Bernard Herrman triumphs in Pacific Symphony's 'Vertigo'

Richard Kaufman
OC Register

The Pacific Symphony and conductor Richard Kaufman gave another of their “Symphonic Night at the Movies” programs Thursday night in Segerstrom Concert Hall, this time devoted to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” and the music of Bernard Herrmann. It was an invigorating evening for the Herrmann fan and must have been an ear-opening one for the viewer who never paid much attention Herrmann’s contributions to the films he wrote for.

Through an imperfect process that leaves dialogue and other sounds intact, the music was removed from the film and performed live onstage by the orchestra and Kaufman, who used various devices to keep in sync with the screening. A large screen hung above the orchestra; the sound still on the film came out of banks of loudspeakers harshly and loudly; the orchestra was amplified sensitively.

Herrmann’s “Vertigo” music is about obsession, the bad kind. It spins on rhythmic and harmonic axes that mesmerize the listener and ultimately trap him in the claustrophobic psychological space of the film. It is ingeniously orchestrated, with a pair of bass clarinets ruminating darkly throughout; muted brass snarling menacingly; saturated string harmonies glowing softly; and a vibraphone ringing single notes as if from another world.

Perhaps the most brilliant stroke is the inclusion of the habanera rhythm, introduced by single notes on the harp when Novak goes to see the painting of (the Spanish) Carlotta. The way Herrmann’s music fits with Hitchcock’s visuals in this dialogue-free scene is stunning. Overall, the score is sturdily classical, drawing upon Wagner and the French Wagnerians as well as Ravel, but still very much the composer’s own.

Next up for Kaufman and the orchestral will be J.J. Abrams’ first “Star Trek” at Verizon, music by Michael Giacchino, and then the silent “Ben-Hur” next season, with a new score by Stewart Copeland of Police fame. After that, I vote for more Herrmann/Hitchcock in the form of “North by Northwest.” 
Read the rest of the review here