Ennio Morricone / Feb. 3, 2007 / New York (Radio City Music Hall)
Since 1961, Ennio Morricone has scored, by some counts, over 400 films, with many of his works considered iconic. And yet somehow the legendary Italian composer has never won an Oscar. This year, withSince 1961, Ennio Morricone has scored, by some counts, over 400 films, with many of his works considered iconic. And yet somehow the legendary Italian composer has never won an Oscar. This year, with the Maestro a healthy 78, the Academy is finally righting the oversight by giving Morricone an honorary Academy Award for lifetime of remarkable work.
Last Saturday, however, another oversight was righted, this time by Morricone himself. Despite all his Hollywood collaborations and his universal renown among peers as well as film and music buffs, Morricone had inexplicably never conducted in the United States before. So there he was, the man himself, conducting the 100-piece Roma Sinfonietta and a massive choir, the 100-member Canticum Novum Singers, at Radio City Music Hall, featuring a program of some of his best known scores as well as a few leftfield surprises.
Beginning with his main theme from Brian De Palma's "The Untouchables," with its heavily syncopated strings and pounding piano, Morricone guided the orchestra through his storied career, with a focus perhaps on a few key collaborations. First, there was Sergio Leone, the great Italian director, whose "spaghetti westerns" gave Morricone his first widespread exposure and established the man as a genius in his own right. Second, there was Giuseppe Tornatore, whose "Cinema Paradiso" and "Malena" clearly remain close to Morricone's heart. At the end came music from Roland Joffe's "The Mission," one of Morricone's most beloved scores.
Over the course of the evening Morricone demonstrated the breadth of his talents, comfortable with the playful melodramatic themes from his Leone collaborations (as stories tell it, some written before their respective films were even shot) but just as at ease with the funky rhythms of "Abolisson," from 1969's "Quemada" (aka "Burn!", a political Marlon Brando thriller) or the wistful mob menace of "Il Clan dei Siciliani," from the same year.
Though billed as orchestrations "the same as the original soundtracks composed by Ennio Morricone," there were a few subtle but still conspicuous deviations. Morricone's theme from "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," for example, was jazzed up and downplayed the famous electric guitar, while the beautiful music from "The Mission" traded pan flute for the more traditional sort. Still, Morricone's gifts came across clear, as did his unending love of woodwinds, percussion and in particular brass (Morricone himself is a former trumpet player).
In fact, after the program wrapped up, Morricone was called back for an encore, like a regular rock star, no less than three times. Given that so many rock stars have professed their love for Morricone, and that big names like Bruce Springsteen and Metallica appear on a forthcoming tribute to the composer, rumors were flying as to what special guests might pop up. But while no one showed (at least not on stage), the event proved what most people knew already: The Maestro, the master Morricone, need stand on the shoulders of no one.