"Noche de Cine," a movie night at the Hollywood Bowl on Thursday, was also a noche de Gustavos.
Gustavo Dudamel conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic for the second of his two concerts in the Hollywood Bowl's Americas & Americans festival. Guitarist and Oscar-winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla was a special guest in an extended suite from his music for "Motorcycle Diaries," one of six varied film and television scores excerpted on the program.
And then there was, as Dudamel said introducing the program onstage, "the other guy." Add to the Gustavorama the score for "Libertador" ("The Liberator"), the upcoming biopic of Venezuelan national hero Simón Bolívar.
Cutting to the chase, as "Libertador" often does, the evening ended with a 22-minute suite from the film accompanying clips. The music is by one Gustavo Dudamel. This is Dudamel's first film score and his first composition presented to the public.
"Libertador" is a Latin American epic set to open in the fall, and the music fits its Latin soul expertly. But the $50-million production, directed by Alberto Arvelo and the biggest-budget Venezuelan film, also has a Hollywood soul, and that is where Dudamel takes his inspiration.
There may be little here to suggest his deep immersion into the orchestral music of Mozart, Mahler, Tchaikovsky or John Adams. But Dudamel delivers the nobility, sentimentality, sensuality, exoticism, bombast, heartbreak and excitement the sainted, if sexy, Bolívar requires as he liberates South America from the Spanish empire in over 100 battles across a territory twice that covered by Alexander the Great.
Dudamel can write expressive melodies. He orchestrates aflame with instrumental color, producing such surprises as a prominent part for South American wooden flute. He knows how to make percussion rock 'n' roll 'n' roar. He's got what it takes to create mood. In the grand tradition of Hollywood epics of yore, he produces a vast palette of symphonic music that enthusiastically drives the drama.
Much of this of course is Hollywood formula. There is nothing new in "Libertador," and Dudamel has taken pains to say that his score is a one-off. He's young, and it remains to be seen how resistant he really will be to the composing bug.
But Dudamel is hardly apologetic about being a film buff who embraces Hollywood big time. He's a huge fan of John Williams and can make the music from "Star Wars" sound as bracing as Bruckner.
Characteristically, Dudamel's animated performances at the Bowl, be they of Hollywood or Latin cinema, revealed his love for the magic of the silver screen. Yet in doing so, they invariably, and ironically, made the music sound better live than it does on the soundtracks — including "Libertador."
There was no lack of extravagance, with nearly every score requiring, along with a full L.A. Phil, extra percussion and a variety of pop and folk performers. The Los Angeles Master Chorale was also on hand.
Dudamel began with a Suite from "Battlestar Galactica," the 2003 version of the long-running television series, by Bear McCreary. This is kitchen-sink Hollywood, with an ensemble of large taiko drums, electric violin, various ethnic instruments, a vocal soloist (Raya Yarbrough) and chorus. The musical references are multicultural. Languages sung are many and were on this occasion indistinct, perhaps Cylon. Ethnicity here helps create sci-fi atmosphere, while thumping and syrup remain the main ingredients.
If there was a theme of the evening, it might have been tropical travelogue, certainly with films for which clips were also shown. In "Once there was a Hushpuppy" by Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin from "Beasts of the Southern Wild," galloping music was incorporated into a mystical evocation of the Louisiana bayou, its extraordinary inhabitants, human and critter.
Engaging though it is, Santaolalla's score for the 2004 film about Che Guevara's political awakening during a youthful motorcycle road trip across South America often takes a back seat to the gorgeous cinematography, which looked great on the big Bowl screen. Santaolalla's suite finds an electro-suave common ground between various Latin musical styles while accompanying Che and a friend on their bike through sun and snow, musically panning over amazing landscape and fascinating faces.
Also on the program, but like "Battlestar Galactica" without the help of film clips, were Thomas Newman's concert suite to the television production of "Angels in America" and a short excerpt from Emilio Kauderer's score to the Academy Award-winning Argentine thriller "The Secret in Their Eyes."
Newman's emotionally proficient backdrop somewhat tones down the expressive extravagance of Tony Kushner's great play, but the Master Chorale helped by pouring anguish into a Kyrie. Kauderer sticks to Hollywood candy of the best sort, stirring and sweet — and vastly more compelling than the composer's corporate-sounding "Symphonic Tangos" Dudamel conducted Tuesday night at the Bowl.
In this context, "Libertador" was, indeed, liberating. The audience of 7,526 gave the sense of being glued to collective seats, which is not common Bowl behavior at the end of an overlong weeknight in the Cahuenga Pass. The L.A. Phil played with what appeared to be delighted as well as dramatic fervor. Pedro Eustache was a riveting, intense soloist on the folk flutes.