The California Philharmonic Orchestra presented its fourth concert, the next-to-last of the 2009 season, at The Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens in Arcadia last Saturday evening led by Music
Director/Conductor, Victor Vener. The program of movie music, or music associated with movies, included numbers from “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”, “Gone With the Wind”, “Amadeus”, “Casablanca”, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, “Memoirs of a Geisha”, “The Big Country” and Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D-major with soloist Armen Anassian.
Just about everything during the evening pointed to the fact that summer has now stretched everyone pretty much to the limit and that fall activities are anticipated. One clue was that programs ran short early on. The portable toilets were not in their usual location (although an official announced from the stage they would be in their usual spot next concert—a point that brought a response from the crowd). And then, the crowd seemed, if not distracted, disinterested in the performed music. Applause peaked at several occasions only to quickly disappear. Throughout the evening’s performance picnickers poured more wine and chatted along.
The orchestra, for its part, performed gratuitously well, but other than the attentive backing for former Cal Phil concertmaster Anassian in Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto, musicians seemed sapped of energy, even careless. This was not true of the season: the first concert, “By George” was one of Cal Phil’s best; the crowd at last Satuday’s Arboretum affair was still talking about the Fab Four and “Basically Beatles”; although I missed “Swords and Chivalry”, one critic I spoke with raved about how good the concert, and particularly, pianist Robert Thies, was. It would appear that for many of the thousands who showed up at The Arboretum, ennui has set in.
The opening dramatic music of Richard Strauss did little to rouse the crowd. From the opening of the low C note on the weak electronic keyboard, and only three double basses (rather than a full orchestra compliment of eight) and the contrabassoon, to the end of the two-minute long fanfare, Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra” raised little attention. The second, Howard Shore’s score for “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”, here presenting Jerry Brubaker’s arrangement, musically wandered.
The same held true for “Tara” a short tone-poem version of the opening music for the film “Gone With the Wind” orchestrated by Frank Campbell-Watson. It may have been the arrangement differed from Max Steiner’s now classic arrangement for the opening of the film. Also, with CDs of the soundtrack and the DVD version of the movie easily available the 70 year-old version, caused the Cal Phil version as interpreted here to seem so bland. It could also have been the sound-board mixing that unbalanced just about every number throughout the evening. More ennui, perhaps.
For all that, Armen Anassian brought his estimable talents to the stage to present what was a clear and first-rate version of Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D-major. Anassian demonstrated beautifully and the orchestra concurred that Korngold’s themes for all those Erroll Flynn swashbucklers were, in fact, real music. With strong backing from the Cal Phil musicians and deft leadership from Vener, Anassian made the brilliant music come alive. If the piece is a compendium of Korngold’s film music, the third movement is a departure moving more to an original composition showing what might have been had not Hollywood called. Vener told the audience that Korngold was considered a musical genius along the lines of Mozart in his native Austria. Anassian offered a finely honed performance.
After intermission, the orchestra was heard in the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 in G-minor, Alexander Desplat’s score to “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, John Williams’ “Memoirs of a Geisha”, Johann Strauss, Jr.’s “On the Beautiful Blue Danube” and Jerome Morass’ main-title theme music for the 1968 film “The Big Country”. During the second half one item stood out in the set: Allen Savedoff’s saxophone playing of “As Time Goes By” in an arrangement by 29 year-old saxophonist Seth Custer. As film history has recorded and most film buffs know, the tune was written for a Broadway show and selected for the 1942 film “Casablanca”. Savedoff’s playing was smooth, cool, jazzy, with the full-string treatment behind him. Savedoff captured the essence of Herman Hupfeld’s music.
The California Philharmonic Orchestra’s Festival on the Green 2009 summer season concludes on Aug. 22 at The Arboretum and Aug. 23 at Walt Disney Concert Hall with Broadway’s Best, magical moments form theater’s greatest shows.