You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Score One for Movie Maestros: Audiences Grow for Film-Music Concerts

Screenings of classic films accompanied by a live orchestra also selling more

On a Friday night last month at UCLA’s Royce Hall, British conductor John Wilson led a 97-piece orchestra and 36-voice choir in two hours of selections from classic MGM musicals. By the end of the performance, an invitation-only crowd of 1,000 industry movers and shakers were on their feet, cheering and shouting for more.

Four nights later, across town at L.A. Live’s Nokia Theater, the applause was even more deafening for the first of three performances showcasing Danny Elfman’s music for Tim Burton movies. This time, it was 6,000 fans listening to 87 top Los Angeles musicians (with 45-voice choir) conducted by longtime Hollywood Bowl baton-holder John Mauceri, with Elfman himself singing songs from “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

Later the same week, the San Francisco Symphony played Bernard Herrmann’s scores for “Psycho” and, in a world premiere, “Vertigo.” Both were presented “live to picture,” meaning the films were stripped of their original recorded music so that the symphony could accompany them as the films unspooled.

Orchestras everywhere are jumping onto the movie-music bandwagon, thanks in part to the built-in marketing hook provided by film titles, particularly classic pics. And the concert treatment is helping to bring overdue respect to filmdom’s finest scores.

The New York Philharmonic recently played Stanley Kubrick’s classical music selections for “2001: A Space Odyssey” as the film played above the stage in Manhattan’s Avery Fisher Hall. All three “Lord of the Rings” movies have now been screened with live orchestral and choral accompaniment; and “The Wizard of Oz” is fast becoming a staple of family-friendly, live-with-orchestra symphony events.

“I don’t think it’s a vehicle for nostalgia, or just for the generation that saw these films,” says Wilson, whose own orchestra has been performing classic film music in the U.K. for nearly 20 years. “The very best of this music can be accepted on its own, purely musical, terms.”

Original film scores, long derided by critics and academics as hack work unworthy of performance apart from its cinematic origins, has gained respect in recent years, in part because of the unprecedented popularity of John Williams and his frequent performance of often sophisticated music from many of his films. (The all-Williams “Star Wars in Concert” tour played to sold-out audiences in England and North America in 2009-11.)

Mauceri, during his 15-year tenure as principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, supervised the creation of dozens of new film-music suites, making Golden Age Hollywood scores playable in concert for the first time. And as Bowl Movie Nights began in the late 1990s, some of them were performed with film excerpts.

The biggest boom has been in the screening of complete films with orchestral accompaniment. Steve Linder, senior VP of IMG Artists, cites the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 1987 performance of “Alexander Nevsky” (with Andre Previn conducting Prokofiev’s landmark score live to picture) as the “light-bulb moment” when he first realized the commercial potential of music and image for concert audiences.

“Clip shows have now transmuted themselves into full-film evenings,” he says, noting that “Live From Lincoln Center” producer John Goberman (who produced the original “Nevsky” evening) has turned the conceit into a cottage industry, with live-orchestra shows of “Oz,” “Casablanca,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Psycho” and others. (Wilson reconstructed the lost “Oz” score for Goberman.)

The Elfman-Burton concert was co-produced by Elfman’s agents, Kraft-Engel Management with Columbia Artists Management.  Based on the success of this initial concert, the two companies are joining forces for more film music related shows.

IMG Artists has partnered with the Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency, which specializes in repping film composers, to present live-to-picture concerts of films done by GSA clients. The first will be “Home Alone,” premiering Dec. 18, with the Cleveland Orchestra, directed by David Newman, performing the Williams score for the 1990 John Hughes film. Starting next summer, IMG and GSA will offer both “Star Trek” and “Star Trek Into Darkness,” two Michael Giacchino scores for the J.J. Abrams rebooted franchise — and there are plans for more.

Newman is among the most active of conductors doing films live in concert. Over the past two years, he’s conducted performances of “West Side Story” in concert halls from New York to Sydney, and discovered that the musicians were as enthusiastic as audiences, despite the high degree of difficulty of the Leonard Bernstein score. Newman is also the regular conductor of the Hollywood Bowl’s Movie Nights, which routinely include live-to-picture excerpts.

