Howard Shore – Paris 2023
On May 12, 13 & 14, 2023, Radio France presented three concerts of Howard Shore’s music at Maison de la Radio et de la Musique in Paris, France, in the presence of the composer.
Benoit Daldin, director of the Ciné-Notes festival and friend of SoundTrackFest, was there and leaves us a special article about the concert on Sunday, May 14, as well as some photos. At the end of this special article, you can find the links to watch the videos of 2 of the concerts.
Howard Shore on Radio France: From film to concert, with elegance
Howard Shore is a living legend of film music: his score written for Peter Jackson‘s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy made him instantly go down in film music history as the equal of John Williams and his music for Star Wars. It earned him 3 more than deserved Oscars and the worldwide success of albums that continue to outsell 20 years after the films’ release.
In addition, he also became the star of the movie-concerts, but on the other hand, this facade is only a luxurious tree that hides a forest of treasures. Indeed, in addition to being David Cronenberg‘s official composer since his beginnings, Howard Shore has collaborated with the greatest directors, from Martin Scorsese to David Fincher, from Tim Burton to Sidney Lumet via Jonathan Demme. He has been able to build a highly contrasted oeuvre, never stopping at one style, one sound, one particular formation, but constantly renewing himself, always in the service of cinema.
We thus go from the post-romantic symphony of “La Mouche” to the plaintive and haunting saxophone of Ornette Coleman for “Le Festin Nu”, to the airy electric guitars of “Crash”, passing through the ironic Theremin of Ed Wood, and returning to the great tradition of the Hollywood symphony for “The Lord of the Rings”. But here again, this is only part of Shore’s work, whose concert work is entirely to be (re)discovered.
This is the challenge that Radio France has brilliantly taken up during a whole weekend dedicated to the work of the Canadian composer. After Lalo Schifrin last February (read special article), the Radio France Philharmonic was thus able to explore, on Sunday, May 14, during the 3rd concert of this series, his concert work exclusively.
Unlike many of his peers, Shore does not change his approach to music or his writing when he moves from film to live performance. Unlike John Williams, for example, who writes in a very different and quite atonal idiom when he leaves film for the stage, Shore sees it more as an opportunity to enrich his writing, but by no means to alter it in depth. “I liken composition to different brushes,” he explains. “Film music requires a larger brush, and concert music a smaller brush, more conducive to detail (…) I like them both and, for me, both are as difficult to write one as the other.” Four concert pieces and three soloists will follow one another in this colorful and contrasting program.
First, the Radio France Philharmonic welcomes violinist Raphaëlle Moreau in the concertino inspired by music from Cronenberg’s film Eastern Promises. This piece is proof, if proof were needed, that Shore’s cinematic writing power carries over to the concerto without the slightest problem: the themes are those of the film, the developments those of a violin concerto. The plaintive opening melody, played alone on the violin, a kind of intimate and lonely voice of the film’s female character (played by Naomi Watts) who will face the ruthless and ultra-violent Russian mafia system alone, is played by Raphaëlle Moreau with superb smoothness and phrasing. The quality of her sound is immediately striking and she plays this piece with total commitment, as does the suite “The Song of Name”. This second piece of the program is a kind of prayer reminiscent at times of Bloch’s concert works, by its collected side with Hebrew sonorities.
The cello concerto “Mythic Gardens” (2012) continues the program with soloist Henri Demarquette. The choice of musician was quite logical as Demarquette had already created and recorded another concerto for another great musical filmmaker, Michel Legrand. Shore’s writing has the appearance of simplicity, but from the first bars we realize that it leads us into a kind of whirlwind of lyrical writing where the cello dialogues, but never merges with the orchestra, and where these seemingly unanswered questions will finally find their solution in a third and last movement. We sense there the composer’s taste for never taking an obvious path, but leading the listener on elegant but strange sonic journeys, complex but in a fully mastered tonal language. Henri Demarquette serves up this fascinating work with passion and ardor, again accompanied by a perfect Philharmonique de Radio France.
Finally, the concert ends with the piano concerto “Ruin and Memory,” commissioned by Lang Lang in 2010. Pianist Jean Paul Gasparian, a rising talent on the French scene, serves this music as it should, bringing out the influences of a Chopin, a Grieg and a Saint-Saens. His delicate, airy touch works wonders. Some more virtuosic passages might have required more ardor, but the elegance of his playing immediately erases this impression.
The architect of the evening, however, remains the conductor Bastien Stil, accustomed to the film repertoire, who conducts a large orchestra from beginning to end in very contrasting pieces and with an obvious sense of accompaniment. A standing ovation for the composer, present in the hall, ends up convincing, if necessary, that these composers for the image are first and foremost great composers whom the public follows and adores. It was noteworthy to see how after the concert, fans came humbly to ask Howard Shore to sign their film posters and CD booklets, who lent himself to the exercise with a class and elegance that matched his music and its details.
Article and photos Benoit Daldin