Concert ‘Basil Poledouris – The Music & The Movies’ – Summary
On July 22, 2022, a historic concert was held at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles (read more), and we say historic for at least 3 reasons: for being the first thematic concert dedicated to the memory of Basil Poledouris, for being the debut concert of the Los Angeles Film Orchestra, and for being the first time that a Spaniard, Diego Navarro, conducted film music in that venue.
Behind this concert, the renowned producer Robert Townson, who gathered a great list of names for such a special event: John Milius, Randal Kleiser, Christopher Lennertz, Mark Watters, John Ottman, John Debney, John Frizzell, Diego Navarro, Richard Kraft, Doreen Ringer-Ross, or Jon Burlingame among others.
Our colleague and collaborator Manuel García de Mesa was at the concert, and here is a detailed article about it.
In addition, at the end of this article we include an exclusive interview with Diego Navarro, who conducted one of Poledouris‘ most iconic pieces: Conan the Barbarian.
I). THE EVENT. THE PLACE.
On Friday, July 22, 2022, starting at 8:00 p.m., US West Coast Time, at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, California, USA, one of those cultural feats that will be remembered for many years took place. The name of the event is Basil Poledouris, The Music and The Movies.
The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles is located in the Bunker Hill area. That is, north of the Financial District and Historic Downtown (where the city’s historic buildings are, which includes the Los Angeles Theatre), and east of the Civic Center (which includes the iconic City Hall building, or the main City Police building). In Bunker Hill, just before Interstate 101, the Hollywood Freeway, there is also The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) or the mythical Dorothy Chandler Pavillion (which has hosted several ceremonies of the Oscars Academy Awards Ceremony), as well as buildings of the importance of The Bank of America, the World Trade Center or LA County CourtHouse. An area that houses locations that have appeared, for example, in films such as Dark Knight (USA, 2005) by Christopher Nolan, or Heat (USA, 1995), by Michael Mann.
The Walt Disney Concert Hall is one of the few cultural buildings in the city dedicated to a specific activity, which remains open during the day, at a specific time, and can be visited by the audience. It has seven floors of garage, restaurant and gift shop, where you can buy CDs, Vinyl Records, with soundtracks or classical music, concerts (on DVDs or Blu-ray disc), etc., which collect some of the great milestones celebrated in that place.
The first arrival around Walt Disney Concert Hall, is actually shocking. Architect Frank Gehry while he was designing the building, made pretty sure it did not remain indifferent to the humble pedestrian. First of all, he had the idea that the building would be covered with stone, but finally decided that the wrapping would be made of stainless steel. There were a number of constructive reasons for this, but also a climatological one: the incessant sun that bathes the city of Los Angeles and Southern California in general would beautifully reflect the size of the structure. Sophisticated software was required to insert the tons of steel into the structural curve’s shapes of the building. The interior Lobby, where the shop is, restaurant and escalators leading to the different levels of the building are located as well, stands out to the astonished vision of the prospective audiences, due to the majestic wavy shapes of tons of wood, in accordance with the exterior facade. The wooden arches have, in short, an aesthetic that refers to the wood used for the manufacture of musical instruments.
A couple of hours before the start of the session, in the cafeteria that is just below the sacred musical venue, two Tenerife people (two canary men) had a beer and recorded a small interview that has been rolling on social networks since that day. Two Tenerife residents in Los Angeles: One was Maestro Diego Navarro, director of the Fimucité or Tenerife International Film Music Festival, whose 16th edition takes place in September 2022. The other Tenerife native is the one who signs this review, who came to the concert with a lot of desire to appreciate live the heartfelt tribute that was going to take place there, with great enthusiasm to see Diego Navarro direct Conan The Barbarian’s suite.
