AMONG THE BACHS AND HANDELS, TELEMANNS AND PURCELLS of the Carmel Bach Festival, the artistic leadership likes to program novel stuff into their two weeks of concerts to elevate the element of surprise and the fun factor. Concertmaster Peter Hanson has put together such a concert for strings. It’s called “Psycho!”
Well, that’s the first aim. But the overall vision is more widescreen.
“‘Pictures’ are the theme of the concert,” Hanson writes by email while touring on the road. “Some music paints a picture in the listener’s imagination, and some music is used in a film and augments the picture you see by adding to the emotion.”
The pieces in the second half of the concert come from, or were used in, various movies. Lord of the Rings. Dunkirk. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho! This is music that has visual acuity. It evokes not just feelings, but images.
Paul Goodwin is the festival’s artistic director and principal conductor, and he worked with Hanson to assemble this Monday night concert.
“It’s a transformational program with a maximum amount of variety,” Goodwin says. “Monday is, if you will, a relaxing concert, an entertaining concert, and Peter will be there presenting it in a very charming way.”
The first half opens on Edvard Grieg’s Holberg Suite, Op. 40, which is said to comprise a portrait of a Scandanavian story down to the landscape and people. It’s not associated with any particular films, but Hanson says, “It’s one of my old favorites and it paints a strong picture.”
Next is John Adams’ mesmerizing and innovative Shaker Loops, a string music piece that Hanson (who worked with Adams on a recording of the opera Nixon in China) says doesn’t rely on traditional use of melody and harmony.
“So the rhythms from repeated notes are free to delve in and out of each other, and this phrasing creates a wonderfully imaginative scenario,” Hanson says.
He will conduct this number, but will direct the string orchestra on the rest of the program while he plays violin.
After an intermission, the movie stuff commences with Bernard Hermann’s Suite from Psycho!People will recognize the tense, staccato prelude (it accompanied the opening credits of the film), as well as the sharp, dissonant screeches of its movement called “The Murder.” But Hanson also wants to draw people’s attention to the rest of the 15-minute suite, with its “haunting melodies and evocative harmony.”
Next is Edward Elgar’s “Nimrod” from the Enigma Variations, one of 14 musical sketches of the composer’s friends and his wife, each piece containing a motif that describes their character or a musical interpretation of an event in their lives.
“Nimrod,” the ninth piece, is about Elgar’s friend and publisher Augustus J. Jaeger, but it also harkens to a Beethoven sonata. Its majestic flow was put to good use in the finale of Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic Dunkirk.
No film stills or scenes will be projected; the music will do all the work of conjuring images. But there will be a pre-concert lecture at 6:30pm by principal cellist Allen Whear, and during the performance Hanson – who’s got a dry British wit – will introduce each piece “with a brief chat” beforehand.
Two movements from William Walton’s score for the 1944 film version of Henry V starring Laurence Olivier comes next: the elegiac “Passacaglia: Death and Falstaff” and the romantic “Touch her soft lips and part.”
Stanley Myers’ classical guitar piece, “Cavatina,” was made famous as the theme for Michael Cimino’s 1978 Oscar-winning masterpiece The Deer Hunter, starring Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken and Meryl Streep. A bit of trivia: The music, with a gentle air and a melancholy mood, was originally composed for a nearly forgotten 1970 film called The Walking Stick.
The mood picks right up with Howard Shore’s “Concerning Hobbits,” taken from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s a Celtic-flavored pastoral that evokes the idyllic country life of Hobbits in the Shire with nary a clue about Lord Sauron, Nazguls or Orcs.
“For my sins,” Goodwin says, “I’m going to be offstage, mic’ed up, playing the tin whistle.”
The next composer is a living legend in film music. Star Wars, Jaws, Superman, E.T., Indiana Jones. It can only be John Williams. Here, his lamenting and haunting “Theme from Schindler’s List,” which was originally played by violinist Itzhak Perlman.
“We’re finding sections of these pieces that suit our size of orchestra,” Goodwin says. “We would love to do Star Wars, but if you try to push that into a small string section, it would be insulting to the score.”
Maybe by now you’ve noticed that the subjects of the movies this music comes from are on the heavy side: a psychotic killer, a World War II battle, warring monarchs, Vietnam War trauma, the Holocaust. Don’t let that deter you. The music is beautiful and emotional stuff, and the images it evokes don’t necessarily have to derive from the films they’ve scored.
But still, at the end there’s a bright, light, classic coda: Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Air” fromOrchestral Suite No. 3.
“Ah, this is here because of the famous advert for Hamlet cigars,” Hanson says. “It’s part of my child memory of cinema and TV. Also I thought we should have at least one piece of Bach in this [Carmel Bach Festival] program!”
PSYCHO! is performed 7:30-9:30pm Mondays, July 15 and July 22, at Sunset Center, San Carlos and Ninth, Carmel. $35-$79. 624-1521, bachfestival.org.