oscar-nominated scores with never-before-heard suites, gorgeously orchestrated by Jeff Kryka, Dana Niu, and Conrad Pope.

With over 100 impeccable musicians led by the unflappable, amusing Maestro Thomas Wilkins, we were treated to a treasure trove of instruments used to suit a particular score. To name a few: the ruan (a Chinese lute) in Tan Dun’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; the electric keyboards for Dunkirk (played by Benjamin Walfisch and composer Hans Zimmer); Jacqueline Marshall’s harp in Luis Bacalov’s Il Postino; and Joanne Pearce Martin’s hot-jazz solo piano work for Dave Grusin’s The Firm.

The context last Wednesday was not dissimilar to an actual Oscar ceremony. Curated by composers and Academy Governors Michael Giacchino, Laura Karpman, and Charles Bernstein, the sold-out event began with Giacchino’s humorous anecdote regarding his intense anger when, as a kid in 1983, he watched Tron lose Best Costume Design to Ghandi. Using his Oscar-winning Up as an example, he elucidated the process of creating mood in a particular scene, shown three times with different scoring. Replacing previously scheduled Up director Pete Docter, Wilkins, ever the trouper, played the composer to Giacchino’s indecisive director. The final choice of a lilting waltz instead of adventurous fare was magical.

Ensuring A.M.P.A.S.’s image of diversity and inclusion, organizers clearly went out of their way to ensure that the film clips, selected composers, and presenters represented the many differences among people, exemplified by the opening section: Indian composer A.R. Rahman, whose Slumdog Millionaire was one of three scores in “The Sound of Home,” read from an acrylic teleprompter Misan Sagay’s well-written intro concerning a composer’s need to create a sense of place. The other two scores were Nicholas Nickleby by English writer Rachel Portman — the first female composer to win an Academy Award for Best Musical or Comedy Score (Emma, 1996) — and Amarcord by the prolific Italian, Nino Rota. The HD projections, which weren’t always in sync with the music, included The Color Purple, The Last Emperor, The Joy Luck Club, The Best Years of Our Lives, Star Wars: A New Hope, A League of Their Own, and Dances with Wolves.

The next sampling, “The Sound of Love,” was introduced by the star of Foreign Film-nominee A Fantastic Woman, Daniela Vega, who will be the first openly trans presenter at the Oscars, which takes place this Sunday. It was such a treat to hear Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s The Adventures of Robin Hood in all its splendidly sublime sweeping symphonic sensurround sound. One of the greatest scores from the Golden Age, this rich, rousing, multi-thematic score almost demands its own LA Phil program (or one with the music of, say, Dmitri Tiomkin, Elmer Bernstein, Miklós Rózsa, Alex North, Ennio Morricone, and Max Steiner). The very effective sampling of clips included Brokeback Mountain and An American in Paris, but the audience’s most audible reaction all night (“Awwwwwwww…”) came during the spaghetti-eating, meatball-pushing scene from Lady and the Tramp (how about an all-Disney film-score night at the Hollywood Bowl?).

Other presenters included: Michelle Rodriguez — actress in The Fast and the Furious franchise — introducing “The Sound of the Chase”; Michael Abels, who had never composed a motion picture score before Get Out, offering “The Sound of Fear”; and Ava duVernay, the first black woman to direct a live-action film with a budget exceeding $100 million (A Wrinkle in Time). The musical splicing of what would seem to be disparate movie music always worked well, but putting side-by-side Spartacus, Spirited Away and Malcolm X (“The Sound of Courage”) was inspired. The soulful trumpet playing of Terence Blanchard for his own score of Malcolm X was a highlight.

The second-half, a Who’s Who of directors and composers, had three of the five nominated scores conducted by the authors. The Shape of Water helmer Guillermo del Toro (starting with “Good Evening, I’m Michael Moore”) reminded us that his two main characters had no voice, and how those would be filled in by Alexandre Desplat, whose dramatic conducting was fascinating; without the film playing (a wise choice so we could concentrate on the orchestra), one could really appreciate so much more the harp, celesta, accordion, and human whistling. Writer/Director Rian (pronounced “Ryan”) Johnson was as giddy as a kid introducing John Williams, who handily got the greatest applause of the evening after conducting Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Via video, Christopher Nolan introduced Dunkirk, and Martin McDonagh introduced Carter Burwell, who surprised the director with his Spaghetti Western-like score for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; soprano Liv Redpath’s glorious vocals were part of his haunting, dark, quirky music. Director Paul Thomas Anderson told us he asked composer Jonny Greenwood for something between “atonal and Nelson Riddle” for Phantom Thread; what he got — also conducted by Wilkins here — is a lush, flowing, ethereal, and positively lovely score, my favorite to get the Oscar. This concert gets my vote to become an annual event.

photos by Paul Hebert / ©A.M.P.A.S.

The Oscar Concert
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences & the LA Phil
Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave.
played February 28, 2018 at 8:00
for future events, call 323.850.2000 or visit LA Phil or Oscars

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