Mauceri finds the reason some musicians love playing movie music is that it’s what they grew up with. “They’re actually playing the real notes of the first orchestral music they ever heard as kids,” he says. Older musicians have come around more slowly, he adds, because many “were trained in conservatories to hate this music.”

Steven Allen Fox founded the Golden State Pops Orchestra in 2002, with the specific intent to play what he calls “media music” in concert (as well as TV music and videogame scores). He sees such work as a great way to introduce audiences to the symphony. “Film music is an art form, and needs to be treated that way,” he says. “It shouldn’t be thought of as second rate.”

Mauceri views the best of recent such music as “contemporary classical music,” as valid as any written by the classical greats of the past century. “The bottom line is,” he notes, “this is the orchestral music that’s been heard by more people than any music in history.”

(Pictured: Danny Elfman joined John Mauceri and the Hollywood Symphony at an L.A. concert of his work.)

More Biz

  • David Lubliner Moves to UTA From

    Veteran WME Agent David Lubliner to Join UTA

    William Morris Endeavor agent David Lubliner is departing the company for a post at United Talent Agency, individuals familiar with the move told Variety. The parting of ways was amicable, the insiders added. Lubliner was a veteran in WME’s motion picture literary department. Rumors of his exit had been floating since Hollywood reopened for the new [...]

  • Bruce Tufeld Dead: Hollywood Agent and

    Hollywood Agent and Manager Bruce Tufeld Dies at 66

    Bruce Tufeld, a Hollywood agent and manager who once repped stars like Rob Lowe, Laura Dern, and Kelsey Grammer, died Tuesday in Los Angeles as a result of complications from liver cancer. He was 66. The son of respected television announcer Richard “Dick” Tufeld and Adrienne Tufeld, Bruce began his career as an assistant at ICM [...]

  • R Kelly protest

    Protesters Rally Outside Sony Music Headquarters, Demand the Company Drop R. Kelly

    Standing in the cold with megaphones outside of Sony Music’s New York headquarters, a group of activists delivered the company, parent of Kelly’s longtime label RCA, a petition signed by over 217,000 people demanding that the singer be dropped from the label. The rally comes less than a week after a plane carrying a banner [...]

  • Robert Smith, Longtime Executive at DuArt

    Robert Smith, Longtime Executive at New York's DuArt Film Labs, Dies at 88

    Robert Smith, a longtime executive with New York’s DuArt Film Labs, died Jan. 11 in Montvale, N.J. He was 88. Smith spent some 62 years with DuArt, the film processing and post-production facility founded in 1922 in the penthouse of an automobile garage in Midtown. Smith rose to president of DuArt before retiring in 2015. [...]

  • Fake Washington Post

    Fake Editions of Washington Post Distributed in D.C.

    The Washington Post was forced to issue a statement on Wednesday morning after commuters were handed fake print copies of the newspaper with a headline claiming President Donald Trump had fled the White House. “There are fake print editions of The Washington Post being distributed around downtown DC, and we are aware of a website [...]

  • Stock market Stock buyback

    Stock Buybacks Leave Firms Without Funds to Invest in Future (Column)

    Corporate giants on the S&P 500 have spent more than $720 billion during the past year on stock buybacks. Media and entertainment firms account for only a fraction of that spending, but even $1 million spent on share repurchases seems a foolhardy expenditure at this transformational moment for the industry. The record level of spending [...]

  • Sinclair Enters Streaming Arena With Local

    Sinclair Enters Streaming Arena With Entertainment Bundle and Local Channels

    Sinclair Broadcast Group is diving into the increasingly crowded streaming platform arena with the launch today of Stirr, a free OTT entertainment bundle offering local news and general entertainment, sports and lifestyle channels. Sinclair aims to leverage the near-national reach of its sprawling station group with its strong local presence in markets across the country [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content