TV Composers Score in Historic UCLA Concert

Score Concert - H 2014
AP Images

Score Concert - H 2014

The composers of hit scores from "Downton Abbey" to "Game of Thrones" staged a sold-out concert at UCLA's Royce Hall.

Thanks to a bright idea by TV Academy Music Peer Group Governor Michael A. Levine, on May 21, ASCAP sponsored Score!, the first-ever live performance of TV themes by a 67-piece orchestra and the 40-voice L.A. Chorus, directed by the aptly named Steve Lively, at UCLA’s Royce Hall. The sold-out, 1800-member audience repeatedly leaped to its feet in standing ovations as the simple, yet intricate, music of 11 TV composers burst forth with a grandeur and sonic fidelity you can’t get at home.

“Something really magical happens when you have your music played by real humans,” said House of Cards composer and performer Jeff Beal to rapturous applause. The evening opened with a video montage of 110 TV themes in 12 minutes. “That’s 87 classic TV themes and 23 current ones, and I’ll bet you recognized every one,” said show host and USC music expert Jon Burlingame, who hailed the evening’s participants as “the rock stars of composition.”

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John Lunn, who usually makes do with a 37-piece orchestra on Downton Abbey, conducted his poignantly nostalgic score, which sounded enormous in the beautiful room – you could practically feel the pulse of the cellos on your skin. Alf Clausen, who holds the composing record for a single series – 534 episodes of The Simpsons – told Burlingame that he spurned Matt Groening’s offer to score it until Groening explained that it was “not a cartoon, but a drama that’s drawn.” Then the L.A. Chorus guys exuberantly sang Clausen’s anthem for the show’s world-controlling secret society the Stonecutters: “Who holds back the electric car? Who makes Kim Kardashian a star? We do!” (When the episode aired in 1995, it was Steve Guttenberg the Stonecutters made a star.)

Seth MacFarlane was also credited as a champion of orchestral scores, including Walter Murphy’s for Family Guy, raising the possibility that orchestral scores are the secret to animation stardom.

Suzie Katayama conducted the orchestra’s precise rendition of the funky, addictively exhilarating Nurse Jackie theme by Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman, who got their start, along with Katayama, in Prince’s band. “Did we write ‘Purple Rain’? No,” said Coleman. “Did we help? Yeah!” Melvoin and Coleman appeared in person and in one of the many video interview snippets interspersed between live numbers.

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Bear McCreary explained that his The Walking Dead theme isn’t supposed to have a melodic theme, like most shows that grab you by the malleus. “It’s a tremolo string line, very agitated, that starts off soft,” said McCreary, “this little burrowing earworm that gets stuck in your mind, over and over.” McCreary conducted the orchestra’s performance of his Da Vinci’s Demons theme until six zombies staggered down the aisles, dragged him offstage, munching a severed arm, and one zombie finished conducting the piece for him.

Sean Callery subsequently conducted his theme for The Kennedys, bringing out the melancholy horn part that helped make it an unexpected hit, and emphasizing the pizzicato strings of his Elementary theme. In a video before the performance of Callery’s 24 theme, Kiefer Sutherland complained that Callery didn’t get enough time in the Score! show, and Mary Lynn Rajskub said, “Sean Callery has won enough awards – how about one for me?”

Tim Daly spoke in tribute to his brother-in-law Mark Snow, thanking Snow for taking him as a child to meet Snow’s friends Cream and the Young Rascals in Snow’s rock-star youth, “when he had long hair – he had hair,” and noting, “Mark’s done about 40 movies and 200 TV shows, over 100 hours of X-Files – we’re both Emmy nominees who’ve never won.” Snow has 15 Emmy nominations, and Daly got to present him the Music Peer Group’s Career Achievement Award.

The choral performers got a chance to shine in James S. Levine’s Glee and American Horror Story, both of which feature wordless syllables with respectively festive and foreboding effect. Trevor Morris conducted his Borgias theme, which sounds like Philip Glass possessed by the Vatican choir, and his The Tudors.

The highlight of the evening was the titanic finale, Ramin Djawadi’s Game of Thrones theme, with its relentlessly mournful cellos representing, the composer explained to THR, the concatenating tragedies of the show’s battling clans. It sounds great on TV, but with 107 performers and an audience of 1800 in ecstasy, that song could stop a flock of dragons in midflight. As Djawadi told THR, “At the end of the day there’s nothing better than hearing real musicians play your music.”