To mark the 95th anniversary of his birth, two special concerts will celebrate the music of legendary composer Elmer Bernstein. Both concerts will be narrated and conducted by Elmer’s son Peter Bernstein and hosted by legendary film director John Landis who worked with Elmer on seven films: Animal House, The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London, Trading Places, Spies Like Us, ¡Three Amigos!, and Oscar.
National Concert Hall (Dublin) June 14, 2017
On Wednesday, June 14th, the RTÉ Concert Orchestra (Dublin, tickets here) will pay the ultimate musical tribute with Elmer Bernstein: 50 Years of Film Music. John Landis hosts this concert that includes Elmer’s most beloved music from films such as The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven, and will feature music that Elmer originally recorded in Dublin including My Left Foot and The Grifters. Peter will share personal stories about his father’s time in Ireland as well as his career in Hollywood.
Royal Albert Hall (London) June 18, 2017
The celebration continues as the program moves to the Royal Albert Hall on Father’s Day, Sunday, June 18th when the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra presents a very special concert celebrating Elmer’s life through stories and music (tickets here). A unique selection from Bernstein’s diverse career will be presented, including greatest hits and a few rare works never before performed in London, including music from the hit An American Werewolf in London. Peter and John will be sharing personal stories and other treasures from the Bernstein archive particular to Elmer’s time in London and his work with the RPO.
“I am particularly excited to be able to present a number of new arrangements and some never-heard-before in concert pieces of music at these concerts,” said Peter. “From the moody horror of An American Werewolf in London, to the driving 50s jazz of Sweet Smell of Success, to The Great Escape we are tying to touch as many areas as we can from an eclectic and unique 54 year career.”
In the history of film music, Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004) is among the iconic and the legendary. With a career that spanned an unparalleled 5 decades, he composed more than 150 original movie scores and nearly 80 for television, creating some of the most recognizable and memorable themes in Hollywood history: the driving jazz of The Man With the Golden Arm, the rousing Western anthem of The Magnificent Seven, and the lyrical and quietly moving music of To Kill a Mockingbird. His impeccable timing was showcased in some of the most beloved comedies, like Airplane, Ghostbusters, and Stripes. The jaunty, thumb-nosing march of The Great Escape has become the anthem for the England National Football Team. Elmer’s impact is still felt, and his presence still missed, by moviemakers and moviegoers alike.
About Elmer Bernstein
“It’s one thing to write music that reinforces a film, underscores it…It’s entirely another to write music that graces a film. That’s what Elmer Bernstein does.” – Martin Scorsese
In the history of film music, Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004) is among the iconic and the legendary. Gifted with extraordinary versatility and boundless energy and enthusiasm, his career spanned an unparalleled 5 decades during which he composed more than 150 original movie scores, nearly 80 for television, and numerous other side-projects and diversions. He created some of the most recognizable and memorable themes in Hollywood history: the driving jazz of The Man With the Golden Arm, the rousing Western anthem of The Magnificent Seven, the lyrical and quietly moving music of To Kill a Mockingbird, and the jaunty march of The Great Escape.
He is also the only person to be nominated for an Academy Award in every decade from the 1950’s to the 2000’s
Born in New York of Ukrainian immigrant parents on April 4, 1922, he was originally destined for a career as a concert pianist. Encouraged by Aaron Copland, he also undertook composition studies with several important teachers including Roger Sessions and Stefan Wolpe.
World War II intervened, and the young pianist/composer, now enlisted in the Army Air Force got his first taste of writing music for drama by working on their radio shows produced to keep the public engaged in the war effort. His post-war break came in 1950 when an Air Force friend, now in Hollywood, hired him to compose the score for a film he had written called Saturday’s Hero. The next year, his music for the Joan Crawford thriller, Sudden Fear, attracted critical attention. However, by 1953, he found himself caught up in the Hollywood Blacklist and was virtually unemployable.
Bernstein wound up composing for ultra-low-budget Sci-Fi movies (Robot Monster and Cat Women Of the Moon), and working as a rehearsal pianist for the ballet sequences in the film version of Oklahoma! Then in 1955 a studio music executive, returning a favor, recommended Bernstein to Cecil B. De Mille, then shooting The Ten Commandments and who needed ancient-sounding music for dances in the film. When Victor Young, who had originally been signed to compose the dramatic score, dropped out due to health reasons, Bernstein got the assignment. DeMille, one of Hollywood’s most ardent anti-communists, also saved Bernstein from the Blacklist (he never was a Communist Party member) by vouching for him to the F.B.I.
