The often-floated idea that symphonic film music needs more exposure just doesn't wash. Thanks to multiplexes and DVDs, more people hear the symphonic music of John Williams than Mozart and Beethoven combined. Such ensembles as the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra and regional outfits regularly, even lovingly, play film scores of past and present.
So what contribution does the new Hollywood Symphony Orchestra -- which made its debut at Royce Hall on Thursday night -- intend to make? The difference, we're told, is that this ensemble is completely dedicated to film music, with the mission of bringing the best of it into the general symphonic repertoire.
Conductor-founder John Scott cheated a bit by including the Adagietto movement from Mahler's Symphony No. 5, which was used in -- but not, of course, written for -- the film "Death in Venice." Indeed, throughout the selection of sound bites from the cinema, you could detect expropriated snatches from such pieces as Mendelssohn's "The Hebrides" Overture and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4. But perhaps that was the point, trying to integrate the Hollywood and European traditions.
Still, in many cases, this sampler dealt from the top of the deck, with some really engaging teasers from scores including Alex North's deliciously sleazy, jazzy "A Streetcar Named Desire," Erich Korngold's wide-screen-scaled "Kings Row" and Jerry Goldsmith's underrated "Logan's Run." There was also one far-too-brief example of a great score that actually has won a place in the concert hall -- Vaughan Williams' literally chilling "Scott of the Antarctic," which was reworked into his "Sinfonia Antartica."
Yet the concert also threatened to become a personal vehicle for Scott, who contrived new arrangements for some of the excerpts. That could be distracting, for while his concerto grosso on the main theme from "Around the World in 80 Days" was undeniably clever, it robbed us of the chance to hear what Victor Young's greatest score sounds like live. And the evening was back-loaded with a 45-minute suite from Scott's "Antony and Cleopatra," in which passionate recitations of Shakespeare by actors Michael York, Samantha Eggar and Alan Mandell were superimposed upon acres of windy underscoring.
The ingredients are there: a pool of expert studio players who quickly grasped the material; a fine, resonant hall; ideas for thematically based evenings. Now, one can only hope that everyone sifts through the flotsam and finds real musical gold.