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Williams, Mauceri Score at Walt Disney Concert Hall

LOS ANGELES—Over five days, one of the nation's finest music venues has seen two of the finest film-music concerts in recent memory: One focused on classic movie music by seven distinguished composers, the other on music from Disney-produced films old and new.

John Williams conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 16-18, at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The theme was "Music from the City of Angels" and, as Williams pointed out, new music director Gustavo Dudamel wanted a film-music concert during his first weeks in L.A. because of its importance to the history of music-making in Los Angeles.

The major work on the program was the half-hour "Suite from Memoirs of a Geisha," drawn from his Oscar-nominated 2005 score and adapted into a virtual cello concerto. The soloist, German-Canadian cellist Johannes Moser, drew extraordinary sounds from his instrument and performed with the kind of joy that distinguishes the playing of Yo-Yo Ma (for whom the work was written).

Although the score has been modified for conventional Western orchestra, the Japanese flavor remains present throughout the Geisha suite, especially in the delicate second movement ("Going to School") and the colorful fourth ("Brush on Silk," featuring seven percussionists). The first ("Sayuri's Theme") was elegant, the third ("The Chairman's Waltz") featured a stunning duet with Moser and concertmaster Alexander Treger.

Added to the program for Saturday and Sunday was Williams' seven-minute "Elegy for Cello and Orchestra," the only piece that did not originate as a film score.

The first half included six scores spanning 35 years of Hollywood history, including Erich Wolfgang Korngold's 1939 The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, with its fanfares and gorgeous love theme; Alex North's 1960 Spartacus, whose music, Williams said, suggested "the brutality of Roman aggression"; and music of Bernard Herrmann ("a curmudgeonly, often irascible, amazingly erudite man") for Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 Vertigo.

Williams concluded the first half with a trio of classic noir scores that he called an "L.A. Triptych": Franz Waxman's 1950 Sunset Boulevard, with its "exaggerated habanera" for Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond; 1974's Chinatown by Jerry Goldsmith ("a fantastic colorist... an uncanny sense of where the soul of each scene happened to be"); and 1944's Double Indemnity by Miklos Rozsa ("an elegantly educated musician," Williams said, who could "write a perfect double fugue during the lunch hour that might take the rest of us three days").

The "Triptych" was a highlight of the concert for many, including the urgent opening of Sunset Boulevard, the brilliant solo trumpet performance (by Donald Green) in Chinatown and the dramatic intensity of Rozsa's doom-laden Double Indemnity.


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