Another Bernstein rarity, this one written for the inaugural season of Mstislav Rostropovich (Slava) as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. There’s a nifty part for electric guitar partway through, and a taped sequence of political speeches (sometimes cut, though not here).
Rostropovich was of course a political figure, dubbed a dissident by the Soviets after he came to the United States. His appointment as music director of our national orchestra was a nice thumb on the nose gesture by us. Bernstein had been instrumental in getting Slava and his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, out of the Soviet Union.
It’s a wonderfully whacky piece that seems to capture some of the atmosphere of political Washington, even to this day. In its way, this overture is kind of a musical equivalent of a satirical essay by H.L. Mencken.
Leonard Bernstein conducts the Israel Philharmonic.
Here’s an interesting short documentary (10 minutes) on the making of the film score (by John Williams) to Steven Spielberg’s “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.” Williams and Spielberg have made 23 films together by my count, with at least one more in the works. In the video you can see how well and easily the two of them get along, and also how Spielberg gives Williams space to do his best work.
In a 2005 interview that I did for Gramophone magazine, Williams told me even more about the art of film scoring.
Richard Kaufman conducts Pacific Symphony in the score to “E.T.” live and synchronized to the picture this Saturday at the Pacific Amphitheater. Tickets here
As we approach Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday on August 25, I’ve been featuring a number of his lesser-known pieces in this space. Here’s another: The “Elegy for Mippy II” for solo trombone, composed in the late 1940s. Mippy was the name of Bernstein’s brother’s dog. The score instructs the player to provide a foot-tapping accompaniment. Ximo Vicedo is the trombonist in the video.
The opening titles, designed by Saul Bass, for Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest,” music by Bernard Herrmann. That’s Hitch himself, missing the bus at the end.
This is the famous hula hoop sequence in the Coen brothers’ 1994 classic “The Hudsucker Proxy.” Though the film is set in late 1950s corporate America, the music of the Soviet Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian somehow suits it to a T. In this section, the music is taken from Khachaturian’s ballets, climaxing with the famous “Sabre Dance.” The hula hoop sequence is also a perfect illustration of the laws of supply and demand.
In the run-up to Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday, I’ve been highlighting some of his lesser known music. Here’s his jazz/classical fusion piece “Prelude, Fugue and Riffs,” originally written, like Stravinsky’s “Ebony Concerto,” which it resembles, for Woody Herman’s big band. Bernstein conducts this performance for the TV show “Omnibus” in 1955.
Pacific Symphony will perform this piece as part of its Bernstein tribute.
Here’s some more little-known Bernstein. His 1953 musical “Wonderful Town,” with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, was based on the popular play called “My Sister Eileen,” which tells the story of two sisters from Ohio who come to New York to pursue careers as a writer and an actress. They move into a dumpy Greenwich Village basement and shortly after arriving there sing this song, longing for home.
Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic, with singers Kim Criswell and Audra McDonald.