Film composers at Chamber Music Milwaukee
The klezmer-tinged main theme of John Williams’ Viktor’s Tale could be a from Fiddler on the Roof, were it not for the clarinet variations that make it a virtuoso dazzler. Monday evening, Todd Levy, accompanied by the excellent Jeannie Yu at the piano, dived and darted through Williams’ loop-de-loops with breathtaking agility while maintaining a luxurious sound. This expertly crafted, old-school virtuoso showpiece opened a Chamber Music Milwaukee program of words by composers best known for film scores.
Vitkor’s Tale, drawn from music for the 2004 film, The Terminal, is a hybrid in that respect. Williams’ Horn Concerto is purer, as he wrote it for Dale Clevenger, the Chicago Symphony’s principal. Greg Flint took on its fifth movment, Nocturne, The Crimson Day Withdraws, with Jeffry Petersen at the piano. I like the way it opens in the piano, with a long melody buried in low, heavy chords; when the horn takes up the theme, it’s as if the sun has broken through clouds. Williams’ third entry, Elegy for Cello and Piano, is an extravagant tear-jerker in the way of his music for Schindler’s List. Cellist Stefan Kartman and Yu played it just fine. They also offered a little oddity, Erich Korngold’s Romance-Impromptu, written for but cut from the 1946 film Deception. It’s a high-Romantic exposition missing its development and recapitulation.
Malcolm Arnold’s Suite Bourgeoise was my favorite. Arnold, still famous for his Oscar winning score for Bridge on the River Kwai, wrote this clever and sophisticated trio in 1940, when he was just 19. Yu, flutist Caen Thomason-Redus and oboist Margaret Butler looked and sounded as if they had a marvelous time playing their busy, highly idiomatic, parts.
Arnold’s glowing harmonies resemble those of Ravel and Debussy. He is current to 1940 in his references to swing dance, in the blues-inflected third movement; to tango, in the second; and to the nifty contrast between a jazz waltz in 6/8 and a Viennese waltz, in 3/4 in the finale. The fourth is a love song so florid and sappy that it goes over the top into satire, yet somehow remains beautiful all the while. Each of the five movements springs some sort of surprise at the end. They cut off short, they go on long, they take some weird flight of fancy. The surprises read as punch lines, and they made Butler smile after every movement. Me too.
Students in Jamie Bertsch’s Art 108-2D Concepts class decorated the acoustical shell in a collaborative project for this program. Definitely a visual improvement. Levy and Flint direct Chamber Music Milwaukee, which the UWM Music Department puts on at the UWM Zelazo Center. More on the series right here.