With movie music nights having become de rigueur at concert halls and amphitheaters across the land — not to mention recently sprung festival showcases — it might be important to note the event that started it all. Fifty years ago next month, an extraordinary collection of film composers gathered to celebrate the great songs and scores of Hollywood history.
It was Sept. 25, 1963, at the Hollywood Bowl, and although it was a hot night in the middle of the week, an estimated 10,000 gathered to listen to the movies’ greatest hits as conducted by the men who originally wrote them.
Elmer Bernstein opened with “The Magnificent Seven.” Henry Mancini, who would become a Bowl regular in years to come, made only his second appearance there, conducting “Days of Wine and Roses” and “Peter Gunn.” Alfred Newman brought the house down with his rousing “How the West Was Won” overture.
David Raksin and Franz Waxman created new symphonic suites of their “Laura” and “A Place in the Sun,” respectively. Miklos Rozsa offered music from “Ben-Hur,” Bernard Herrmann his fandango from “North by Northwest,” Dimitri Tiomkin the theme from “High Noon” and Alex North his music from then-in-theaters “Cleopatra.”
“Gone With the Wind” composer Max Steiner, then 75 and nearing retirement, attended but turned the baton over to arranger Percy Faith, whose single of Steiner’s “A Summer Place” had recently topped the charts. Longtime MGM music director Johnny Green hosted and played his “Raintree County.” Andy Williams sang “Moon River,” gospel star Mahalia Jackson a song from “The Alamo,” and comedian-violinist Jack Benny provided comic relief.
The concert was a fundraiser for the Composers and Lyricists Guild of America, which represented Hollywood composers and songwriters until the early 1980s. Columbia later issued an LP of the concert, but although “Music From Hollywood” was billed as the “first annual” event, such an all-star concert never happened again.
David Newman (Alfred’s son), who regularly conducts classic film music at the Bowl, says he doubts that there has ever been a bigger collection of top composers on one stage. “It just may have been this concert that paved the way for film music to be presented in concert halls around the world,” he adds.