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March 7, 2005
Standing on Its Own
Challenges, complexities of presenting film music in concert are explored by orchestra librarians by Jon Burlingame
L.A. Film Music Panel
"Film Music in Concert" panelists (left to right): Patrick McGinn (President, Major Orchestra Librarians' Association), JoAnn Kane (President, JoAnn Kane Music Service), John Mauceri (Principal Conductor, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra), Mary Jo Mennella (Senior Vice President & General Manager, Fox Music, Inc) composer James Newton Howard, Nancy Knutsen (Senior Vice President, ASCAP), Stephen Biagini (Librarian, Los Angeles Philharmonic) and Steve Linder (Director of Presentations, Los Angeles Philharmonic Association)

The increasing presence of film music in the concert hall – and the practical side of making that a reality – was the subject of a seminar sponsored by the Major Orchestra Librarians Association (MOLA) recently at the Millenium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.

MOLA members, representing more than 200 orchestras around the world, are the people responsible for obtaining and readying scores and musicians' parts for the music played in concert and for recordings.

Addressing the issue were Hollywood Bowl Orchestra principal conductor John Mauceri; composer James Newton Howard; ASCAP senior vice president Nancy Knutsen; Fox Music senior vice president Mary Jo Mennella; prominent film-music-preparation specialist JoAnn Kane; and Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra librarian Stephen Biagini.

Moderating the event was L.A. Philharmonic Association director of presentations and Hollywood Bowl Orchestra manager Steve Linder. Approximately 130 librarians, composers, musicians, publishers and students attended.

Much of the three-hour session dealt with the challenges and complexities of locating scores, determining if they are concert-ready, obtaining the appropriate rights and permissions, and sometimes even reconstructing the music from whatever original sketches or partial scores might exist.

Kane, whose music-copying service is used by many of the top composers in Hollywood, pointed out that there is "a wealth of concert music just waiting to be harvested for performance. It's been a rough sell for various reasons," she explained. But she believes that film music can "bring in a new audience, a younger audience" to American concert halls with proper programming and marketing.

She cited as examples the popular success of John Corigliano's music for The Red Violin (featuring violinist Joshua Bell) and the fact that Danny Elfman is now working with celebrated choreographer Matthew Bourne on a ballet based on his score for Edward Scissorhands.

The problem, she indicated, is convincing orchestra music directors to add film music to concert programs, as well as "getting the studios interested," perhaps as part of the marketing and promotion of current films in theaters and older films being released on DVD.

Mauceri, who has long championed film music in the concert hall, talked about the disconnect between the general public and those who program symphony concerts. "There is 100 years of music that no one [among the decisionmakers] knows anything about, and yet the whole world knows," he said, "music which the public wants to hear, and which orchestras like to play."

He believes that film music has been unfairly "ghettoized." He pointed out that much of it "is quite difficult" and cannot be properly performed with the single rehearsal that most pops concerts seem to get. "This is a living art form," he said.

Howard, recently lauded for his use of classical violinist Hilary Hahn on the Oscar-nominated score for The Village, said that most composers approach the notion of concert presentations of their music "extremely enthusiastically." He said he has created performance suites from some of his scores, including Snow Falling on Cedars and Signs.

He suggested that a convenient way to ensure the availability of concert versions of current scores might be to have a clause inserted into the composer's contract mandating delivery of an end-title sequence "appropriate for concert performance."

Sometimes, said Mennella, it's "a very fragmented roadmap to find the copyright holder" of any one score. Twentieth Century-Fox, for example, controls its own music from the past two decades; Fox music from 1966 to 1982 is administered by the publishing company Warner/Chappell; and pre-1966, by EMI. Many of the major studios have sold off their music rights to the giant music publishing houses over the years, she said.

Many of the studios have been reactive rather than pro-active in discovering the value of concert versions of many famous film scores, she said. Fox now has a "concert rental library," administered by Kane's company, that includes such recent scores as David Arnold's Independence Day, John Williams' Home Alone and the themes from such TV shows as The Simpsons and The X-Files.

Biagini said that finding the music for a particular film and preparing it for performance "can be as easy as renting from Hal Leonard or John Waxman" – two major suppliers of movie music for the concert hall – or as difficult as two recent Hollywood Bowl debuts: re-creating the gymnasium scene from the film of West Side Story, and the pre-title sequence from the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies.

In the case of West Side Story, it took weeks to locate the original orchestrations, some of which were finally discovered at Columbia University, while some parts were actually found at the Hollywood Bowl, apparently left there after a performance decades ago. As for Tomorrow Never Dies, "all the material existed," he said, but needed to be edited in order to match the film to be projected during the concert.

"There is a need for better cataloguing of this material," Biagini said.

Mennella also discussed the financial aspects of the process, noting that rights "flow back to the music publisher," although the "physical elements" – the scores themselves – are controlled by the entity that restores these scores for concert performance.

In the case of recent restorations of Alfred Newman's The Robe and Jerry Goldsmith's Planet of the Apes, two Fox films from the '50s and '60s, the original scores and orchestrations were retained by the studio but the performance rights were held by the publishers. All of those issues had to be sorted out before Mauceri and Goldsmith could perform the suites at the Hollywood Bowl.

Mauceri described his process in creating a 14-minute suite from Franz Waxman's Oscar-winning score for Sunset Boulevard. He was able to listen to all of the recording sessions from Paramount – which still held all of the scores and parts from the original 1950 recording dates – and was pleased to discover that Waxman "had basically through-composed the piece," introducing themes (notably motifs for the William Holden and Gloria Swanson characters, and some "chase" material) and developing them as the film progressed. It was a relatively simple matter to assemble them into a "sonata for orchestra," he said.

He talked at length about his collaboration with Howard Shore in assembling the Lord of the Rings Symphony from the composer's three massive orchestral and choral scores for the popular J.R.R. Tolkien fantasies.

At first, "no one wanted to do this piece," he reported, explaining that the management of many major orchestras were skeptical about the commercial viability of such a work. It has now been performed more than 40 times around the world, from sold-out performances at London's Royal Albert Hall to Moscow, the Far East and all over North America.

"We have to get away from our arrogant positions and look at what the public is actually telling us," Mauceri said. In addition, "forget getting the approbation of these people," he said, referring to critics who so often lambast performances of music originally written for films. "Snobbery is frequently a mask for ignorance," he added.

Several librarians expressed frustration with the process, saying they weren't sure where to turn for help in finding many scores.

ASCAP's Knutsen offered assistance, noting that as a performing-rights organization representing composers and songwriters, her group is in the business of "celebrating the success of our composers. We're always delighted to see film music in concert – not just in a pops context but a symphonic context as well."

She said that as the new century progresses, she looks forward to "the merger of the concert world and the film music world."

The "Film Music in Concert" session marked the conclusion of the orchestra librarians' 23rd annual conference, a four-day event that also included sessions with L.A. Philharmonic music director Esa-Pekka Salonen, composer Steven Stucky and the children of Arnold Schoenberg; and seminars on topics ranging from European emigre composers in Hollywood to the future of orchestral music and how technology is shaping the future of composers, publishers and librarians.

©2005 Jon Burlingame

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Challenges, complexities of presenting film music in concert are explored by orchestra librarians

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