There is nothing inherent in a half-step interval that makes someone think that a shark is about to attack. However, when paired with a visual image in the right context, that same alternating semitone can induce an irrational fear of the ocean coupled with a very strong desire to exit said body of water. This is film music: a blending of the visual and aural to produce an amalgamated product in which the two concepts support each other.
True masters of the film score can write music that not only supports the visual aspect, but can also become iconic on its own. It is in this spirit that the Dallas Symphony presents its latest offering under the banner of the Masters of Film Music series. Unfortunately, the above premise does not strongly translate into the presented product.
Featured composer Theodore Shapiro has written more than 40 movie scores, most of them comedies. For the concert, selections were pulled from his most recent projects; in addition, the orchestra premiered a new work by the composer that was written for this concert cycle. The new work, In Mitn Drinen, was based off Schapiro’s experiences surrounding the illness and subsequent passing of his father and how he responded while interacting with his own children. The piece itself is interesting and deserving of another listen outside the confines of this program. The gravitas of the message was lost when surrounded by the more comical ideas of his film scores.
For the second half of the concert, the orchestra focused on the composer’s film work and director David Frankel joined the orchestra onstage to give his insight on collaborating with the composer as well as the world of film scoring in general. In many ways, Frankel was the highlight of the evening: he kept his remarks light and humorous, and he was careful to tread the line between being entertaining and “talking shop,” as it were. However, to label his work as narration would be a misnomer. While his presentation was a fascinating listen, he really didn’t speak to the specific scores in question.
The music itself was enjoyable but unremarkable. Selections included such recent films as Blades of Glory, Tropic Thunder, Dodgeball and Marley and Me, among a few others. The selections chosen (some were labeled as suites while others were specific cues from the film score) never really showed off any truly recognizable theme or iconic melody that would leave the audience whistling the tune on their journey home; each piece almost blended together into a single pastiche of the composer’s style. That is not to say that the music had no merit─Shapiro is most definitely at home within the sound of the orchestra. His talent in orchestration and scoring is to be greatly admired, especially when placed in the capable hands of the Dallas Symphony. Many of the works fit into the strengths of the group, most notably the string, brass and percussion sections.
For the final selection, the orchestra was joined by violinist Caroline Campbell for a suite of tunes from the movie The Devil Wears Prada. What was surely intended to be the high point of the whole program came across as anticlimactic. For some reason, the soloist was amplified via a pickup on her instrument which placed her out of balance with the rest of the ensemble. Further, her remarkable playing was overshadowed by her overly grand gestures and her over emotiveness—there were a few times where she seemed to be in danger of colliding with either the conductor or the first desk of violin players.
There was also a visual aspect to the performance. Hanging over the orchestra was a large screen on which clips were shown of the movies that were being represented…well, some of them were. Puzzlingly, there were clips for just about half of the selections and the clips that were shown did not really seem to be the best representation of the movie. In the end, it gave this aspect a haphazard feel, almost as if it was thrown together at the last minute.
Overall, the audience seemed entertained but not highly impressed. There was no “wow” moment in the program that really seemed to draw the crowd in and keep their focus. The fatal flaw with this program was that this music, while successful as a film score, was not as strong on its own merits. If this series continues in the future, maybe the programming committee can choose music of a more recognizable film composer; one with a body of work that would better stand on its own.