At the age of 5, Jerry Goldsmith sat in the last row of the Hollywood Bowl, listening to Jascha Heifetz and the Los Angeles Philharmonic play Brahms' violin concerto.
This week, he's a lot closer to the action, conducting the Philharmonic in an evening of his own music--scores from such films as "L.A. Confidential" and "Chinatown," TV themes from "The Waltons," and "Dr. Kildare," plus the world premiere of a classical piece commissioned to accompany fireworks and celebrate his 70th birthday.
The Bowl event, says Goldsmith, is a watershed, of sorts. Although he has conducted locally, this, in his mind, is his Los Angeles coming out.
"I've conducted to sellout crowds in London, Glasgow, Seville, Yokohama," says the composer. "Now, at the age of 70, I'm getting my hometown debut. After leading the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in 'The Star-Spangled Banner' at Disney's 'Mulan' premiere last year, I told my wife, 'I want more.' "
An odd statement coming from a guy so prolific--someone with 180 film scores to his credit and 200 CDs on the shelves. And despite Hollywood's current hunger for song-based soundtracks, Goldsmith's symphonic compositions underscore four 1999 movies--"The Mummy," "The Haunting," and the upcoming "13th Warrior" and "Reindeer Games." A survey quoted in a Gramophone magazine CD guide said that during any given minute, "a film or TV show accompanied by Goldsmith's music is being shown somewhere in the world."
The ponytailed composer chalks up his success to a mix of flexibility and pragmatism.
"I'm a chameleon," he observes, delving into a salad at a Beverly Hills hotel. "My longevity comes from my adaptive skills. I let the picture dictate the style. And I accept the fact that there will be gunshots and dialogue over my music. Movies are a director's medium and I'm not center stage."
Goldsmith's refusal to repeat himself is admirable, says writer-director Michael Crichton, who's worked with the composer on six films, including "Coma" and "The Great Train Robbery." But it makes it harder to identify his work. Crichton found that out when Goldsmith was unavailable for a project and he was desperately seeking alternatives.
"I watched the video of 'Air Force One' and said, 'That's terrific--maybe I hold Jerry in too high esteem,' " recalls Crichton, whose "13th Warrior" is due out in August. "The credits rolled: 'Jerry Goldsmith.' I look at Anthony Hopkins in 'The Edge.' 'Pretty good [music],' I said to myself. The credits rolled: 'Jerry Goldsmith.' Jerry is the most varied and inventive film composer of our time--a real pro who does what the picture calls for, which is a vanishing breed in Hollywood."
L.A. Philharmonic music director Esa-Pekka Salonen approached Goldsmith to participate in his "Filmharmonic" project, in which leading composers and filmmakers collaborate on original pieces. And, in 1998, he conducted "Music for Orchestra," a classical work Goldsmith composed in 1972.
"I don't know anyone, regardless of genre, with Goldsmith's stylistic versatility," Salonen observes. "He's obviously influenced by the greats of this century: Schoenberg and, of course, the athletic rhythms of Stravinsky.
"People who came to last year's concert expecting to hear Goldsmith's nice movie stuff didn't recognize him in that rather austere 12-tone ['Music for Orchestra']," he adds. "I'm fascinated by the idea of a very famous film composer who has this other, totally unknown, side."
Goldsmith works out of a two-story renovated guest house in the backyard of his Beverly Hills Tudor-style home. Lining its stairwell are movie posters--graphic testament to the hours he has spent in the studio while Lois Carruth, his longtime assistant, holds the fort downstairs. A certifiable workaholic, he composes from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. seven days a week, when he's working on a film. Typically, he turns out two minutes of music a day for four or five pictures a year.
"I no longer work nights--and I'm trying to get out and play golf," the composer says with a visible lack of enthusiasm.
Goldsmith's studio contains state-of-the-art equipment: a mixing console, a Macintosh computer and his flat-topped Yamaha GS-1 keyboard--flat-topped so he can jot down the notes with old-fashioned pencil and paper. Before sitting down to compose, he confers with the director.
"If you haven't worked together before, it's like a first date," says Goldsmith, stylishly casual in a white T-shirt, navy blazer and jeans. "Everyone is so proper--it's a strange dance."
The two of them watch the movie set to a temporary score. Directors often become attached to this preexisting material, says the composer, which can be a "pain in the ass." Working together, they decide where to insert music. Cue sheets are drawn up, describing the action and dialogue down to 1/100th of a second.