February 14, 2009
When I was a child, I used to love to watch reruns of Mission: Impossible with my family. This television series centered around the international adventures of the IMF (Impossible Missions Force), a group of skilled spies who worked independent of government agencies to complete difficult assignments, in other words: impossible missions. We were fans of the stories, which often involved fun spy gadgets, various foreign accents, and complex disguises, but we were also great fans of the opening theme. It is one of the most famous TV show theme songs, and it’s by Lalo Schifrin. The theme owes a couple of things to jazz, like its driving rhythm and its unusual 5/4 meter (five beats per measure).
Lalo Schifrin was born in Argentina in the 1930s. He grew up around music. His father, Luis, played violin for the Teatro Colón for thirty years. Early in his life, Lalo showed an aptitude for music, and was lucky enough to study with some great teachers including Enrique Barenboim (father of Daniel), Andreas Karalis, and Juan-Carlos Paz. In 1952, Schifrin was accepted by the Paris Conservatoire. There he played and studied with Olivier Messiaen and Charles Koechlin (who had studied with Ravel). Schifrin studied traditional western music by day and played jazz with people like fellow Argentine Astor Piazzolla by night. These musical influences, as well as his Argentine background, would become part of the unique compositional voice that Schifrin would develop over time.
Schifrin was quite taken with jazz, and continued to play even after he returned to Argentina. His jazz orchestra had a gig playing for a weekly TV show in Buenos Aires. He moved to New York a few years later when Dizzy Gillespie offered Schifrin the opportunity to play piano in his jazz quintet. By the 1960s, Schifrin had signed a contract with MGM and moved to Hollywood.
Besides the Mission: Impossible theme song, Schifrin wrote film scores like those for Cool Hand Luke, Bullitt, Dirty Harry, and Enter the Dragon. He also wrote other TV theme songs like the theme from the Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Starsky and Hutch. Some of his most recent film projects include the scores from the three Rush Hour movies (with Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker). In 1998, Schifrin composed the score to a film whose musical material was close to his heart, a Spanish and Argentine production called, Tango.
Tango is dance and musical style that developed in Argentina, and it is a musical language that Schifrin became fluent in when he played with Piazzolla in Paris. Since then, Schifrin has explored the Tango in his musical compositions, and has also investigated the fusion of tango and jazz elements in his style. LACO is going to play a new piece by Schifrin in its 2/21 concert, a work called Tangos Concertantes. It features a prominent role for the solo violin, Schifrin’s father’s instrument. This piece is a way for the composer to look back, but also an opportunity to see how far his style has come. After all, Schifrin has come a long way since the Mission: Impossible theme song, but perhaps his journey hasn’t been a straight line in one direction. Perhaps Tango Concertantes is allowing Lalo Schifrin to come full circle.
From now until the end of March, LACO is collecting food for the Orchestras Feeding America National Food Drive. Please help make this food drive a success by bringing a contribution of non-perishable foods including dry soup, rice, powdered/canned milk, etc. to this concert. The food drive cannot accept items in glass jars or bottles, unlabled or dented cans, any open or resealed packaging, perishable foods, homemade foods, expired products, monetary donations or non-food items. Food donation boxes will be available in the theatre lobby at the Alex Theatre and Royce Hall.