Last evening I had the pleasure of being invited to attend the New York Philharmonic's tribute to the films of Alfred Hitchcock. The unique two-night event at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center had commenced on Tuesday with an evening hosted by Alec Baldwin (who helped conceive of the tribute's format.) Last evening, the closing night's performance was hosted by Sam Waterson, who provided insights into the films chosen for inclusion and the composers who created the memorable scores. Under the banner The Art of the Score, master conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos lead orchestra in a presentation of flawlessly performed original music from specific Hitchcock films in synch with dialogue from the film clips shown. It's an impressive feat, given the fact that being off timing by a mere second could wreak havoc on the concept. The film scores honored were To Catch a Thief (Lyn Murray), Vertigo (Bernard Herrmann), Strangers on a Train (Dimitri Tiomkin), Dial M for Murder (Tiomkin), North By Northwest (Herrmann) and Hitchcock's amusing signature theme, Funeral March of a Marionette which was composed by Charles Gounod in 1872. The entire main title sequences of each film were shown as the orchestra performed the themes. The effect was truly wonderful, with both Kitsopoulos and the orchestra in top form. One became even more aware of how vital Hitchcock's composers were to the quality of his films. What struck me is how such unabashedly lush and often romantic scores have been relegated to the past in today's film industry in which composers are relegated to the status of necessary evils. The work of these masters will be performed for generations after today's largely nondescript film scores have long been forgotten. The strongest part of the performance came after the intermission with particularly effective sequences and music from Dial M for Murder and North By Northwest having a mesmerizing effect on the audience. You could have heard a pin drop. The latter film, which boasts what is arguably Herrmann's greatest score, seemed to be the performance that resonated most with the audience. The concept of having dialogue included in the film clips did not sit well with everyone. My wife, for example, felt that the magnificence of the orchestra was undermined by the inclusion of dialogue in the clips. She maintained that the orchestra was so flawless that the viewer lost sight of the fact that it was a live performance and not simply the original soundtrack being played on celluloid. The Gounod piece, for example, was presented over silent home movies of Hitchcock. The concept could have worked brilliantly but someone diluted the impact by inter-cutting snippets of the trailer from North By Northwest in which Hitchcock makes amusing witticisms about world travel. It might well be more effective if future presentations designed along similar lines presented the film clips without the dialogue and perhaps inter-cut them with still images so that the full effect of the orchestra could resonate even better with audience. Nevertheless, any evening at Avery Fisher Hall is a special occasion and this was a masterful tribute to a master director.
Veering off topic for a bit, I do have to be a bit of a grouch, though it has nothing to do with the venue or the orchestra. Rather, it concerns the behavior of audience members. True, they sat in rapt attention during the entire performance. However, at the end of the program, the maestro had barely lowered his baton before a quarter of the audience scrambled for the exit doors, like the sequence in Hitchcock's Torn Curtain in which a false alarm about a fire causes pandemonium. There was a time when audience members would be too ashamed to leave such a grand performance before the orchestra even took its first bow. Just how important is it to get the first cab or get to the parking lot before anyone else? This trend is nothing new. I've noticed it at Broadway plays. Half the audience is gone before the applause even kicks in at the finale. We all know New Yorkers are perpetually in a hurry but there was a time when a sense of manners and decorum would have trumped their impatience. The audience members who remained to applaud seemed to go out of their way to compensate for those who jumped ship early. I dunno. I guess its a sign of the times. In an era when people look to the casts of Jersey Shore and Duck Dynasty for their role models, it's no surprise we're not seeing the likes of Noel Coward sitting next to us in the audience. Their rudeness and lack of courtesy may not have been intended as a slap in the face of the brilliant artists who performed last night, but the result was the same.