By Joseph E. Morgan
In Nashville, fans of film composers are in the middle of a season of plenty. Blockbuster movie composer Hans Zimmer just brought his sensational tour through in July and wowed audiences at the Ascend Amphitheater. John Williams will be visiting the Nashville Symphony for the first time in September to conduct a number of scores from his long career. However, perhaps the most interesting film composer concert of the season was given by Intersection over the weekend at the Italian Lights Festival. There they performed a collection of works, for film and absolute, by renowned Italian film composer Ennio Morricone, a composer of over 400 film scores and perhaps known best for his scores to Spaghetti Westerns and Cinema Paradiso.
Performed under a beautiful summer night sky at the Bicentennial Capitol Mall, the concert’s strong point was its intimacy, built entirely from works written or arranged as chamber pieces. Surprisingly, the concert opened with one of Morricone’s absolute works, his Vivo, per trio d’archi (2001) which profoundly displayed the composer’s penchant for Italian Modernism. Indeed Morricone was a member of what was arguably the first experimental composer’s collective, the Nuova Consonanza. The opening piece’s ever forward pressing rhythmic cells and manic repetition resided a universe away from his more accessible film music. The next piece, A. L. P. 1928 per quartetto d’archi (1995) was also quite modernist, with textures reminiscent of Ruth Crawford Seeger’s String Quartet 1931.
The concert then shifted to the other side of Morricone with the Il Sogno di un Uomo Ridicolo (1981), taken from a soundtrack to Bernardo Bertolucci’s Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man. The change in sound and aesthetic from the previous two pieces was striking. Morricone had composed his score before Bertolucci’s film, adopting melodies from Northern Italy. The result is a nostalgic and markedly programmatic sound that is characteristic of much of his film soundtrack works. Apart from the virtuosic solo essay on cello color, Come un’onda (2005), played with remarkable abandon by Michael Samis, the rest of the evening was made up of some of Morricone’s most nostalgic works, including “Gabriel’s Theme” from The Mission (1986), “Deborah’s Theme” from Once Upon a Time in American (1984) and his famous Cinema Paradiso (1988).
As with outdoor concerts, there were occasional and unavoidable distractions, and the amplified sound lacked some of the subtlety of a purely acoustic performance, but these things are trivial; the concert was a remarkable success. Not just because all pieces were performed with the taste and excellence in musicianship that we’ve come to expect from Intersection, but also because the concert didn’t merely perform Morricone’s greatest hits and instead revealed another, modernist side of the famous Italian composer, one worth further investigation and consideration in the music city.