Diego narrated with his usual enthusiasm that the day before in one of the adjoining buildings, a preliminary rehearsal took place and that, in view of the widespread enthusiasm and efficiency in the execution of the same, the final result, he was convinced, that it would be quite impressive. Navarro commented that he had the immense pleasure of meeting Maestro Basil Poledouris shortly before his death, at the Úbeda Film Music Congress in 2006. Of course, his music and sonority occupy an important place in the history of film music, for Diego. It is for the author of the soundtrack of El Páramo (Spain, 2022), by David Casademunt, such a privilege and an enormous honor to be at an event like that, and to lead an orchestra like the Los Angeles Film Orchestra in a unique concert hall like the Walt Disney Concert Hall, not to mention that he was about to conduct what would be the longest suite of the entire concert. One of the largest and most prestigious Concert Halls in the world, and the appearance with other great directors of film music, and the attendance of authentic living legends of the history of the most recent cinema movies. That were going to constitute the ecosystem through which the Canarian musician was going to be the next few hours. Diego Navarro is fully aware that a concert like this consolidated him worldwide among the greatest talents of music for cinematographic images. As we’ll see, he was up to the task.
Maestro Navarro said goodbye, on the way to the interior of the enclosure he was intercepted by some members of the SoCAL CHORALE choir, (which would collaborate with the newcomer Los Angeles Film Orchestra, created by Robert Townson y Steven Allen Fox), as well as by other directors, as a proof of how integrated he is into the musical environment that was going to live that night. This reviewer continued taking some photographs of the imposing architecture of LA, taking a walk around the surroundings, until it was time to exhibit the ticket entrance to the enclosure, once it proceeded to the opening of its doors. After leaving the backpack in the cloakroom, I proceeded to take my seat. Front Orchestra, Row DD, Seat 145, that is, in front of the orchestra, a few feet from the stage. The audience is entering, the musicians are making the last tunings and adjustments, and the last checks in general. Some sponsors appeared on the screen. When there is not too much left for the beginning of the concert, I could see the filmmaker and screenwriter John Milius, who sits in my same row of seats, about 7 or 8 to the left, facing the aisle so that it would be easy for him to appear on stage when it was his turn.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, LA Phil, created in 1919, is based in the aforementioned Walt Disney Concert Hall. That night, nevertheless, the star orchestra was the beginner Los Angeles Film Orchestra, that made its debut with the concert of that night. It was conducted by some of the most important conductors in the field of soundtrack, in the world. The elite of film music gathered around the figure of the mythical composer Basil Poledouris. The Composer from Kansas City, Missouri, with Greek origins, was honored by many of those who were with him in the Spanish city in 2006. Diego Navarro, John Debney, John Frizzell, John Ottman or Christopher Lennertz, and Steven Allen Fox, along with some college mates at USC, long time companion such as filmmakers John Milius or Randall Kleiser, duly appeared at the Walt Disney Concert Hall to pay the well-deserved tribute to a composer and conductor certainly incomparable..
II). POLEDOURIS ENTERS.
Robert Townson of Robert Townson Productions appeared, dedicated to the sole adventure of promoting concerts as the one we review, thus promoting the culture of film music around the world. Townson was for many years linked to the Varèse Sarabande music label, where he is associated with more than a thousand albums released. He has been organizing concerts related to the world of soundtrack for a few years now, such as Back in Time: 1985 at the movies, or Lalo Schifrin: Celebrating 85th Birthday Concert. Townson welcomed the audience, recalled the figure of Basil Poledouris and, of course, recalled, with much nostalgia and appreciation, the concert in Úbeda, Spain, the farewell of maestro Poledouris before an audience. And the event began to walk. As the musical successes followed, the rediscovery of the epic and mythical tons of the composer, quickly punched a glimpse of the emotions and vivid memories that the musical chronicle in crescendo, was unleashing among the people close to Poledouris.
The beginning of the musical fountainhead, came up with the score for the film The Big Wednesday (USA, 1978), the first one of the five collaborations between Poledouris and screenwriter and filmmaker John Milius. A hymn to nostalgia and the philosophy of the cult in body and soul to the surfboard, in California, which both Milius and Poledouris knew very well. The brilliant performance of the musical suite was a recast of the songs The South Swell/Main Title, Kaliponi Stack Key, and The Challenge. Performed as music of discovery and fascination, but also as becoming legend, the soundtrack of The Great Wednesday was a fundamental step in Poledouris’ career. Definitely, he didn’t waste the opportunity, and put him into the map of film musicians. After making educational films and documentaries for television where he worked with small orchestras, it was with the score of The Big Wednesday when for the first time he heard his musical compositions performed by a large orchestra. For John Milius this collaboration was also a great satisfaction. In his two previous films, Dillinger (USA, 1973) and The Wind and The Lion (USA, 1975), he had not been able to count on his friend and fellow student and the soundtrack. The status achieved not only as a filmmaker but also as a screenwriter, allowed Milius not only to carry out one of his most personal films, but also to hire his friend, who delivered an epic and intimate soundtrack, which combines orchestral richness with guitar solos, which were in charge of the consolidated guitarist, George Doering, member of the Los Angeles Film Orchestra. A soundtrack that by far contributed to the prestige and durability of the film over the decades.
