Last year marked the 90th anniversary of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and 2019 will see the 90th Academy Awards as well as the 100th anniversary of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It only makes sense that these two Los Angeles institutions should celebrate together.
The Phil is planning to commemorate its 100th with a season packed full of surprises, excitement and the fruits of a blossoming relationship with the Academy, culminating in the news that the L.A. Philharmonic, led by music director Gustavo Dudamel, will be featured on 2019’s live Oscar broadcast.
“If you look at our centennial season, it really is the manifestation of the belief that an orchestra is this organism that adapts and tries to find audiences in places where orchestral music lives,” says L.A. Phil COO Chad Smith. “So we’re commissioning [over 50] new works from significant composers from all around the world, and playing major works from the past three or 400 years, but more importantly, we’re trying to find artists or organizations or ideas that we can engage with that are outside the normal activity of an orchestra.”
Part of that engagement again comes from AMPAS, which entered a three-year partnership with the Phil for the 2016-17 season. “I was at an event a couple of years ago with Dawn Hudson, and she said, ‘We should think about doing something together,’” recalls Smith. “I thought that was a really extraordinary gesture and one that we jumped at.”
One act in that partnership will be “The Oscar Concert” on Feb. 28 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, where Academy Governors and composers Michael Giacchino (Up, Zootopia, Coco), Laura Karpman (two-time Emmy nominee) and Charles Bernstein (Cujo, A Nightmare on Elm Street) will curate an evening of historical film scores conducted by Thomas Wilkins. Scores like A. R. Rahman’s for Slumdog Millionaire, Tan Dun’s for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and John Carpenter’s for Halloween will be featured.
The evening will close out with a suite from this year’s Oscar-nominated soundtracks by Carter Burwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Alexandre Desplat (The Shape of Water), Jonny Greenwood (Phantom Thread), Hans Zimmer (Dunkirk) and John Williams (Star Wars: The Last Jedi).
During the 2018-19 season, 51-time Oscar nominee Williams will also be the subject of his own night at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, “Celebrating John Williams,” with Dudamel conducting a tribute to the composer of indelible scores for such films as Fiddler on the Roof (1971), Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Schindler’s List (1993) and dozens more. Montages from these films will screen as the orchestra plays throughout the evening.
“We always talk about John Williams from the perspective as one of the great film composers, and I know that this is Gustavo’s position, and why Gustavo wanted the John Williams program in the Hall: John Williams is simply one of the great composers [even outside of film],” says Smith. “He’s probably had a more direct influence on shaping the orchestral sound of two generations of listeners than any other composer alive.”
Similarly, an evening-long program called “Stanley Kubrick’s Sound Odyssey” will look at the music Kubrick used in his film scores. “Famously, Kubrick used an existing classical music repertoire as the soundtracks to his films,” says Smith. “The Academy has their fingerprints all over these programs as well.”
The Phil’s centennial season will also feature collaborations with MacArthur Fellow Yuval Sharon, celebrated composer Christopher Rountree and Benjamin Millepied’s L.A. Dance Project, which will perform a dance production to Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Millepied, who is known in the film industry for choreographing Black Swan (2010), during which he met wife Natalie Portman, returned to Los Angeles after leading the vaunted Paris Ballet Opera from 2014 to 2016.
“A lot of these projects come back to Gustavo,” says Smith. “This relationship with Benjamin is something that’s driven by a creative and personal friendship.”
The season kicks off Sept. 27 with L.A. Fest, an 11-day extravaganza focusing on L.A.-centric composers and events, including an evening of jazz with Herbie Hancock, a concert with Grammy-winning Mexican-American band La Santa Cecilia, a Songbook event with Andrew Bird and a collaboration with Moby.
The season will culminate with a gala Oct. 24, 2019, 100 years to the day after the L.A. Philharmonic’s first concert.
The Phil came from relatively humble beginnings. William Andrews Clark Jr. isn’t a name known to many Angelenos, but his legacy is one that The New York Times last year called “the most important orchestra in America. Period.” A copper baron and arts patron, Clark single-handedly founded the Philharmonic in 1919. Of course, situated at the center of the film universe, the Phil found itself quickly entrenched in the musical language of the movies.
“The Philharmonic has played a significant role in the music that has been a part of films for the past 80 years,” says Smith. “So, there’s been this intertwined nature. When you think about back in the ’30s when the exiled composers like Max Steiner and Franz Waxman were coming here, those were composers that the Philharmonic was playing their concert works from when they were living and working in Europe. Out of that filmic symphonic sound was also born the sound of our orchestra. Otto Klemperer was the music director back in the ’30s, and he invited so many of those musicians to Los Angeles. The idea that the L.A. Philharmonic can exist in this space without having a deep relationship with the community of art makers that have made Los Angeles the center of creativity would be silly.”