During the year and a half that he was working on The Ten Commandments, he also composed the groundbreaking jazz score for The Man With the Golden Arm for director Otto Preminger.
The soundtrack album for Man With the Golden Arm shot to No. 2 on the Billboard album charts in 1956, becoming one of the first hit movie soundtracks. These scores catapulted Bernstein onto the “A” list of Hollywood composers. Golden Arm won him his first of 14 Oscar nominations and launched a series of jazz-oriented Bernstein scores, including Sweet Smell of Success, The Rat Race, TV’s Staccato and Walk on the Wild Side.
The jazz scores, plus the spate of Westerns and dramas that would dominate the composer’s work throughout the ’60s, helped to solidify his reputation as a master of musical Americana.
Meanwhile, Bernstein’s close relationship with producer Alan J. Pakula and director Robert Mulligan led to one of his most memorable scores, and for one of the finest American movies ever made: To Kill a Mockingbird. His understated music, composed for a chamber-sized ensemble rather than the more traditional full orchestra, quickly became a new model for film composers.
Bernstein’s versatility as a composer was again demonstrated when, the very next year, he created another classic with the theme for The Great Escape, a fact-based World War II adventure film about Allied soldiers who plan an elaborate escape from a prisoner-of-war camp.
He won his sole Academy Award in 1968 for Thoroughly Modern Millie.
Throughout his career, Bernstein took on a number of leadership roles, including stints as vice president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, president of the Young Musicians Foundation, president of The Film Music Society and, most significantly, a decade-long tenure as president of the now-defunct Composers and Lyricists Guild of America during the 1970s—where he fought a lengthy, and expensive battle against the studios in an effort to restore composers rights to their music for movies and TV.
Also in the 1970s Bernstein singlehandedly invented the now-flourishing business of releasing old film scores when invested his own money in “Elmer Bernstein’s Film Music Collection,” conducting a series of recordings of classic scores, many of which had never been released on record before.
Bernstein’s career took a surprising turn in 1978, thanks to a call from his son Peter’s old school friend, John Landis. Landis, then 27 and a film director, asked Bernstein to score his raucous college comedy Animal House starring John Belushi.
Almost overnight, Bernstein became Hollywood’s go-to composer for comedies. They included Airplane!, The Blues Brothers (John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd), Stripes (Bill Murray), and Ghostbusters (Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray). For the 1983 comedy, Trading Places, starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, Bernstein created a score based on Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, for which he would receive an Oscar nomination for Best Adaptation Score.
Tiring of comedy work, Bernstein sought to return to his dramatic roots. The Grifters (1990) marked his first work with Martin Scorsese, who was a producer on the con-artist film starring Anjelica Huston, John Cusack and Annette Bening.
For Scorsese as director, Bernstein adapted Bernard Herrmann’s original Cape Fear score for the 1991 remake and provided the musical atmosphere for Bringing Out the Dead. He received a 1993 Oscar nomination for his elegant score for Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence.
In person, Bernstein was warm and approachable, thoughtful and fun-loving; and despite 50 years of being “in the biz,” he was surprisingly enthusiastic about every new assignment. Actor Edward Norton, who hired Bernstein for his first film as a director (Keeping the Faith, 2000), said: “He is one of the most vibrant people I’ve worked with. It’s his very youthful enthusiasm that makes it so invigorating to work with him. He brings the full depth of his classical training and classic Hollywood experience to the table—but he brings with it the energy of a 28-year-old.”
Bernstein’s last major film score was for the critically praised, Todd Haynes-directed drama, Far From Heaven, starring Julianne Moore and Dennis Haysbert. It earned him his final Academy Award nomination in 2002.
About Peter Bernstein
[Written by Peter Bernstein] Obviously my musical experience begins with my father, Elmer Bernstein, the Academy Award winning film composer whose credits include The Man With the Golden Arm, The Ten Commandments, The Magnificent Seven, To Kill a Mockingbird, Ghostbusters, The Age of Innocence and about 200 others. Of course I didn’t care at all when I was young, but it was fun going recording sessions before I was going to school and absorbing it all, watching it happen and hearing all that music. I am told that I learned to conduct symphonies from memory by watching him practice. Fortunately this was before YouTube.
My early musical education was piano lessons. Then 1964 came along and I turned 13. Perfect timing: The Beatles and Bob Dylan (among others) entered my consciousness and the whole world changed overnight. I decided I wanted to be a bass player – mostly because the rock n roll band at school didn’t have one, so that was my ticket in. I learned by playing along to my favorite records all day, every single day after school. Eventually I studied bass with Carol Kaye, a member of the legendary “Wrecking Crew” group of LA studio musicians. About the same time at California Institute of the Arts, I was lucky enough to study with pioneering electronic music composer Morton Subotnick. I cobbled together the rest of my musical education out of a few other colleges and many years of private study and apprenticeships.