The first of the evening’s musical performances visibly moved Randall Kleiser. Kleiser took the stage immediately after the suite of The Big Wednesday. The director of Grease (USA, 1978), or The Blue Lagoon (USA, 1980) sought Milius from the stage, to personally share with him how much he had just been fascinated by the impressive soundtrack of the film about Surfing. Randall Kleiser highlighted Poledouris’ taste for the depiction of the sea, that communion between music and waters, provided some of the musical pieces most loved by the composer himself.
The words of the filmmaker led the entrance to the takeover of the The Blue Lagoon’s suite. A soundtrack that emotionally shook the auditorium of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Not only that sound continuity with Milius’ film in the sensitive depiction of marine spaces were evident in the superb execution of a suite that encompassed the following: Love Theme, Main Title, The Island, Three points To Port /End Titles. Poledouris’ capacity for orchestral music, in contrast to the intimacy of the teenage love story that constitute the core of the plot of this successful film (in Spain it lasted years on screening), is highlighted in this memorable soundtrack. Poledouris also took care of the music of its sequel, not directed by Kleiser, which notably developed the romantic vein begun with this superb score that could be enjoyed on the memorable LA night. The legendary conductor and composer John Debney, author among many other soundtracks of The Relic (USA, 1997), by Peter Hyams or The Passion of the Christ (USA, 2004), by Mel Gibson, took the stage to conduct the Los Angeles Orchestra and the musical description of the blue lagoon.
Australian filmmaker Simon Wincer appeared from a distance, and his image and voice resonated affectively from Australia to remember his wonderful communion with the musician. Wincer made three works with Poledouris: The miniseries Lonesome Dove (USA, 1989); and the movies Quigley Down Under (USA, 1990); and Free Willy! (USA, 1993). In this last one, which had two film sequels, the composer continues to explore his very intimate communion with the sea, in a beautiful score, far above the cinematographic qualities of the film. Conductor Steven Allen Fox was in charge of conducting the Los Angeles Film Orchestra, given to the chords of a score between the epic, a certain musical solemnity and the intimate passages so much to the taste of its composer. However, among the films with Simon Wincer, it stands out what is one of the great works of Poledouris’ career: The Emmy Award winning score for the epic western miniseries Lonesome Dove, starring Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Urich, based on the Larry McMutry’s novel. A work that was originally going to give rise to a film in the 70s, directed by Peter Bogdanovich with John Wayne, Henry Fonda and James Stewart. Wayne’s non-acceptance ruined that project. Thanks to that, it was resumed around ten years later, in the aforementioned television format, which gave rise to a soundtrack whose suite provided one of the most exciting moments of the night. After the intermission, the suite of this miniseries was performed musically, summarizing the following musical themes: Theme from Lonesome Dove, Night Mares (Deets, Newt)/Farewell Ladies, and The Leaving. Poledouris turned out to be the perfect composer to provide the proper dose of nostalgia and longing for better days, but also the epic in the adventure of moving cattle as a way of life (a sort of work for a living’) domed for extinction. John Wayne summed up the libretto he read as “… a script about the death of the Western…”. The sonority of Poledouris expanded in a composition clearly designed to be performed by a large orchestra. The predominance of the wind instruments (attention to the chords of the Oboe), with the escape to the guitar in its most personal moments (again George Doering), delighted the audience willing to what was to come. A sonority that alludes in the same way to the epic, to nostalgia, to the musical traditions of the far west (there is the use of the harmonica in some moments), and that remains more than thirty years later as one of the great attributes of the miniseries correctly directed by Wincer.
