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August 15, 2006
Film Composers' Chamber Music Performed
Third Annual Beverly Hills International Music Festival by Jon Burlingame

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – "Voices of Hollywood," staged Friday night, Aug. 11, as part of the third annual Beverly Hills International Music Festival, offered a rare opportunity to hear chamber music by film and television composers.

Four of the six living composers represented on the program attended: Bruce Broughton, Aaron Zigman, Bruce Babcock and Don Davis. Also featured were pieces by John Williams, André Previn and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. About 160 attended the concert, held in the historic sanctuary of the 80-year-old Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church.

Bruce Babcock, Aaron Zigman, Bruce Broughton and Don Davis (Photograph by Annamaria DeSanto)
Bruce Babcock, Aaron Zigman, Bruce Broughton and Don Davis
Photo by Annamaria DeSanto
The diverse and often compelling program began with Broughton's "Variations for Flute and Piano," written for a music publisher in 2000. Flutist Susan Greenberg and pianist Genevieve Lee played this delightfully melodic four-minute opener.

Lee and bassoonist Judith Farmer next performed three movements of a bassoon-and-piano version of John Williams' well-known bassoon concerto, "The Five Sacred Trees": The melancholy "Eo Migna," lively "Tortan" and contemplative "Dathi."

Receiving its world premiere was a new work, especially written for the concert by Aaron Zigman (The Notebook, Akeelah and the Bee). Titled "Vis Vitae" ("Lifeforce"), it was written for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, violin, viola, cello and piano and conducted by the composer.

As Zigman wrote in the program notes: "Transitions from loss and rejection have always been difficult for me. These changes are made easier by the saving grace of music. Through my writing, I am able to examine and channel certain perceptions into healthy creativity. In `Vis Vitae,' I use impressionism as a guide through this corridor. I know that a renewed sense of hope and self await me on the other side." The moods of the 10-minute, single-movement piece ranged from gloomy to delicate, serene to exuberant, and it was warmly received.

Opening the second half were 18 minutes of Bruce Babcock's "Imagined / Remembered," a sonata for cello and piano performed by charismatic cellist Jakub Omsky and pianist Lee. Originally commissioned for the 2005 Santa Barbara Chamber Music Festival, it began with an exciting and evocative allegro movement, shifted into a dark and then wildly romantic lento, and concluded with an buoyant and energetic presto. Once again, the composer was acknowledged and the virtuoso piece lauded.

Lightening the mood was Don Davis' 1999 "Illicit Felicity" for solo piano, played by Tatyana Stepanova. Originally written as a source cue for the film Bound, it made for diverting fun, including quotations from Chopin, Beethoven, Bizet and even Randy Newman's "I Love L.A."

Two of Korngold's seven "Sieben Marchenbilder (Seven Fairy-Tale Pictures)" for solo piano were also performed by Stepanova: the dramatic "The Goblins" and lyrical "Fairy Tale's Epilogue." It was a remarkable accomplishment, considering that the composer was all of 13 when he wrote them in 1910, and yet they hinted at the kind of romantic music he would write a quarter-century later for Warner Bros.' Errol Flynn swashbucklers.

Concluding the program were two movements from Andre Previn's "Trio for Piano, Oboe and Bassoon," impressively performed by oboist Anne Gabriele, bassoonist Farmer and pianist Bryan Pezzone.

The concert was organized by Gernot Wolfgang, composer-in-residence for the festival, whose own chamber works were performed in two concerts during the previous week.

©2006 Jon Burlingame

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