As part of their Art of the Score: Film Week at the Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic presented two films of Charlie Chaplin accompanied by music. The opening piece was to the first film with The Tramp – called Kid Auto Races at Venice. This short film was scored by Timothy Brock, conductor for the evening. The main feature was Chaplin’s Modern Times. I had no idea that Chaplin actually wrote music to Modern Times. The orchestra played well and was expertly conducted by Brock.
I have become a pretty passionate listener to music over the past several years. I started by becoming a subscriber to the New York Philharmonic. Then picked up a subscription to the Metropolitan Opera and Jazz at Lincoln Center. In addition to all this excellent live music, I continue to visit a few Broadway shows as they appeal to me. I’ve been using this blog more or less as a record of what I have been enjoying.
In the last year, I’ve also discovered several excellent digital resources to fuel my music listening passion. The first is the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall. A subscription service (weekly, monthly or annually – free trial available), you can stream live and archived concerts from the Berlin Philharmonic. I’ve never seen the orchestra live, but this is the next best thing! They also provide access to numerous historical performances. For example, they are currently publishing recordings with esteemed conductor Herbert von Karajan. The service offers several films and interviews with various artists. I particularly enjoyed learning about the Philharmonic’s hall, the Berlin Philharmonie. For about $200 US a year, it is a terrific resource. The Digital Concert Hall also streams well through Samsung SmartTVs and mobile devices. I’m very much looking forward to the upcoming season! The Berlin has become one of my favorite orchestras, up there with the New York Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony. Follow the Digital Concert Hall on Facebook to watch concert excerpts and receive the occasional “free ticket.”
Another service I’ve recently learned about is Medici.tv. I had never heard of Medici.tv until I saw there was an app on my Samsung SmartTV. They often stream concerts free, such as the recent Verbier Festival from Verbier, Sweden. I watched several offerings and was impressed with the performances and video quality. Medici.tv has a catalog that contains concerts, including older concerts, opera, dance and documentaries – almost 1,500 in total. Medici.tv is slightly less expensive than the Digital Concert Hall with subscriptions starting at $120 US to $180. They recently ran a 20% off sale. Medici.tv does have apps for mobile devices. I’m looking forward to enjoying what this service has to offer in the coming year.
Spotify has been around for awhile – 2006 – but has gained more popularity in recent years. I have enjoyed this service, especially to find digital recordings of records I had when I was a kid. Spotify provides the ability to create playlists and has just come out with a nifty equalizer. The service is free, but premium service is available for about $10 a month and allows for the downloading of music to mobile devices. This is handy to stream the music through the car without impacting mobile device data plans.
I so much wanted to enjoy this film. However, it ends up being yet another reason why musicals should never be made into movies.
First the good. I enjoyed the last few minutes of the Epilogue where the chorus sings the reprise of “Do You Hear the People Sing.” During the reprise, the camera pans across a large crowd on the “other side” of the wall. It was an effective moment when the visual connected with the emotion and music. This music was likely “recorded” in the studio since it didn’t sound like the crowd of thousands singing along. The crowd, which looked huge, may have even been the result of digital editing.
The things I didn’t like…just a few. The orchestrations had too much of a movie studio feel for my liking. During some of the early numbers, the orchestration was too subdued under the vocals. I prefer the original orchestrations (and vocals for that matter) that are preserved on the complete symphonic recording from 1988/2004.
I am not a movie goer. (I can’t remember the last movie I saw.) But I found the cinematography in the early part of the film to be jarring. Maybe it was because I was sitting too close. (The theater was rather crowded even though I ordered my ticket early and still had to wait in line.)
But the main reasons for not liking this film are the vocals and the stunt casting. Les Miserable is a musical. If the musical aspect of the production does not come off well, the whole form falls apart. Such is the case of turning most musicals into films. (Chicago is an example of a musical that came close to transferring to film, I think.) These are not great singers. Russell Crowe can’t sing three notes without having to take a breath, and Hugh Jackman’s nasal tone and wide vibrato become annoying early in the film. These two guys were not hired for their musical artistry. (OK, Hugh Jackman is a good showman on stage, but I didn’t think he was any good in this film.) They were hired because of the box office draw. As with most musicals that go film, cashing in on the economic scalability of “star” performers takes precedence over artistry. I actually laughed several times during the film when Crowe and Jackman were singing the recitatives back and forth between each other. I couldn’t believe these were real characters – Valjean and Javert. They were Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman tittering back and forth. And it seemed ridiculous.