Miklos Rozsa Charms O.F.T. Audience

From Film News, The Ontario Film Institute No. 4 – Fall 1977

Miklos Rozsa, undoubtedly the greatest living composer for the screen, fulfilled a long-standing commitment to visit the Ontario Film Theatre in September. He came to Toronto directly from Italy, where, as during every summer in recent years, he has secluded himself writing music. Not confined to film music, he has composed many works for the concert hall, and is currently working on a new viola concerto for Pinchas Zukerman.

From his Italian home he went frequently to London (now the centre of film music recording) this summer to conduct for a new album of his music for Quo Vadis — the second in a series for Decca/London Records, which has already produced an excellent Ben-Hur. He also conducted his score for a new film on the life of J. Edgar Hoover, and was recently in Munich conferring with his long-time friend and collaborator, Billy Wilder, about the score for the forthcoming film, Fedora. This will be their fifth picture together.

After this busy summer, and a delay of twelve hours on his flight to Toronto, Miklos Rozsa arrived at the Film Theatre quite unperturbed, minus his dress suit. His charm and gracious manners reflect his old-world European heritage and his long career in classical music.

His undimmed enthusiasm for music, films and life, seem to belie all the years which have passed since he began his screen career in pre-war London with Sir Alexander Korda. Their magnificent collaborations on such classics as The Thief of Bagdad, The Four Feathers, and Knight Without Armour, still grip both cinema and TV audiences. After a span of almost forty years devoted mainly to the cinema, Miklos Rozsa is still a major figure in screen composition, being praised for impressive scores such as his recent one for Alain Resnais’ Providence — a far cry from the films of Korda’s time!

His visit made a dream come true for the Ontario Film Institute. During the years in which the OFI organised the Stratford International Film Festival, it was always our ambition to open the festival with a film music concert, preferably conducted by Miklos Rozsa. In this we were supported by the late Bill Wylie, the imaginative general manager, who conceived of such a concert with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra. With the sad demise of the film festival, however, this was not to be.

Working at Stratford at that time was the dedicated press officer, Barbara Van Louven, who subsequently took a similar post with the HPO. When planning began almost a year ago on the present season at Hamilton Place she remembered Stratford's proposed film music concert. She arranged a meeting with Gerald Pratley and Clive Denton of the OFI, which resulted in the invitation to Dr. Rozsa to conduct the opening pair of orchestral concerts, entirely devoted to his own music. His appearance climaxed a week that included three evenings of films and discussions at the OFT in the auditorium of the Science Centre, and a long television interview with Radio-Quebec, which sent its representatives to Toronto to meet him.

There were also receptions in the Cinema Bar at the Science Centre, where among many distinguished guests he met Morris Surdin and Harry Freedman, and was welcomed by Mr. Leonard Reilly, the chairman of the board of trustees of the Ontario Science Centre and by Dr. Tuzo Wilson, its Director-General. At Hamilton Place, the resident conductor, Boris Brott (who has often conducted Rozsa's music in Britain) greeted him along with members of the Miklos Rozsa Society, who had travelled from Vancouver, New York City, Detroit and London, England, to attend this rare event.

Two appreciative audiences, on the Friday and Saturday evenings, listened attentively and applauded with great enthusiasm the program, which adventurously included concert works entirely new to both the orchestra and most of the audience. In spite of limited rehearsal time, it was generally felt that Dr. Rozsa secured splendid playing with his precise beat and sympathetic rapport with the mostly young players.

The films shown in Toronto, chosen after consultation with Dr. Rozsa himself, represented different stages and styles of expression in his approach to film scoring over the years. These were Billy Wilder's Lost Weekend and The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, and Anthony Mann's spectacular El Cid. At the discussions which followed each film showing the composer, who modestly reminded ecstatic audiences that he did not make the films, proved also to be a fluent and witty speaker, bringing to life the experiences — sometimes hilarious, sometimes inspiring — of writing for the screen. With his remarkable memory, he seems to have forgotten nothing about the people he has worked with, the music he wrote, and the circumstances of its creation. Only with the bewildering number of recordings of his scores which his fans brought along for autographing did he seem unaware of the multiplicity of them.

An optimistic ending to the wide-ranging discussions came in his belief that, after ten year's of mostly abysmal, poorly-written noise, present day film music is at last improving. He mentioned in particular the work of John Williams, Elmer Bernstein, John Addison and Jerry Goldsmith (his pupil at USC). He paid eloquent tribute to the late Bernard Herrmann, with whom he had been on friendly terms in London before Herrmann’s untimely death in 1975. He also expressed his pleasure at being part of the great resurgence of classical film music now being made available on recordings.

Miklos Rozsa has returned to his home in Los Angeles to write the score for Fedora and complete his viola concerto. He leaves behind warm memories and the excitement of a remarkable week. With his visit the OFI’s original ambition has become a reality, and with it is laid the foundation for an annual film music concert with the Hamilton Philharomic and a tribute to a leading composer at the Ontario Film Theatre.

For more articles about this event and photos of Rozsa, click here.