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A Liz Taylor dead ringer greeted concert-goers this weekend at the Houston Symphony's Red Carpet Oscar Party, while inside, the Jones Hall stage produced its own celebrity look-alike. Aftermath swears conductor Michael Krajewski looks (and sounds) a lot like Larry David, but our companion likened him to Bob Balaban. Part of that likeness stemmed from Krajewski's wry joking with the audience as he introduced Oscar-nominated Hollywood scores, explaining the plots of films from Lawrence of Arabia to Ben-Hur. During the first few songs, Aftermath was distracted by the large screens on both sides of the hall. It almost felt as though they diluted the symphony-going experience. But by the end we were enjoying the close-ups of soloists, especially of the extremely animated first-chair bassist. In the middle of a performance from Up's soundtrack, a doll house suspended by balloons floated across the background behind the performers. Later, Krajewski returned to the stage for an encore consisting of music from the Oscar-nominated film Nine, which featured a performance of what he referred to as a "trio of tremendous tambourines."
Aftermath was surprised there was no André Previn on the bill (they had Gigi, My Fair Lady, Porgy and Bess and Irma La Douce to choose from) but the symphony made up for it by including works from two of our favorite composers, Henry Mancini and Ennio Morricone, including the themes from Cinema Paradiso and "Gabriel's Oboe" from The Mission, both of which were Mancini/Morricone collaborations. Sometimes it's difficult to appreciate a film score in its own right, especially when it's paired with moving images and played under dialogue. Take Chariots of Fire, that overplayed slow-motion cliché. But now imagine hearing it in the sweeping Jones Hall, with flute and piano accompaniment instead of the original synthesizer, punctuated by booming symbols and drums. Some of this music just feels so BIG, and it's easy to see how the Houston Symphony earns accolades from The New York Times with its evocative performances. Just to illustrate: Aftermath was especially moved by the end credits score from 2009's Star Trek, a song she'd never heard before from a movie she'd never seen. So, no residual emotional attachment there, just a pure experience of listing to well-composed music in what David Byrne called the best performance hall he's ever played in.. The Oscars will be televised March 7 on ABC.