And the big hits kept coming: The Hunt For Red October (USA, 1990), Starship Troopers (USA, 1997) and For The Love of The Game (USA, 1999) momentarily monopolized the night’s sound ecosystem. The first of the aforementioned films marked this important collaboration between Poledouris and filmmaker John McTiernan. It is worth noting that the script of this vigorous film, coincidentally or not, was rewritten, especially in the dialogues of the character played by Sean Connery, by John Milius. For this soundtrack to an espionage and action film set against the backdrop of the cold war, Basil Poledouris conceived a choral piece in Russian language that was memorably performed by the SoCAL CHORALE Choir, conducted by Marya Basaraba, a loyal ally of the Los Angeles Film Orchestra on the evening.
And the Orchestra was generally up to the tremendous challenge of composer Basil Poledouris’ musical chart to construct a lysergic soundtrack whose chosen theme was Hymn to Red October. Paul Verhoeven appeared from a distance, from old Europe, recalling his powerful works with Poledouris for Flesh and Blood (USA, 1985), Robocop (USA, 1987), and the aforementioned Starship Troopers. Soundtracks where the epic predominates. From the latter soundtrack, which it was his turn to present, the Dutch filmmaker recalled the musical suite of the moment of death of the character played by Dina Meyer, exemplary in terms of dramatic intimacy construction. The theme chosen for the concert was Klendathu Drop, which allowed the deployment of all the epic of which Poledouris was capable of, which undoubtedly covered the audience’s expectations. A solemn track, of clear military reminiscences, that oscillates between the parade and the assault, with its necessary doses of triumphalism, to accompany the disembarkation of the troops of the humanity, focused on the fight against the interplanetary lethal insects. It is noteworthy that the complex soundtrack of this Verhoeven film (based on the novel by Robert A. Heinlein), Poledouris had a lot of time for its development. From February to October 1997, almost 8 months, for what normally takes just a few weeks. Thus, the musician thoroughly enjoyed the process of preparing and developing this score very rich in melodic contrasts. The complexity of the film’s post-production gave the composer precious time.
For The Love and The Game the theme Last Pitch was chosen, a sample of the composer’s versatility, in this case at the service of a film that, as its title indicates, is about the world of baseball, with a dose of romance starring Kevin Costner and Kelly Preston.
Peter Weller appeared with plenty of energy and determination from Hawaii mobile in hand, and strolling through the night of the island of O’ahu, the epic of Poledouris, which he summarized in one word: “Myth“. All the images trespassed by the music of Poledouris reach the category of “Myth“, in Peter Weller’s opinion. The enthusiastic musical notes of Basil Poledouris seemed to come designed for Weller`s speech.
Christopher Lennertz, also a composer, who began his career as an assistant to Poledouris, directed the world debut of the music suite: Basil Poledouris Action Movie Overture, with arrangements by Leigh Phillips. A splendid musical collage, which includes fragments of jewels such as the television series about the Soviet invasion of the United States, Amerika (USA, 1987), starring Kris Kristofferson and Sam Neill, Milius’ film of similar theme, but different tone, Red Down (USA, 1984), the triumphalism of Iron Eagle (USA, 1986 ), by Sidney J. Furie; the contrast of a cowboy from the American West who wanders through the aboriginal Australia in Quigley Down Under (USA, 1990), by Simon Wincer, in a descriptive soundtrack, whose epic edges approach Elmer Bernstein’s territory, and forced Gorge Doering to appear at one point with a banjo; the penultimate collaboration with Milius in Farewell to the King (Farewell To The King, USA, 1989), another epic solemnity for veteran filmmaker, in combination with John Barry-style orchestral reminiscences; or the triumphalist score of Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (USA, 1995), by Geoff Murphy, to which Poledouris dedicated one of his most effective fanfares. All of them show more than estimable the versatility and richness of the musical ecosystem of Basil Poledouris.
