Flanked by UniFrance president Serge Toubiana and the National Orchestra of France, filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier stood before a rapt crowd at Paris’ Maison de la Radio this past Saturday to introduce an evening dedicated to French film scores called “May the Music Begin!”
That moniker – a reference to the original French title of his 1975 César winner “Let The Joy Reign Supreme” – highlighted Tavernier’s personal connection to this project.
“There are many unsung heroes of French cinema,” he explained, “but none more so than our composers.”
Working on a film and subsequent eight-part series, both titled “My Journey Through French Cinema,” the filmmaker became struck by the degree to which French composers had been overlooked in the official accounts of French film history – and spent many lonely years trying to rectify that.
“For five years I felt like I was wandering in the desert,” he reflected, “and then in one fell swoop I got this call, and the result is this wonderful orchestra.”
With that, the orchestra took over and the music began. Led by conductor Philippe Béran, the musicians cycled through the standout titles of classic French cinema. They began with George Auric’s compositions for Cocteau’s “La Belle et La Bête” and then performed two pieces by Arthur Honegger, one from Raymond Bernard’s “Les Misérables” and one from Marcel Pagnol’s “Harvest.”
Next up was Jean-Jacques Grunenwald’s music for Henri Decoin’s “The Truth About Baby Donge,” which was one of the three pieces composer Louis Dunoyer de Segonzac had restored and re-arranged specifically for this concert. The other two – Jacques Iberts’ “Justin de Marseille” and Alexis Roland-Manuel’s “Stormy Waters”—were among the night’s standouts.
Indeed, the orchestra so enjoyed playing Roland-Manuel’s spiccato influenced composition – where for one segment the violinists bounced their bows off their strings to mimic the sound of rain falling on water—that they returned to it as the sole encore at the end of the evening.
Other scores included Jacques Ibert’s “Golgotha,” Darius Milhaud’s “Madame Bovary,” Henri Dutilleux’s “Devil’s Daughter” and Jean Françaix’s “Royal Affairs in Versailles.”
While they did not project any of the films to accompany the music, conductor Philippe Béran offered dramatic, highly theatrical introductions before each piece. Whether he was describing “a springtime rippling with beauty” or a segment that sounded like “the voice of God itself,” Béran’s evident enthusiasm and zeal for this material was contagious.