MSO Pops Movie Music
Movie music without the movies fails to move me much, mostly. It’s like an illustration without a story; it might work independently, but stripped of its original context and purpose, it’s just not complete.
All that said, conductor Jack Everly’s Hooray for Hollywood concert, given Friday by the Milwaukee Symphony Pops, was about the best concert of its kind I’ve heard. Everly, who is sort of a one-man pops conglomerate on the American symphony circuit, did an exceptional job of selecting, and/or cutting and pasting bits of film scores to make them sound coherent and whole in a concert setting. (I’m assuming that Everly arranged the pieces or that someone else did under his direction. The arrangements are uncredited in the program.)
He focused on epic scores to epic films: Max Steiner’s Gone with the Wind, Elmer Berstein’s Hawaii, part of John Williams’ various Star Wars scores, James Horner’s Titanic, and so on. That is, he focused on composers who worked more or less in the vein of late 19th-century Romantics. You know, lots of heroic stuff with lots of fanfares followed by long themes, meant to be stirring, for massed strings. These guys understand their idiom and they are highly professional. Movie music is a day job, composing to someone else’s specifications.
I kept thinking that most of them sound quite a bit like Richard Strauss. Then Everly and the orchestra fired up a bit of The Dawn from Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra (you know, the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey), and I realized that the other guys sound like Strauss, only worse. Their music is pleasant and impressive without being engaging or interesting.
The best of it was Around the World in 80 Days, first because it’s the least pretentious and most lighthearted piece on the program; and second that it’s a waltz couched (for this program at least) in an unexpected and beguiling rumba rhythm plucked out on the basses. Elegant, that.
It also helped that Everly is such good company. He chatted affably and knowledgeably about the music and the movies. He is a walking encyclopedia on these subjects, and a very charming one endowed with dry wit.
This program, given at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall, will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 10-11. Call the Marcus box office, 414-273-7206, for tickets. Visit the MSO website for more information.