Brian Tyler conducts the Golden State Pops Orchestra.

Varese Sarabande 35th Anniversary Halloween Gala

An experiment was done in the past few years to see just how much of an impact film score had in any given movie. In the experiment the score was stripped out of a classic film to test if the scenes still retained the necessary drama and emotion. As expected, the scenes were largely flat, but the experience went beyond a simple absence of music; it was the loss of a sense. Score helps viewers better consume film. It is another way for the filmmakers to give audiences information when the actors or the camera cannot. After all, before movies became talkies, it was music that was the sole voice for cinema.

So it was a rare treat for Working Author to be invited to experience the Varese Sarabande 35th Anniversary Halloween Gala and enjoy several different film scores from popular movies at the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro, Calif. Music was provided by the Golden State Pops Orchestra with Maestro Steven Allen Fox and the GSPO Chorale led by Maestra Marya Basaraba. The program for the evening would include a number of horror themes from films including Dracula, Alien, True Blood and more, but some works on the fringe of the genre were also included, such as Ghostbusters and Ghost Rider.

The evening began with a lengthy introduction by producer and host Robert Townson, who recounted his adventures around the globe consuming and creating wonderful music. He was joined onstage by the Golden State Pops Orchestra as well as the GSPO Chorale, their faces painted in black and white to mimic the very visage of death, standing against a blood red backdrop with fog filtering in from above. The mood was definitely set for music that would chill the bones and curdle the blood.

Film composer Joseph LoDuca set the tone for the rest of the evening perfectly when he strode out on stage and deluged the audience in the Varese Sarabande Halloween Overture, which he arranged, and which comprised selections from Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Fly, Psycho and The Omen. Following LoDuca was GSPO conductor Steven Allen Fox who surprised with a hauntingly beautiful selection from Dracula (1979) composed by John Williams. Afterward, Bryan Tyler took the stage to present the suite he composed for Children of Dune. Tyler’s vivacity was a perfect match for the pomp and circumstance of his piece.

There were a pair of highlights for the evening, and they came during the second half of the show. First, Randy Edelman was invited onstage to play a suite from Ghostbusters, which had been scored by Elmer Bernstein. It seemed fitting since Edelman scored Ghostbusters II. Before he began conducting, however, Edelman shared a brief story about how he had been hired to score the sequel and how he had contacted Bernstein for inspiration, promising to have lunch together. And while lunch never materialized, Edelman hoped that this performance might be a fitting tribute. It was at this point in the evening that the intrinsic blend of film and score became crystal clear, and it was easy to feel what scenes the music decorated. The score and film were inseparable.

The other highlight of the showcase was the presentation of the Ghost Rider suite conducted by Steven Allen Fox, with rock n’ roll support provided by the band Philm, composed of Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo, Gerry Nestler and Dan Lutz. The suite was excellently arranged, capturing the setting, adventure, mystery and action of the film in just a few minutes. It was the kind of score that belonged in a better movie.

Afterward, all of the composers and special guests, like flutist Sara Andon, took the stage one last time for a final bow. The audience was on its feet in raucous applause. As I left the theatre, my mind drifted to a common complaint I hear from moviegoers, which is that they hate it when the score tells them how to feel. After experiencing the Varese Sarabande gala and listening to the music without the film, I now realize that those people are missing the point.