The themes and motifs from many famous film scores are undeniably and inextricably linked to much of our pop culture. It’s hard not to hum the “da-dums” from Jaws when swimming, or the triumphant trumpets from the Superman theme when playing in the backyard as a kid.
That said, the film score so often goes unnoticed, even in beloved films. And generally, this makes sense. The score’s purpose first and foremost is not to draw attention to itself, but to highlight the emotion and atmosphere of the action onscreen.
When the New York Philharmonic performs a film score live along with a film, you can imagine that these dynamics must change, considerably. Especially when it’s former Phil Music Director Leonard Bernstein’s only film score, On the Waterfront, which they performed this past week at Lincoln Centerto a packed house as part of their “The Art of the Score” series. Film composer David Newman guest conducted.
Attending a live film score performance is a bit like attending two simultaneous events, and requires a bit of open-mindedness to fully enjoy. Once adjustments are made though, it definitely works. First and foremost, accept that the newly-renamed David Geffen Hall was designed for live music, and not for playing films. As such, the film sound from the speakers reverberated and bounced around the hall, making the clarity of dialogue a bit of an issue at times. Secondly, the balance of sound is not that of a film — the orchestra would often play at a much higher volume than the film sound, drowning out any dialogue. These small issues, however, were far outweighed by the joyful benefits that only a live concert experience can deliver.