Williams, Wine and Bernstein.
by John Axelrod ©2017
Most conductors have performed a variety of film music as it is now part of the orchestral repertoire
, both for its popularity with audiences and the improved quality of orchestration and material. Film music is now programmed along with symphonies and oratorios, and there are now film music orchestras touring the world to full halls. I might add that yours truly recently conducted Star Wars in Concert in what was declared one of the most sold concerts in the history of the Concertgebouw! Admittedly, I never imagined I would walk again down those famous stairs dressed as Darth Vader, but I did, and I had the time of my life.
As the Music Director of Hollywood Vienna from 2009-2011, I became immersed in the world of film music and its composers. It allowed me to have a larger perspective and appreciation for the fine craft that is film music, starting with what I call the 3rd school of Viennese composition; that is, Steiner, Korngold and Rosza. Austro-Hungarian and Germanic roots and references to Strauss, Zemlinsky and Wagner created the Hollywood Sound. It is no small wonder then that John Williams, arguably the greatest film composer in history, found his source material in this 3rd Viennese school. Comparing Korngold’s Kings Row with the main theme of Star Wars is the sonic equivalent of seeing identical twins.
As Star Wars continues its 40 year legacy with yet another released film, the Last Jedi, one cannot ignore the indelible impact this music has made. The music of Star Wars has been performed by amateurs to professionals around the world. Star Wars has probably done more to inspire film music to be programmed than any other piece of music.
With such an overwhelming influence, the need to pair a wine with Star Wars is inevitable. Just what would one drink while watching the movie or blasting the soundtrack from stereophonic speakers?
It is a pity one cannot try some of the many wines actually referred to in Star Wars. Wine in Star Wars? Yes. And who would you expect to be the wino of the world of Star Wars’s characters? Han Solo, naturally, and his sidekick, Chewbacca. Han famously says, ““Ah, bless you, Chewie. Bless you for not drinking it all.”
Corellia is the capital planet of the five planet Corellian system and a member of the core worlds of the galaxy. It is home to Han Solo, as well as Wedge Antilles, one of the best X-Wing Fighter pilots in the galaxy, and, of course, Corellian wine. The geography of Corellia is that of a temperate climate with rolling hills, spotted by snowcapped mountain ranges and thick forests, with a plethora of farming communities.
If we take this geography and apply it to our world, we can see what type of wine Corellian vintners would probably produce. Imagine the wines of Southern France or California from the inky dark Malbecsin the Cahors region to the the rolling temperate hills of the Rhone valley, where Grenache and Syrah red blends reign supreme to the California sun drenched Zinfandel. As we go north into the mountainous regions of Corellia, the foothills would probably have bright wines in the vein of Burgundian Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Corellia is also known for deep amber hued brandy that would probably be similar to Armagnac.
Are there other wines worth mentioning found in this galaxy far, far away? Alderaanian is a wine that comes from the “Shining Star” planet Alderaan, home to the infant Princess Leia. It was apparently the most expensive and the favorite of the Dark Lords Count Dooku as well as Senator Palpatine.
The geography of this once royal planet was known throughout the galaxy, dominated by mountain ranges that were intertwined with large oceans and wild grasslands. Applying this geography to our own world, the wines would probably be very similar to the wine regions of the Alps. White wines would mimic those of Trentino Alto Adige such as the steely fragrant Terlaner and the off dry leechee tinge of Gewürtztraminer and even the Riselings of the Rheinhessen region in Germany.
Closer to home, we might consider wines that parallel those found from these interstellar sources. On Terra Firma (Earth), many film directors and composers themselves have invested in their own oenophile passions. The wine world knows well the successful wines produced by Francis Ford Coppola, the Godfather of The Godfather. Coppola’s Wineries have received many awards and continue to set a high standard for quality wine production in California. His Director’s Cut Cinema Premiere Reserve Red pays homage to the history of filmmaking and is among the best of his wines and deserves a place in any collector’s cantina. Firm and full, velvety in texture, and with just the right amount of tannin to elevate the opulent fruit character, fragrant notes of blackberries, juicy pomegranate, black pepper, and cloves are followed by long-lived flavors of cherries, cassis, star anise, and toasted woods—all of which crescendo like the end of a film score on the finish. One could imagine Coppola’s wines similar to the deep reds of the planet Corellia. Morricone and Rota made the music unforgettable, but it is Coppola who defines the legacy and compliments his vision of film via his wines.
Alan Silvestri is an award winning film composer who has invested in wines. The Silvestri family has embarked on a new California venture as the founders of Silvestri Vineyards. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are made in limited production. Alderaan might be a fair example of the terrain best fitted to produce this Chardonnay. The Silvestri wines show that lovingly cultivated fruit has a music all its own. “There’s something about the elemental side of winemaking that appeals to me,” Silvestri says. “Both music making and wine making involve the blending of art and science. Just as each note brings it own voice to the melody, each vine brings it’s own unique personality to the wine.” While John Williams may dominate the cosmic world, Alan Silvestri has made his own contributions to furturism, perhaps most notably with the soundtrack of Back to the Future.
However, despite the greatness of Star Wars, the Godfather and Back to the Future, my vote for best soundtrack goes to that of my teacher, particularly as we embark on the Centennial of Leonard Bernstein.
By any measure, On the Waterfront is among the all-time great motion pictures. This Marlon Brando starring story about a boxer involved in organized crime among dock workers won eight 1954 Academy Awards®, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. It is No. 8 on the American Film Institute’s top-100 list. And it contains the only original film score composed by Leonard Bernstein, also nominated for best score.
Leonard Bernstein’s music for On the Waterfront was integral to the film’s creative and commercial success, capturing the energy of the locale, the passion of young lovers, the danger of the moment, and the ultimate victory of one man over a corrupt system. It was, in no small terms, a knockout.
My wine to go with the music? The Boxer, by the award winning Australian producer: Mollydooker. Already a favorite among collectors, myself included, for the Velvet Glove and Carnival of Love, the Boxer delivers on every level.
This powerful Shiraz has much personality with notes of spiced plums, blackberry jam and cherry all at the fore and finishes with chocolate covered coffee beans, licorice and vanilla. Full bodied at 15% integrated alcohol, yet elegant with restrained tannins, resulting in a packed punch without any swelling. Like a boxer, its density is relentless and its intense taste will not stop. The movie is mostly known for Brando’s famous line: “I coulda been a contender.” Bernstein’s music makes its case for 2018. And the Boxer is the winner in this oenological battle, and could even be a contender as the favorite of that scoundrel Han Solo. Now, I wonder if Mollydooker can ship to Corellia?
Purchase via Captain Cork in Germany or direct via the winery: