The Polish film industry gave itself a promotional boost at Royce Hall Friday night by presenting a lengthy stretch of the music of one of its native composers, Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, who has lived and worked in Los Angeles since 1989. Kaczmarek has become a major presence in the film world, winning the original score Oscar for “Finding Neverland” last year. Though the pacing and presentation of the music left a lot to be desired, there is little doubt that he does have a distinctive style set somewhat apart from most of his filmland colleagues.
Designed around the theme “Journey to Light” — which Kaczmarek considers a description of his transition from the cloudy (political and otherwise) skies of Poland to sunlit Southern California — the concert piled on suites of cues from four of his film scores (“Unfaithful,” “Finding Neverland,” “The Third Miracle” and “Quo Vadis”) and capped it with the last two movements of his new “Cantata for Freedom.”
It was asking a lot of the audience to sit through nearly two hours of this without intermission or sufficient preparation. No information was provided in the printed program about the pieces or their sections other than the fact that the cantata was written for the 25th anniversary of Solidarity and dedicated to the late Pope John Paul II.
One could take an imaginary leap and pretend that the four film suites constituted a gigantic 90-minute four-movement symphony — complete with a moody opening movement; a light, fanciful scherzo; a slow third movement; and a pounding warlike finale. But the symphonic metaphor ends right there, for these were strings of film cues — often repetitive, nondeveloping background pieces that were (here we go again) not designed to be played in a concert hall out of context with the film.
At the same time, one could detect a Kaczmarek signature in much of this — a mournful, gentle, almost minimalist style of writing springing audibly from the soil that nurtured Gorecki’s famous Symphony No. 3, spiced now and then with the folk-like jangling of a hammer dulcimer (played by Marta Maslanka) and an accordion. There were frequent intrusions of introspective solo piano (Leszek Mozdzer) that may have been partly improvised, and vocals (Sussan Deyhim) with extended techniques that would have been at home in the Middle East.
Finally, the static film cues gave way to the cantata — same musical language, but now the rhetoric was shaped, shaded and made to flow in a way that led someplace, culminating in a rousing tune hammered over and over by the orchestra, building in emotion and power. There’s the difference between Kaczmarek’s cinema and concert music: The latter had a musical storyline that the former ironically lacked when wrenched away from the visual storyline.
Throughout, the young musicians of the USC Thornton Symphony Orchestra played like professionals, with enviably unified, rich, clear ensemble work.