The Hollywood Bowl turned into a giant submarine porthole over the weekend, with two big screens showing scenes from BBC/Discovery Channel series “The Blue Planet” as the Los Angeles Philharmonic played excerpts from George Fenton’s score.
One can’t help but wonder whether live events such as this one are becoming things of the past, now that DVD is in the mainstream, hi-def bigscreen plasma television is working its way into U.S. households and many home theater systems can produce better sound than a massive outdoor amphitheater. Nevertheless, it was a sometimes emotionally charged visual experience outdoors — and the score served its bedrock purpose, to illustrate and heighten the images.
With Fenton, actor Ed Begley Jr. and one of the cameramen from the series taking turns introducing the segments, a panorama of stunningly filmed, crisply reproduced sea life filled the screens flanking the Bowl’s shell.
Dolphins pranced playfully in the open sea, a sea lion frolicked on the coastline, penguins shot through the water to the icy surface near Antarctica.
Very often, the films eavesdropped upon some unscripted Darwinian drama, with sometimes bloody scenes of feeding frenzy demonstrating survival of the fittest in its most brutal form. Also striking is the bravery of the unseen cameramen filming the more dangerous scenes — particularly those amid a swarm of killer sharks — an underlying drama of its own.
Yet frankly, Fenton’s score is nothing to get excited about. From the excerpts presented Friday night, it sounds like little more than a workaday assemblage of portentous proclamations and heart-tugging rhetoric, relieved by some humorous quasi-mariachi in “Life in the Flow” or the South American-flavored waltz in “Dolphins.” (Also included was an attractive excerpt from Elgar’s “Sea Pictures” and a vintage recording of Charles Trenet’s “La Mer.”) The Philharmonic played through Fenton’s score with considerable finesse, if not much audible enthusiasm.
Had this music been presented on its own, without the pictures (excerpts have been released on a Koch CD), it would have been a long, long evening.