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Daniel Hope - Escape to Paradise: The Hollywood Album / New Classical Tracks

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Listen to Julie Amacher's New Classical Tracks interview. New Classical Tracks is a Syndicated feature airing Nationally on PRI: Classical 24 & Statewide on Minnesota Public Radio.   READ THE TRANSCRIPT BELOW

Maybe like me, you love to escape by watching a good film. Violinist Daniel Hope believes that on many levels, Hollywood is the quintessence of escape.

After spending 15 years studying and exploring composers who didn't escape the Holocaust, on his latest release, Escape to Paradise, Daniel Hope takes a closer look at those who did. And for many of these composers, Hollywood was their escape and their exile. Daniel says this whole idea hits very close to home. His parents escaped South African apartheid and moved to Great Britain, after his grandparents had escaped Hitler from Berlin and lived in exile in South Africa.

"My maternal grandparents were living in Berlin in the 1930s," Daniel says. "They were kicked out of Berlin because of their Jewish heritage. And my grandfather was a lighting designer, a lighting engineer under Max Reinhardt. And Max Reinhardt offered him the chance to go to Hollywood with him in 1934 where he was going to do the Midsummer Night's Dream at Hollywood Bowl and then make the movie. But he'd been beaten up by Nazis on the streets in Berlin and he said he wanted to go as far as possible away from Germany. America was not far enough, so he chose South Africa.

"So this idea of escape and displacement has always played a strong role in my family, certainly for the last century. And on the album I wanted to, on the one side, show some of this music that these composers had created. But I also wanted to look at the development and creation of the so-called Hollywood sound and try to find out more about it - where it came from, what's left of it today, and to examine the journey it has taken over these 100 or so years.

"It's really amazing to think that there is a whole generation of music that was wiped out by the Nazis, that does not exist, at least officially, in our list of, let's call it '20th century music'. This whole era. And with the Hollywood composers, I find it equally fascinating because they were in this mindset of looking to the future. If you look at Korngold, the kinds of pieces he was writing in the 1920s and '30s, they were extremely ahead of their time. And yet when he arrived in Hollywood, the requirement was this big, symphonic music. So, in a sense he was sent back in his development. And yet Hollywood gave him such a fantastic opportunity at the same time. Not just an opportunity to write music, but also to save many of his relatives. And Korngold said, 'I will compose film music until Hitler is gone.' And the minute Hitler was gone, he sat down and wrote the Violin Concerto."

Erich Korngold's Violin Concerto was not initially well received. Over time, Daniel says it has earned the respect it deserves.

"'More Korn than Gold,' of course, is the famous quote that one of the critics gave as a pan after the performance, which I think is terribly, terribly unfair," Daniel says. "It's also interesting that people say it sounded like film music. I think it's actually the other way around - film music sounds like Korngold. And that's the role of Korngold in Hollywood, as with Max Steiner. I see them as the two great pioneers of the Hollywood sound - [and] let's not forget Waxman. As far as the Violin Concerto is concerned, of course the great Jascha Heifetz is the one who championed it and pioneered it. And yet then it went through a kind of lull for a certain period of time until Itzhak Perlman picked it up and did phenomenal recordings of it.

"The fact that the concerto is dedicated to Alma Mahler, to his old days of Vienna … there is very much this nostalgic feeling in the concerto, and the orchestration from beginning to end is absolutely masterful."

There's a big brass fanfare near the end of the third movement of this concerto, which Daniel says you may recognize for more than one reason. "That's a paraphrase from the film King's Row - a 1948 film, if I recall correctly. And that is almost exactly the same phrase that John Williams uses in Star Wars. There is a direct lineage somehow in this music: John Williams studied with Castelnuovo-Tedesco, another one of these exiled Hollywood composers. He was one of the reasons I had to have him on the CD, quite apart from the fact that I love his music. Schindler's List - this idea of escape which accompanies the album was very intrinsic."

There are also several chamber music arrangements on Escape to Paradise that caught my ear, including a piece titled, "Reminiscences from Franz Waxman's film, Come Back, Little Sheba."

"Waxman's music is so beautiful," Daniel says. "He was a master of styles - almost chameleon-like in styles, where he could adopt any style at a moment's notice. And yet the signature and the way in which he approached it were done with such wonderful technical means. This particular arrangement was one that had already been done - all the other arrangements on the album we actually made specifically. But this is one, Mr. Waxman Jr. told me about and sent to me. And as often with this music, I find, it has an element of nostalgia, an element of looking back."

Escape to Paradise is filled with nostalgia that will no doubt stir memories for you, just as it has for Daniel Hope. "I think being able to immerse oneself in this time - that, for me, is the greatest joy. Whether that was in the recording studio or discovering new pieces or having contact with the second generation. Both the son and daughter of Miklos Rosza wrote to me. I was able to interview people from that time who are still alive. I was granted access to Paramount Studios and their archives and was able to find manuscripts by Korngold that had not seen the light of day in 70, 80 years. I would say it was a combination of things. It was being able to find out more about a time that I find so fascinating. Being a film addict, it was also fantastic for me to go back and watch some of these glorious films in their over-the-top eccentric way in which they were made and yet they have such fantastic emotion and vision.

"And then also a connection to my grandfather, who could quite possibly have gone with Max Reinhardt. He decided not to, but he could have gone to Hollywood. He might have been there. And so that brought me, in a sense, closer to him."