This year's five Oscar-nominated composers delivered the first-ever Oscar concert Feb. 27 at UCLA's Royce Hall, creating suites for orchestra from their film work. And between the light bounce of Alexandre Desplat's "Philomena" and the heaviness of John Williams' "The Book Thief," guests such as Jill Scott proffered version of the Best Original Songs nominees.
Williams, Desplat, Thomas Newman ("Saving Mr. Banks"), William Butler and Owen Pallett ("Her"), and Steven Price ("Gravity") discussed their work with film critic/radio host Elvis Mitchell before stepping to the podium to conduct the Academy Orchestra of first-call studio musicians in six- to 10-minute suites of their scores. (Joe Trapanese conducted Price's score).
Jill Scott and the Debbie Allen Dancers deliver a full production on "Despicable Me 2's" "Happy." (Photo credit: Aaron Pool)
Each offered their take on the films and, intriguingly, all the scores focus on a female character and, in each case, the composer wrote a theme for the lead actress.
Said Desplat, "You try to figure out how to circle the character and grab the soul, then help the audience to engage even more with the character."
Newman's challenge was to create environments for "Mary Poppins" author P.L. Travers that included Australia in 1906 and London and Hollywood in 1961. "You're always afraid it's going to step (on the action)," he said, noting the process is always fluid, with no "Ah-ha!" moments. "I'm always trying to take away my intent and remove myself (as a composer) to just be a listener."
Songwriter Kristen Anderson-Lopez sings "Let it Go" from "Frozen" at Royce Hall with accompaniment from her husband, Robert Lopez. (Photo credit: Aaron Pool)
Price's score, set in space, was informed by the tempo of the heartbeat of Sandra Bullock's character Ryan. "The hope, with the way it was shot, was to make (the viewer) feel like they're the third astronaut there," Price said. "We made it it a fusion of organic and electronic music . . . that had movement and a pulsation."
Arcade Fire's William Butler started sharing musical ideas with "Her" director Spike Jonze from the early drafts of the scripts forward, playing music by Erik Satie, for example. "It was a lot colder and we were trying to push it toward 'Blade Runner,'" Butler said. When Jonze moved the setting to 15 years in the future from 30 years, "we had to take out the 'Blade Runner' and make it more contemporary."
Arcade Fire's William Butler, left, and Owen Pallett discussed their music for "Her," after which Pallett conducted the orchestra. (Photo credit: Aaron Pool)
When Williams took the stage, Mitchell was effusive in his praise but the composer was having none of it, instead turning his attention to the musicians. The concert made clear, he said "that these movies couldn't be made without the service of a great orchestra."
"Frozen" songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez performed "Let it Go," Scott and an battalion of girl dancers romped through "Happy," Cristin Milioti sang "The Moon Song" with ukelele accompaniment and former "The Voice" contestant Matt Cermanski sang U2's "Ordinary Love."
Common was host of the evening produced by Academy governors Charles Fox and Arthur Hamilton and attended by the likes of L.A. Opera music director James Conlon, composers Christophe Beck and Blake Neely, violinist-"Treme" star Lucia Micarelli, composer managers Richard Kraft and Laura Engel and music editor Curt Sobel.