In working with Vladimir Chernov on “Duarte’s Love Songs,” to receive its premiere this weekend, we rehearsed in four different ways: 1) the two of us, just singing unaccompanied; 2) singing in my office with Sibelius notation software playing back the instrumental parts through speakers; and 3) with the actual instruments. What I did not do is play a piano reduction with him. He did have a 4) piano-vocal score that he worked on with a professional accompanist, which I am not.
In this process I became quite expert in manipulating the software to be an effect accompanist. But after rehearsing with real acoustic instruments, in this case, violin, cello and piano, the difference between the two became clear. Emulated instruments playing back through stereo speakers has a rather flat 2D sound, whereas acoustic instruments are vivid 3D: each instruments takes over a specific space in the room and that location is more important than I ever realized. Yes, one can place virtual instruments in a stereo field, but it’s just not the same.
I had lunch today with James Horner and a colleague from the Dean’s office. James and I couldn’t help but talk shop during a meeting that was to be more about UCLA and some consultation. We spoke about the difference between Hans Zimmer [and James Newton Howard]’s technique of film scoring that combines the digitized orchestra with a mammoth [real] orchestra. Many times they reduce costs by bringing in only the brass that records on top of the already recorded synth score. Then they bring in the strings, and so on. No need for mega-sized recording studios; costs less, and the effect is huge.
James kept referring to himself as “old school” — meaning, just plain old orchestra. “I use synthesizers, but they are just part of the overall palette.” He doesn’t use the layered technique that Hans and James do.
I reminded him: “Alexander Desplat uses a medium-sized orchestra to great effect and is really in your tradition: ‘old school.'” I dished Desplat’s score for the recent Harry Potter film. “I just think he was the wrong composer, and I hate myself for saying that because I’ve loved every other score he’s done.”
To me, Desplat comes from the rib of Erik Satie, but genetically born of Berkeley parents: one French, one Greek. I hear this in his music.
James holds John Williams in highest esteem “…but they murder him when he does concert music.” — referring to our classical critics’ less than enthusiastic response to his concert works.
We acknowledged Hans Zimmer’s recent work. He agreed with me that the score and melody to “Sherlock Holmes” was one of his best themes, and that his score for “Inception” was terrific. He reminded me that Hans used to be the Fairlight [think Thomas Dolby]-tech meister, and the go-to guy if anything went wrong with your synth.
In that I have been part of our Visual Media program, and I’ll be leaving soon, I asked him to be a guardian angel for our Visual Media program and to discuss our curriculum with Paul Chihara from time to time, which he said he’d be happy to do.
After a good rehearsal of “Duarte…” I went to the UCLA Philharmonia to hear lots of Bartok: Music for Percussion, Strings etc and the posthumous 1st Violin Concerto played by Movses Pogossian. It was great to hear MUSIC again, but the Vln Concerto was a real gem. I’m not exactly sure what to make of it, but he wrote it for his girlfriend when he was 21, and right after he finished it, she broke up with him. The world didn’t hear it until 1958. The piece seemed to have hints of the future Bartok, some bleeding chunks of Richard Strauss (sic) and something else, but what a treat!