Esa-Pekka Salonen

The Gold Standard: How the movies -- past and present -- changed our lives

“Rarely have I seen a musical film that I’ve liked,” says Salonen, musical director and conductor of the L.A. Philharmonic. ” ‘Chicago’ I enjoyed. It had real grit in it, and the characters felt more real despite the fact that they were singing. Onstage, you don’t have to be cynical when people sing about love. But in film it would be considered a banal thing to do. Onstage, the grand feelings and enormous emotions belong to the genre somehow, which is not the case with film.”

That said, Salonen has nothing but praise for a very musical non-musical film.

“I saw Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey’ when I was 10, and it made a big impression. It played on the only wide-screen in Helsinki,” he says of his hometown. More impressive than the movie’s sheer size, however, was the director’s achievement matching image to music.

“In my opinion, there is a moment in ‘2001’ that is one of the greatest transitions in all of art,” says the maestro. “When the apes learn how to use bones as tools and weapons, there is the sound of Ligeti’s ‘Requiem,’ and as the bones circles around in the air, Kubrick cuts into the image of a space station, which also rotates. The bone becomes the space station and the music cuts into ‘The Blue Danube.’ Many colleagues of mine, composers mainly, have mentioned this film as an influence, as a model for building form and transition in musical terms.”

Also much admired are the scores that Bernard Herrmann (“he flirts with Wagner but doesn’t quite go there”) wrote for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” and “Psycho.”

“Music and film are both about timing,” says Salonen, “and the best composers and the best filmmakers are those who are the best timers.”

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