The Atlanta’s 1996 Olympic Games is a piece that is rarely discussed when it comes to the career of Basil Poledouris. Robert Townson jumped at the chance to pick it up, adding it to the evening’s unforgettable menu. The former games organizer appeared with conductor Mark Watters and explained certain details. Before listening to the impressive theme, The Tradition of The Games (1996 Olympics Opening Ceremony), it was commented that the International Olympic Committee’s decision to hold the 1996 Olympic Games on the other side of the sea, from where they were usually held, did not please the Greeks very much. They wanted a composer from that country who could provide the musical epic that was required. An attempt was made to hire Vangelis, who declined. What composer of Greek ancestry could be up to the task? It is not difficult to guess who had to immerse himself in his own musical heritage, which after all wasn’t unknown to him. Poledouris’ own apprenticeship with the mythical composer of Hollywood’s golden age Miklós Rozsa finished incorporating the necessary components.
Percussion, flute and choirs in a communion of biblical proportions, up to the circumstances, stood out in the previous moments to the intermission in a truly fascinating and meritorious suite when it comes to picking up the baton in certain traditions.
III). DIEGO NAVARRO ENTERS.
Forty years after the premiere of Conan The Barbarian (USA, 1982), by John Milius, the composer and conductor, Diego Navarro, appeared on stage at the Walt Disney Concert Hall to direct the accurate execution of the musical piece of the aforementioned film. The end of the event was approaching, but the best was yet to come. The Tenerife musician conducted the longest suite, and practically closed the event. The one that brings an iconic, epic, suggestive soundtrack, which remains in the collective imagery of an entire generation that forty years later continues to be amazed by the power of this unique musical work. The suite performed by Los Angeles Film Orchestra brought together the themes: Anvil of Crom, Riddle of Steel/Riders of Doom, Theology/Civilization, The Orgy, and Battle of the Mounds.
To make way for the referenced suite, none other than Francis Ford Coppola from a distance, from the 500 kilometers that separate Los Angeles from San Francisco, like Arnold Schwarzenegger himself. John Milius and actress Sandahl Bergman (Valeria’s character in the film Conan The Barbarian), took the stage. Everyone appeared to share their feelings and memories around the mythical soundtrack of Poledouris. Bergman recalled that, at one point, when they were creating the sword and sorcery masterpiece, they reflected about what could come out from “… a surfer, a bodybuilder and a dancer…” The actress recalled how Milius considered the music of Poledouris as something tremendously authentic for the film, with all the enthusiasm and energies that Milius was capable of in those years of splendor. The legendary filmmaker who has recovered fantastically from a stroke suffered a few years ago, and the actress and dancer discovered by Bob Fosse, gained several emotional applauses from the audience.
Diego Navarro was introduced by Robert Townson with great appreciation, as the director of the Tenerife International Film Music Festival (Fimucité) in Spain. His entrance to the musical ecosystem of the dedicated auditorium came with not a few applauses from the public. The epic chords, together with the melancholic and melodic landscapes, toured the stage to the rhythm of Navarro’s well-known body language, the result of his usual meticulousness and passion, already known, when it came to illuminating the chronological path of the different instruments of the orchestra.
Anvil of Crom took us back to the era of the steel discipline, where the sounds reminiscent of the forging of the precious metal, with the orchestral solemnity accurately introduced by Navarro’s baton dominated the acoustics of the place at once. The epic as it has rarely been expressed in musical terms. Riddle of Steel/Riders of Doom followed the initial orchestral fanfare. The softness of the wind with the string, duly contrasted and complemented the epic, to introduce us to what would be the leitmotif of Conan’s philosophy of life and the fatal attack on the village, that tragically ends with the death of his parents. Poledouris’ musical imagery was once more exposed from the hand of Diego Navarro. The SoCAL CHORALE Choir knew how to be up to the Tenerife native’s cue, to punctuate the magnificent musical twang at the moment of the assault on young Conan’s village. Theology/Civilization adequately serves the transition of the adult Conan, and his relationship with the other two characters that will mark his life. The majestic “musical navigational chart” plotted by Poledouris, with predominance of wind instruments and xylophone, made evident the orchestral mastery in a suite suggestive of the thieving life of the comic book hero. To illustrate the musical theme of The Orgy, the Los Angeles Film Orchestra under the firm baton of Diego Navarro oscillated with masterful subtlety, again with the predominance of wind, punctuated with some string, with a praiseworthy result that kept Poledouris’ flame on the stage. That was the reason why the honored composer always expressed his own respects for a large orchestra. The prolonged suite from Conan The Barbarian closed with full honors with the Battle of the Mounds, which illustrated in Milius’ film the moment in which the warrior tells the gods that “…a few are facing many…”, where he invited the divinities to help, or “…get out of the way…” otherwise. The orchestra surrendered to Poledouris’ musical symphony, duly escorted by the choir conducted by Mrs. Basaraba, under the firm and far-sighted baton of Diego Navarro, a perfect connoisseur of the tonalities and nuances of the piece, and of course, of the capabilities of the orchestra he was conducting.