I began my professional music career as a rock n’ roll bass player when I was 14 and was in the record business as a touring bass player, band member, session player, arranger and record producer for the next 20 years. It was a wonderful time for rock n roll in Los Angeles which produced Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles and Jackson Browne among others, and later much of the music that was to become known as “New Wave.” Along the way it became clear that there would eventually be more opportunity for me as a composer. I learned orchestration and began working for other composers. I orchestrated all or part of most of my father’s scores from1974-1986, while still pursuing my career in the record business. Orchestration credits from the era include Animal House, Trading Places and Ghostbusters, as well as the scored portions of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.
My career as a composer began in 1981 when a colleague, too busy to score an episode of something, gave it to me to do. The first breakthrough orchestral assignment was The Ewok Adventure for LucasFilm (1985); a major television event in its time, and its sequel (1986). Soon after came my first solo T.V. series, 21 Jump Street (1987-1991). It was a huge success. It was also one of the very first shows recorded in a home studio using mostly synths and samples. Those two projects put me on a road that has continued to this day and now includes roughly 500 TV episodes, films, miniseries, feature films, shorts and various other works.
I have organized and/or conducted concerts of Elmer Bernstein film music throughout the world.
About John Landis
John Landis began his career in the mailroom of 20th Century Fox Studios. A high school dropout, in 1969 18 year-old Landis made his way to Yugoslavia to work as a “gofer” on MGM’s Kelly’s Heroes. Remaining in Europe, Landis found work a an actor, dialogue coach, extra and stunt man in many of the “spaghetti” westerns being made in Spain at that time. At 21 years old he made his debut as a writer-director of the very low budget feature Schlock, an affectionate tribute to monster movies. Clad in an ape suit and make-up designed by the 20 year- old Rick Baker, Landis starred as the “Schlockthropus” or ‘missing link.’ Kentucky Fried Movie, directed by Landis and written by Jerry and David Zucker and Jim Abrahams, was a successful prelude to his next wildly successful comedy, the beloved National Lampoon’s Animal House.
With a record of enduring comedy classics such as The Blues Brothers, Trading Places, Spies Like Us, Three Amigos! and Coming to America, Landis has directed some of the most popular blockbusters of all time. Landis wrote and directed the 1981 horror classic An American Werewolf in London, which so inspired Michael Jackson that he called upon Landis to write and direct the groundbreaking theatrical short Michael Jackson’s Thriller in 1983. In 2009, Thriller was inducted into the Library of Congress National Film Registry, the second film directed by Landis to be honored. The Library of Congress inducted National Lampoon’s Animal House into the National Film Registry in 2001. Landis directed Michael Jackson again for the video for his song Black And White in 1991, which premiered simultaneously in 27 countries for an audience of over 500 million viewers.
Landis was the Executive Producer (and often director) of the television series Dream On, which won HBO its very first Emmy. Other TV series executive produced by Landis include, Weird Science, Sliders and Honey, I Shrunk The Kids. He directed two notable documentaries, Slasher (2004) and the Emmy Award winning Mr. Warmth, The Don Rickles Project (2007). His acclaimed pop culture book, Monsters in the Movies was published by DK in 2011 and republished in paperback in 2016.
John Landis was honored with the Chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French Government in 1985, awarded the Federico Fellini Prize by Rimini Cinema Festival in Italy, and has been was named a George Eastman Scholar by The Eastman House in Rochester, New York. The Edinburgh Film Festival and the Torino Film Festival have held career retrospectives of his work and in 2004 Landis received the Time Machine Career Achievement Award at the Sitges Film Festival in Spain. Landis has received honors from the People’s Choice and NAACP Image Awards. He was honored by the India International Film Festival in Goa and was given the Career Achievement Award at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. Landis has been a juror at many film festivals including Venice, Neuchatel, Gerardmer, and Antalya, Turkey. In 2009, the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris hosted a John Landis career retrospective.
In 2016 Landis was awarded the Master of Fantasy Life Achievement Award from the Nocturna Film Festival in Madrid.
Landis is married to noted costume designer, and costume design historian, Deborah Nadoolman Landis. Professor Landis has an endowed chair at UCLA and is the founding Director of The David C. Copley Center For Costume Design. They have two children; Max Landis, a successful screenwriter and Rachel Landis Rosen, an early childhood educator.