When it came to providing music for motion pictures, Hollywood producers of yore had a single aesthetic. "They don't want it good--they want it by Thursday," was the typical lament of the studio composer. Still, the craft of a few composers, notably John Waxman, Elmer Bernstein and Bernard Herrmann, elevated these movie scores above expedient functionalism.
Lalo Schifrin, music director of the Glendale Symphony and a film composer with a respectable track record, conducted a sampling of Hollywood movie music for Wednesday night's San Diego Symphony SummerPops program at Hospitality Point.
Some of Schifrin's choices stood on their own as convincing orchestral works, especially Waxman's jazzy, atmospheric score to Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 "Rear Window" and his lush score to Hitchcock's early "Rebecca." Also of note was Herrmann's ominous suite from "Vertigo," another classic Hitchcock opus.
Schifrin also included Charles Gounod's "Funeral March of a Marionette," the theme music from Hitchcock's weekly TV program. The jaunty, slightly sardonic piece served as a reminder of television's golden era, when a work by a classical composer such as Gounod or Dmitry Kabalevsky might introduce popular programs on the tube.
A few predictable selections were included on Schifrin's program, among them John Williams' boisterous "Star Wars" march and Henri Mancini's theme from "Pink Panther," one of those airy ditties that needs a full symphony orchestra as much as Roseanne Barr needs to be backed by the Mormon Tabernacle Chorus.
Schifrin's own compositions also tended to sound a bit lightweight for symphonic treatment, such as his theme from "Mannix" and his theme from "Mission Impossible." Schifrin himself added the piano part on these.
On the other hand, Schifrin's ingratiating, witty merry-go-round waltz composed for the thriller "Rollercoaster" is a score that winks knowingly at Maurice Ravel's more emotionally complex "La Valse."
On the podium, Schifrin appeared genial and more encouraging than demanding. The orchestra produced a relaxed, mellow sound, but did not execute attacks and releases with the precision that a more disciplined stick would require.
In addition to his SummerPops appearances, Schifrin is in town to conduct the San Diego Symphony in its second recording of movie music, a disc devoted to music from mystery movies and thrillers.
This concert will repeat tonight and tomorrow at Hospitality Point at 7:30 p.m.