Note: this article was also published on Contents May Vary.
Basil Poledouris: The Music and the Movies, by the Los Angeles Film Orchestra, under the direction of Maestro Steven Allen Fox. (Seen July 23, 2022.)
I’ve been a fan of film scores for a very long time. I remember watching a Boston Pops performance on PBS when I was young where they showed the shark attack scene from Jaws, with and without music, to show how effective a good score can be.
I am apparently a bigger fan of Basil Poledouris than I realized. I’ll be honest: the name didn’t ring a bell for me when I saw the title of the premiere concert of the Los Angeles Film Orchestra. Aside from scoring Conan the Barbarian, which the concert was celebrating the 40th anniversary of, I noticed he had done many of my favorite action movies.
Many of the films were ones where the music was not only recognizable, but a vital part of what made the movie work. Finding out he was a USC alum (fight on!) who had actually had gone for film, not music, made me want to know more about the man who sadly passed away in 2006.
The concert, held at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, comprised of ten different pieces from Poledouris while a screen showed clips from the film in question. In fact, this was also the first time I’ve ever attended a ‘music along with the film’ kind of thing, and I found it difficult to decide whether to watch the film or the musicians. The pieces that included accompaniment by the SoCal Chorale added a third element to watch. It was a little distracting to have all these various elements, but once I got used to it, I found it captivating.
Each piece was introduced by someone close to Poledouris, with some back history as to how they met or what it meant to work for him. There were also several guest conductors, including my now favorite Diego Navarro. There were even a few filmed clips from people like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Paul Verhoeven who wanted to join in the celebration but couldn’t make it in person.
While I’m not going to mention every piece the orchestra covered, it premiered the “Basil Poledouris Action Movie Overture”, a mix of music from six different action films and the only one that didn’t show clips from the movies in question. Instead, it was a montage of the various on-screen credits from various films, ending in a collage showing the wide range of movies he had worked on.
Of course, I can’t do a write up without talking about my favorite: the music from Conan: The Barbarian. By Crom, it was truly epic! This is a film that definitely wouldn’t be what it is without Poledouris’ music. I mentioned earlier that Navarro was now my favorite conductor? This was the one he did. You know that meme about how writers looking for inspiration for magic users should look at conductors? Navarro is definitely a magician, bouncing with energy and obviously having a blast conducting.
A few days after the concert, I spoke with Los Angeles Film Orchestra’s founder and principal conductor, Stephen Allen Fox, about the goals and future of the orchestra in regards to this premiere performance.
For the last 20 years, he had been working with Victor Pesavento and the Golden State Pops Orchestra putting on shows. The obvious next step to him was to get producers and presenters to hire the orchestra to put on events and to be used in studios in and around the Los Angeles area. While COVID somewhat put the idea on pause, it also gave him and Pesavento time to actually iron out the details of what such a step would entail. While they considered this idea specifically for the Golden State Pops, they realized the goals were different enough to require a second orchestra – but under the same company.
“What that was allowing us to do is to take the personality and the reputation that has been created over twenty years,” Fox said. “As a group of musicians that is from professional all the way down to high level playing amateurs who have day jobs doing something else that’s not music, we could keep that chemistry that had been developed and then reach this other goal by forming a 100% studio-based orchestra.”
As to why they chose Basil Poledouris for the first outing, it was pretty simple. Producer Robert Townson had been talking to Fox and Pesavento about doing a tribute to Poledouris for a while to honor what would’ve been his 75th birthday (which would be August 21, 2020). Obviously, COVID made that tribute impossible, and so when they finally got the Los Angeles Orchestra up and running, he was first on their minds. “We never left that concept idea for what the concert should be,” Fox said. “And, you know, frankly, it opened the door to having some interesting guests that were involved so that it was an experience.”
The orchestra is comprised of musicians who not only work on film scores, but television and games as well. Fox is quick to note that despite the name, the Los Angeles Film Orchestra will focus on media in general. “The main mission and purpose of it is to be something that is available for composers, producers, presenters, and promoters to hire the orchestra to help them do recording sessions and put on concerts.”
Having the film clips shown along with the orchestra is being seen in more concerts. Fox acknowledges that the benefit of it being a media-based orchestra is to potentially bring in audiences who wouldn’t normally be going to the symphony. “As somebody who loves film music,” Fox is quick to add, “it’s actually showing people exactly how that music is supposed to work in the medium it was written for, but with the spotlight on the music. So, they’re watching the movie, but because it’s a live concert, you’re still being reminded constantly that there’s live people on stage playing the music.”
The crowd was sparse at the concert, and I hope it was only because of COVID and not due to lack of interest. The Orchestra is definitely worth checking out in the future. They are planning a Scream live to music presentation for later in the year and are looking at producing a few more concerts, but are primarily focused on wanting to be of use to others. Fox says with a smile, “We want to be available for whatever needs people might have to help them fulfill their dreams, too.”
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