The achievement was overwhelming and the audience got what they wanted, an apotheosis night. The Conan suite was undoubtedly one of the great moments of the evening, where a devoted audience requested Navarro’s presence on stage once he had performed the suite and he had already retired to chamber.
The appearance of Poledouris’ daughters, Zoë and Alexis, was another of the most emotional moments of the night. “… What for you is epic, for us is part of our childhood …”, said Alexis Poledouris, who, of course, she and her sister grew up with the chords of the music that the rest of us had to go to see at the cinema, or buy the CD or the Vinyl Record.
Steve Allen Fox returned to take the baton to, already outside the program, as a bonus for the public, execute the musical theme of the soundtrack of the aforementioned Robocop, the forceful score of Poledouris for this kind of futuristic revenge western, with a stark treatment of violence, starring Peter Weller and Nancy Allen. The result was exciting.
IV). IT’S MY PARTY.
If the epic moment of the night came with Conan The Barbarian, the most emotional moment was undoubtedly the closing of the concert. It came with the introduction to the stage of a beautiful grand piano that was used by the pianist Robert Thies to masterfully interpret the main piece of the film written and directed by Randall Kleiser, It’s my Party (USA, 1996). At the last moments of the concert, the presence of all the people who had participated in the event was required. Poledouris’s daughters took advantage of the moment to thank Townson for the exquisite organization, who got a well-deserved ovation. From epic and myth, we move on to intimacy and the feeling of loss, which lasted 16 years after the absence. The faces of those gathered on stage were visibly touched by the passing on the screen, above the orchestra, of photographs with snippets of the life and peak moments of Basil Poledouris’s career. Absolutely magical moments, which at the same time immortalized fragments of the life of those present shared with the musician. The solemn expression on the face of Milius, and Kleiser, embracing the composer’s eldest daughter, who could not repress tears from the emotion of memories of unforgettable lives, were two representative faces of the general sentiment. Thies’ wise execution of Poledouris’s melodic piano composition, on a soundtrack conceived for one of his great lifelong friends, filmmaker Randall Kleiser, not only added the grand finale to the night or accompanied the nostalgic photographs. The accurate musical notes put the melodic finishing touch to the night and left evidence of the very complete musical training of the composer and musician Basil Poledouris. A dramatic film, very well acted (Kleiser had a privileged cast including Eric Roberts, Lee Grant, Olivia Newton-John, Marlee Matlin or George Segal and Bruce Davidson among others), served with touches of comedy, around a man who, far from collapsing when he is diagnosed with irreversible complications from Aids VIHs, he decides to invite family and friends to a two-days party, with the idea of dying with dignity. With It’s my party, the composer had clearly returned to his musical origins. From the age of 7 he studied piano, with the idea of developing a career as a soloist devoted to this instrument. It was in the mid-1960s, with his entry into the 20th Century music department and Miklós Rosza crossing his path, when the musician honored in Los Angeles opted for “…the music of the 20th century…”, that is, composition for the cinema. But Basil Poledouris never forgot the piano. The piano was used in the concert on July 22 to establish that we will never forget Basil Poledouris. As Robert Townson said so well, his music will outlive us all.
After viewing the July 2022 concert, it is obvious that its conception dates back to 2006, the year of Úbeda and the year of the death of Basil Poledouris. The choice of the Úbeda’s portrait of the composer overwhelmed by the ovation greeting his 2006 audience in the aforementioned Spanish city, as the poster of the event in 2022 LA, is not a coincidence at all.
Thank you, Robert Townson, for transporting us to the audience of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA to a music, sensations, memories and sonorities that are difficult to forget, as part of our lives.
Article and pictures by Manuel García de Mesa
Additional Pictures – Diego Navarro (Facebook)
Videos – Diego Navarro (Facebook) & YouTube