Mauceri leads orchestra through Hollywood scores

correspondentNovember 21, 2009 

There could be reasons some concertgoers are apprehensive about the current N. C. Symphony program: the lecture aspect, the inclusion of movie scores or the fear of atonal music. Those who stood resolutely applauding at the end of Friday's performance until an encore was played are proof there's no cause for alarm.

John Mauceri, now chancellor of UNC's School of the Arts, has spent a lifetime conducting orchestras, operas, Broadway shows and film soundtracks. His broad musical background, coupled with his affable personality, make him the perfect narrator for this evening devoted to composers who have influenced film music. His comments are relaxed, humorous and informative in this program organized around Arnold Schoenberg and Erich Korngold, both émigrés from Austria to Los Angeles in the late 1930's, escaping the grip of the Third Reich.

Although Schoenberg did not write for film (he became a university professor), his atonal compositional style profoundly affected music in the 20th century, including soundtracks. But Mauceri points out that Schoenberg also composed tonal music, programming his Chamber Symphony No. 2 as a prime example. Begun in 1908 but only finished in 1939, the piece is easily accessible despite its moody introspection.

Korngold, already a noted composer, used his full genius in film scores of uncommon richness, born out in the glorious five-part suite from 1939's "The Adventures of Robin Hood." As worked up by Mauceri from Korngold's original score, it stands as a concert piece without apologies.

Schoenberg influenced American film composer Bernard Hermann, especially in his gripping all-strings score for "Psycho," another of Mauceri's brilliant reconstructions for the concert hall. Most telling are the excerpts from John Williams' "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," skillfully employing the atonality of Schoenberg in depicting the unknown and the neo-romanticism of Korngold for the bonding of man and alien.

The orchestra proves up to any challenge, filling the hall with a Technicolor Korngold march or a yearning Schoenberg line with equal ease. Mauceri is in his element in the second half, giving marvelous thrust to the Korngold and Williams, as well as the gorgeous"Moonlight" intermezzo from Richard Strauss' "Capriccio."

Only the first half seems misjudged, with the Schoenberg and Hermann both too dark and too small of stature to hint of the glories after intermission. Also, Mauceri softens their edginess, lacking the verve that so invigorates the second half. But that shouldn't stop anyone from experiencing this intriguing and ultimately thrilling program.

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