Unsolicited Advice

Why the symphony should consider playing scores.

Illustration by Andew Catanzariti

We had a thrilling time at the Honolulu Symphony’s 2009-2010 season opening. A packed house gave the orchestra a standing ovation—at the beginning of the concert, celebrating the symphony’s survival into its 110th year after a dark summer in which this seemed in doubt. The symphony’s new executive director, Majken Mechling, spoke. Then, the audience was enchanted by a performance of Mendellsohn, followed by guest artists Bela Fleck on banjo, Edgar Meyer on double bass and Zakir Hussain on tabla.

The current Halekulani Masterworks season includes such greats as Liszt, Haydn, Beethoven, Bach and Mahler. The Toyota Pops embraces some of the most accessible, successful 20th-century music imaginable, celebrating the Beatles, Glen Campbell and Frank Sinatra. Still, something seems to be missing. There is a world of symphonic music people live with every day, music we’ve adopted as the soundtracks for our own lives, yet we never get to hear it performed live by our symphony. We’re talking about film scores, and more. Composers have been scoring films for nearly a century; isn’t that long enough to be respectable, even, dare we say, classical?

Consider Ennio Morricone (The Mission, plus surprisingly haunting music from The Thing). Bernard Herrmann (Psycho, Vertigo, Cape Fear). John Williams (anything but Star Wars, please). James Horner’s score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan—we’d pay $100 to hear that live and bet there’s at least one musician on the symphony who has always dreamed of performing “Battle in the Mutara Nebula.”

This is not unprecedented. Howard Shore has been touring the world with live performances of his score for The Lord of the Rings films. A world tour of “Star Wars: In Concert” also launched this fall.

Even today’s complex videogames are getting orchestral scores. One of the busiest American composers today is Michael Giacchino. He’s won awards for his scores for Lost, Ratatouille, and The Incredibles. He has also composed scores for 21 videogames; his music for the World War II-themed “Call of Duty” and “Medal of Honor” series of games is as dramatic and as moving as anything John Williams wrote for Saving Private Ryan. Somewhere out there is a 25-year-old gamer who might be lured to the symphony if he knew he could hear Giacchino’s music live.

We’re not saying to bail on Beethoven or ditch Dvorak. We’d just like to hear more of the symphonic music we connect with outside of the Blaisdell Concert Hall.

UPDATE, Nov. 9, 2009: On November 7, the Honolulu Symphony cancelled its November and December concerts and announced that it would be seeking bankruptcy protection. See "Off My Desk" for more.