Michael Giacchino won his Oscar for the animated film \"Up\"

Review: Masters of Film Music: Michael Giacchino | Dallas Symphony Orchestra | Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center

Lost in Place

In the last of the Dallas Symphony's disappointing Masters of Film Music, Michael Giacchino, of Up and Lost, proves he can do big and loud. What else you got?

published Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra's Masters of Film Music series comes to a close this weekend with a concert of music by Michael Giacchino, an Italian American (he holds duo citizenship) composer. He specializes in music for film, TV and video games. 

Some of his most famous works are  the scores to television series such as Lost, Alias and Fringe, video games such as the Medal of Honor and Call of Duty series, and films such as Mission: Impossible III, The Incredibles, Star Trek, Cloverfield, Ratatouille, Up, Super 8, Cars 2 and 50/50. Giacchino has received numerous awards for his work, including an Emmy, multiple Grammys, and an Academy Award. On Friday evening, he presented some compiled suites from many of these works and five selections from his latest effort, the movie John Carter

One of the most interesting aspects of this concert was the presence of his orchestrator and collaborator, Tim Simonec, who conducted the first three selections. He is a marvel of determination in that in March of 1984, a tumor was removed from his cervical spinal cord, which rendered him a quadriplegic. He was told he would never walk again. That was all he needed to hear. He set about proving the doctors wrong and, after a two-year absence, he returned to pursue his conducting and composing career in film music. You would never have known this history to see him walk out on stage and conduct. 

Of course, like most film composers, neither Giacchino nor Simonec are conductors in the symphonic sense of the word. Both just beat time inexpressively in a rarely changing manner and throw an occasional cue. They both give little expression and almost never indicate dynamics. The University of Texas Arlington A Cappella Choir, under the direction of Karen Kenaston-French, which only sings on vowels, were basically on their own to know when to enter. 

The concert elicited two observations. One is that when the DSO projected the images from the movie, as they did first in the animated feature, Up, the music became magical. Without the projected images, the music sounded repetitive and directionless. It is really quite amazing that the music and the visuals are so closely linked that neither can exist effectively without the other. 

The character of each selection changed, but the basic compositional voice remained much the same. One exception was the Paris café style that Gaicchino wrote for the animated feature Ratatouille, which has the unlikely plot of a rat who becomes the most celebrated chef in Paris by working a dull witted kitchen assistant remotely like a puppet. The film was charming and hearing the music brought some of the scenes back to memory. This probably wasn't the case for listeners unfamiliar with the movie. 

The other observation is something that critics have decried for decades. That is if you play something loud and fast enough, the audience responds with an ecstatic ovation. In putting together these suites, Giacchino ended up putting one big brass driven moment after another in what seemed like an endless progression. Without the corresponding exciting visual, such as a space ship going into warp drive or heroic man finally reaching an impossible goal, it was just loud and brassy. Horns frequently had their bells up and it is not unreasonable to speculate that the gong had more to do in one concert than in the entire past three seasons. 

The audience went wild. 

This was especially true of the five selections from the science fiction movie John Carter, based Edgar Rice Burroughs' (of Tarzan fame) 11-volume "Barsoom" series of novels (1912–43). "You probably didn't see this movie," Gaicchino said forlornly. It was not a box office success in its recent release. "But, you should," he added, more than once. Here, he played five short selections, the last being the biggest moment of all. 

The audience went wild. Again. 

The purpose of this series was to have these composers write a new piece for the orchestra, something other than a series of moments. Where they would have to take a few themes and develop them over a longer period of time than a scene and demonstrate their composing ability in a work for the concert hall. The first two, Theodore Shapiro and George Fenton did this is a most successful manner. James Newton Howard did not compose a new work. Harry Gregson-Williams didn't even show up and the DSO screened the film Casablanca with the orchestra playing the Max Steiner score. This is really a shame since it was a wonderful idea in the first place and would have greatly refreshed the concert repertoire. 

John Williams, the dean of film composers, does this regularly. In addition to his movie scores, which are imitated by everyone (including Giacchino) he has given us such esoteric offerings as an excellent bassoon concerto, Five Sacred Trees, written for Judith LeClair, the principal bassoonist of the New York Philharmonic in 1995. 

Perhaps this idea will be tried again and the required commissions actually written. Regular symphony attendees are used to hearing a symphony or concerto where the composer leads them on a journey, anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours. It would have been fascinating to hear what Giacchino would have done to build up to just one of the big moments he does so well. Thanks For Reading


Rebekah Bruce Parker writes:
Sunday, May 20 at 9:49AM

An avid film score enthusiast, I drove down from OKC to attend the concert last night. I found the concert to be very enjoyable, in that I have formed an emotional bond with many of his scores (LOST, Super 8, Up, and The Incredibles, specifically). We also sat next to Mr. Giacchino's parents and they were so nice to chat with after the concert. It was wonderful to see how supportive they were, coming to see his concert.

I was devastated that The Incredibles was completely left off the program, as the score is (to me) SUPER fun and innovative for an animated movie. When I saw the bass player emerge for an encore I was PRAYING it was going to be the Incredibles End Credits suite. BUT, I was SO pleased that the orchestra played what I believe was the final music from the finale of LOST. Beautiful, memorable music, and the orchestra seemed to really emote well on the encore.

I did not see the film John Carter, but I could tell that Mr. Giacchino was very eager to present his work from the movie. The presentation of the 5 songs was slightly awkward- was there not time to just make a suite of the music, or, to at least have the program reflect each "movement" or "theme"?

It's clear that neither Mr. Simonec or Mr. Giacchino are conductors or perhaps even used to performing in front of an audience, but I decided from the beginning to not let that distract me from the music as much as I could. Part of the charm of these types of performances is to get to see the composers out of their element (at their keyboard or computer?) and actually sharing in the limelight and enjoying it! One of the great joys of these concerts is to see the composers bring their work to life on the stage.

I feel that Giacchino's suites needed a bit more work. Specifically, I thought the LOST suite ended very abruptly and left out some of the most memorable cues. I'd like to see Giacchino's work go through the hands of an additional editor or orchestrator to really refine the suites and write some more cohesive transitions from theme to theme. Obviously, his works are seamless and most fully understood within the context of the films/tv shows, but they have the potential to be turned into some really great concert suites, if given the proper time and energy.

Having seen John Williams with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, I couldn't help but compare and contrast the two concerts. When John was conducting with the movie montage, he basically followed a small screen behind his stand with a visual metronome that he stayed with exactly. The cues were flawlessly lined up and the film footage was quite compelling. Of course, John is an accomplished conductor (mostly defined by years of experience), so this probably wasn't very difficult for him. Perhaps the DSO didn't have that technology available or the people who were in charge of the movie montages decided to go in another direction.

Again, like with the suites, I'd love to see a bit more work put into editing the film footage itself so that the cues really reflect the emotion of the screen. I suppose it's like scoring a short film really- the material is already written, but it just needs to be carefully and thoughtfully organized.

Altogether, I had a fantastic time. As a huge fan, I was able to put aside some of the choppy arrangements and lack of expressive conducting and truly enjoy the evening. I hope that this was a good experience for Mr. Giacchino and that he can prepare even more fully for another concert like this in the future. I cannot WAIT to see what scores he writes next!!!

Gregory Isaacs writes:
Sunday, May 20 at 1:38PM

What excellent and thoughtful remarks! Thanks so much for your input.

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Lost in Place
In the last of the Dallas Symphony's disappointing Masters of Film Music, Michael Giacchino, of Up and Lost, proves he can do big and loud. What else you got?
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

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