Treasured Appearances #3: Varese Sarabande 35th Anniversary Halloween Gala
A record label that is able to last 35 years, let alone one that specializes in film music, has made quite an accomplishment. When you add to that these little advertised film music concerts they've produced with their comparatively small numbered fan base, it becomes even more impressive. For myself however, its most amazing achievement was delivering to attendees one of the most outstanding performances of film music I have ever heard. That's probably because this group of talented musicians didn't try to (here comes the pun) "classify" the music: Instead of blandly evening out all of its unique structure and dynamic surprises they "played it up" courageously honouring film music's best attributes.
What a programme! "Ambitious" hardly describes it. The concert opened with a dazzling "Halloween Overture" vigorously conducted and imaginatively arranged by Joseph ('Spartacus') LoDuca which consisted of composer John Carpenter's Halloween, Charles Bernstein's A Nightmare on Elm Street, Howard Shore's The Fly, Bernard Herrmann's Psycho and lastly Jerry Goldsmith's The Omen. It was a real treat to hear LoDuca's subtle arrangement tricks on a few of the more familiar selections here.
Next up was John Williams' breathtaking Dracula end titles music conducted by the GSPO's Maestro Steven Allen Fox, followed by guest conductor Brian Tyler conducting his creatively engaging music from Children of Dune.
The show's Producer and host is one of the most influential and prolific contributors to film music recordings, Varese Sarabande's Robert Townson. He introduced the next item with some rather shocking news of his own: Bernard Herrmann's sublime and monumental score to The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, as towering an achievement as anything written in the classical romantic idiom, was being performed live...for the first time...ever. Music that is so heavenly expressive, emotive and poignant as this never before performed live?! When one considers how many orchestras all over the world are struggling to stay afloat with their overly familiar repertoire and dwindling attendance, it's no wonder many of us there felt both stunned and privileged. It was performed flawlessly with guest conductor John Debney at the podium.
Television's infectious Beauty and the Beast theme composed by veteran Lee Holdridge was conducted by the composer who followed his own work with a lyrical suite from Georges Delerue's Something Wicked This Way Comes. Then it was guest conductor (and still another famous film composer in his own right) Cliff Eidelman's turn leading the orchestra in music composed by Jerry Goldsmith for the film Alien. This selection had my friend and I wincing before we heard it as we are huge fans of composer Goldsmith and his film music concerts. One in particular we formerly attended together had its performers struggling mightily. Here the immense power and beauty came thorough in spectacular fashion with the GSPO's enthusiastically spot on performance featuring splendid solo playing from principal trumpet Dustin McKinney.
After the intermission it was an all Beltrami spook suite consisting of scores to I Robot, Hellboy, Mimic and Knowing conducted by (guess who) Marco Beltrami of course. Mr Fox then returned to the podium to lead his troops in the immensely catchy and popular Game of Thrones main title theme composed by Ramin Djawadi.
Another Varese recording alumni, composer Randy Edelman conducted the next three selections. A deliciously fun and quirky suite from Elmer Bernstein's Ghostbusters which segued into a gorgeously romantic love theme, featured noted flautist Sara Andon's superb playing. Then it was the conductor's own thrilling music composed for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor followed by a suite from television's True Blood composed by the talented Nathan Barr who was also in attendance.
The show wrapped with a hair raising fusion of hard rock and thematic classical music that was unlike anything I've ever heard and it brought the house down: Christopher Young's score to Ghost Rider. The orchestra was augmented with the GSPO Choir and a powerhouse rock band consisting of Dave ('Slayer') Lombardo on drums, Gerry Nestler on guitar and Dan Lutz on bass. Inspired and exhilarating, it was the perfect closing number, leaving the audience on an unbelievable high. Chris Young took the stage to joyously demonstrate his approval to the thunderous applause received from an elated standing audience.
The professionalism and verve displayed by the Golden State Pops Orchestra, the GSPO Chorale, its numerous conductors and soloists were as surprising as the images this incredible music was composed for, providing that "once in a lifetime" experience those in attendance will undoubtedly cherish for the rest of their lives.
P.S. Even though a video cannot possibly compare to what we heard live, I would be remiss in not posting this authorized recording of Chris Young's Ghost Rider, the performance described above. I sincerely hope you enjoy it!
Varese Sarabande Records 35th Anniversary Halloween Concert Gala with the Golden State Pops Orchestra. Warner Grand Theatre. October 19, 2013. Robert Townson produced and hosted a Halloween-themed live concert tribute to the greatest film composers of the past and present who are featured on the label.