Friday marked a homecoming of sorts for Jerry Goldsmith. The veteran composer for 180 films has won an Oscar, received another 17 nominations and won five Emmys, conducted major symphony orchestras around the world including London and Carnegie Hall, and built a reputation as one of the movies’ most versatile and respected music writers. But he had never conducted an orchestra in public in his hometown, which happens to be Los Angeles.
Goldsmith, who turned 70 in February, finally got his wish, conducting the L.A. Phil in a two-night stand at the Hollywood Bowl. The 2-1/2-hour program showcased two dozen of his themes for movies and TV from the past 40 years, mixing scores for celebrated films (“Chinatown,” “Patton”) with memorable music from nearly forgotten ones (“The Wind and the Lion”) and recent commercial hits (“The Mummy”).
Missing among his more famous works were the Oscar-winning music for “The Omen” and his avant-garde score for “Planet of the Apes.” The former demands a choir, and the absence of the latter can be excused by the fact that picnicking weekend Bowl audiences aren’t usually in the mood for complex exercises in atonality. Emphasis was on the upbeat and familiar.
Goldsmith, closely identified with the “Star Trek” franchise via scores for four of the movies and themes for two of the TV series, even had a Klingon deliver his baton at the top of the show. (Later on, more costumed characters appeared: Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Mulan led the audience in a surprise “Happy Birthday” singalong to the maestro.)
The Philharmonic shone on Goldsmith’s more lyrical compositions such as the love themes from “Chinatown” and “The Russia House,” but demonstrated a decided lack of energy in the more aggressive material, notably the opening “Star Trek” music. Highlights were two long medleys of classic themes that, for families present, bridged the generations (the 1960s’ “Sand Pebbles” with the 1980s’ “Basic Instinct” in the film medley; “Dr. Kildare” with “Star Trek: Voyager” in the TV medley).
The inevitable airplane obbligato came just minutes late: Instead of passing overhead during the theme from “Air Force One,” it ruined an exquisite piano-violin duet in Goldsmith’s next number, the tender theme for “A Patch of Blue.” Music from last summer’s Disney smash “Mulan” (mostly the songs, which Goldsmith didn’t write), the new Oscar fanfare and a powerful suite from “L.A. Confidential” rounded out the film excerpts.
The Phil commissioned a new piece to accompany the fireworks in Cahuenga Pass. Goldsmith’s “Fireworks: A Celebration of Los Angeles” was designed to portray, in the composer’s words, “the energy, the fun, the casualness” of L.A. His nine-minute ode to the city was alternately lighthearted and dramatic, dignified and exciting (and unfortunately, often obscured by the noise of the fireworks).
The composer’s between-tune tales ranged from amusing (a story about pal Sean Connery emulating his ponytail in “Medicine Man”) to bizarre (a report that Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega surrendered to authorities only after hearing Goldsmith’s “Patton” theme played repeatedly over loudspeakers).
As a conductor, his style wasn’t flamboyant; instead of playing to the crowd, focus was on eliciting a solid performance from the orchestra, a result of years of studio-conducting experience.