2001_space_odyssey_hollywood_bowl_3The air was humid and the day was hot, in other words, it was a perfect summer night for music at the Hollywood Bowl. LA County’s 18,000-seat venue is home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and some of the most diverse, interesting performances anywhere in the Los Angeles area. Tuesday, August 18 was a special night for certain, as the Bowl continued its series of “live score” events, in which a film is screened and accompanied by live music.

Live score events can be tricky. A print or version of the film being screened must exist without any music, yet retain all dialogue and sound effects in order to feel the full impact. With older films, this can be tricky due to separate elements being lost or destroyed, such as tapes with sound and music mixes, etc. The stars certainly aligned however, in the case of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey – premiering in 1968 (just down the street at the Pantages Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard), Kubrick’s film stands as one of the most important films in the history of cinema and a landmark movie in the science fiction genre.

This evening’s performance would feature the LA Philharmonic, along with the LA Master Chorale to perform the vocals needed for György Ligeti’s infamous “Lux Aeterna” and “Requiem”. Right after a couple sitting in front of my friends and I told us about their recollections of seeing the film when they were originally in college, conductor Brad Lubman walked out on stage and off we went.

“Atmospheres” by Ligeti, which opens the film, set the mood for the rest of the picture. Composed in 1961, it’s a modern orchestral work that favors the atonal over the traditional. Woodwinds interacted with sliding strings, all pitted against a black screen. In fitting form, the film’s overture (originally performed in theatres to a closed curtain) featured no text or images aside the blank, dark screen greeting viewers to an experience that would be told almost exclusively through music and visuals. The Bowl’s primary HD screen proved to be a little too dim in comparison to the video screens that surrounded it, a little detail that proved to be tiresome as the bright images were a bit of a distraction – not a deal breaker however!

The musicians of the LA Phil and LA Master Chorale (amongst the best in the world) were on point throughout the night. Works by Johann Strauss, Richard Strauss, Ligeti and Aram Khachaturian with performed with ease. Choosing music to tell his story in a more defined way than most, Kubrick essentially created a classical mix tape to go with his film, and every note and nuance in the score was pulsing with life. “Also sprach Zarathustra’s” timpani’s thundered with ferocity and the dancing strings of “The Blue Danube” perfectly fit the dance-like nature of the spinning space stations on display.

Naturally, the final twenty minutes of the film, also the most talked about by anyone who sees it, were musically insane. Reprises of Ligeti’s “Requiem” and R. Strauss’ Zarathustra sent the audience into a tail spin, forcing us all to question the enigmatic nature of Kubrick’s final reel. What was the full nature of his grand message? On this night at the Hollywood Bowl, that seemed beside the point of the experience; I was seated around people who were great admirers of the film and each had their own theories as to what it meant. What everyone was truly there for, the music, was certainly something to behold. Maestro Lubman commanded the orchestra and choir with great bravura and respect. He used no baton (some say using one to conduct takes away the right hand’s ability to also convey emotions to the musicians) and put his entire body into directing the music. Bernard Herrmann used to say that the best musicians in the world could be found in London and Los Angeles. He wasn’t kidding. And thanks to the combination of images and music, we can for sure say that neither was Kubrick.

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