At its March 9 concert, "The Best of Hollywood: Blockbuster Film Scores," the New York Pops took the spotlight. As conductor Steven Reineke explained, New York Pops concerts frequently feature stars of the music world, but for this concert, the stars of the show were the Pops musicians themselves. After hearing the whole concert, I wholeheartedly agree. Full of exciting, transporting musical moments, "The Best of Hollywood" showcased the Pops musicians' skill, passion, and deep understanding of the repertoire.
If the musicians were the stars, Reineke was the emcee. His vast knowledge of film score trivia and his delightful presentation style made this not only a thrilling musical journey, but an informative one as well. As conductor and host, Reineke kept up an informal, friendly atmosphere at Carnegie Hall.
After a short introductory piece called "Hooray for Hollywood" - a nostalgic tribute that sparkles with movie magic - the orchestra played Erich Wolfgang Korngold's sweeping "Overture" from Captain Blood, a 1935 film.
From there, the orchestra continued the melodic, romantic mood with "Tara's Theme." In this plaintive invoking of a place now "Gone with the Wind," the orchestra demonstrated its ability to fully capture a piece: losing none of the moving parts and letting each small musical moment shine through without sacrificing the melody. They showed this same sensitivity throughout the night in piece after piece, particularly in Henry Mancini's heroic "Cowboys" from the 1988 film Sunset.
The music from Psycho is instantly recognizable, so much so that the audience laughed when the Pops orchestra broke into those high staccatos from the iconic shower scene. As Reineke explained, composer Bernard Herrmann had a tight budget, so used only strings, which lends a chilling, thin sound to the Hitchcock horror film. It's so effective that as soon as the orchestra began this piece, the mood in the hall turned instantly creepy.
After the relentlessness of Psycho, the bright, melodic theme from Lawrence of Arabia felt like a welcome relief. It was followed by an arrangement of French film scores from the 60s and 70s: jazzy, romantic, and intoxicating.
Principal oboist Diane Lesser was the star of "Suite from The Mission" which featured the tender piece "Gabriel's Oboe." Her musical sensitivity lent a tenderness and shape to each note as her part floated just above the rest of the orchestra and finally melded seamlessly into the warm brass at the end of the piece.
The second half of the night featured later, more recognizable soundtracks: Danny Elfman's brooding, dramatic "Theme from Batman," James Horner's gorgeous piece "The Ludlows" from Legends of the Fall, the stirring "Suite from Gladiator," and epic selections from The Return of the King, Thor, and The Avengers. More complex, these later pieces showcased the orchestra's ability to capture both subtle passages and heroic, anthem-like sections: weaving together contrasting parts and playing in perfect unity for the most dramatic passages.
As a nod to Disney, Reineke conducted his own arrangement of "Colors of the Wind," which utilized every section of the orchestra to full effect and pulled out all the stops: trills, cymbal crashes, chimes, and even a tender moment near the end featuring a lone clarinet. A glistening, magical arrangement, the piece demonstrated yet again that Reineke is a man of many talents.