A grand night for singing

Renowned film composer Michel Legrand gives a special concert with the JSO to celebrate its 75th anniversary.

Michel Legrand (photo credit: Courtesy)
Michel Legrand
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘Ever since I was a boy, my ambition has been to live completely surrounded by music. My dream is not to miss out on anything. That’s why I’ve never settled on one musical discipline. I love playing, conducting, singing and writing, and in all styles. So I turn my hand to everything – not just a bit of everything. Quite the opposite. I do all these activities at once, seriously, sincerely and with deep commitment.”
These words belong to Michel Legrand, a legendary composer, pianist, arranger, conductor, who is coming to Israel to lead the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in a special concert on Saturday night as a part of the JSO’s 75th anniversary celebrations.
Legrand, who is regarded as one of the world’s leading film composers, will conduct a program that features his own pieces, among them music he composed to such popular films as The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Yentl and The Three Musketeers.
World-renowned harpist Catherine Michel and Israeli soprano Keren Hadar participate in the concert as well.
Born in 1932 into a musical family, Legrand entered the Paris Conservatory at the age of 10. He recalls that “Until then, my childhood had been flat and unhappy and revolved around an old piano, and I was very lonely. Suddenly, I discovered a world that belonged to me, people who spoke my language.”
Legrand graduated from the conservatory with top honors in harmony, piano, fugue and counterpoint.
He immediately gravitated toward the world of song, working as an accompanist musical director to famous French singer Maurice Chevalier, with whom he traveled on international tours.
In the 1950s, Legrand also started composing for some of the artists he was accompanying. He wrote his first film score in 1955 and, four years later, with the advent of the French New Wave, he became one of the architects of the revival of French cinema. He began collaborating with film directors Jean-Luc Godard, Agnès Varda, François Reichenbach and Jacques Demy.
After the success of the film The Thomas Crown Affair and his song “The Windmills of Your Mind,” Legrand decided to divide his time between Paris and Hollywood. Legrand is the only European composer with a filmography that includes names such as Orson Welles, Marcel Carné, Clint Eastwood, Norman Jewison, Louis Malle, Andrzej Wajda, Richard Lester and Claude Lelouch. Nonetheless, his prestigious awards in the field of screen music (three Oscars) have had no impact on his creativity.
“An Oscar,” he asserts, “is a gold star, a piece of flattery, the sweet taste of success; but deep down, it doesn’t make you any better or worse as a composer.”
A multifaceted artist, Legrand has also been attracted to the world of jazz, collaborating with such artists as Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Phil Woods and Stéphane Grapelli, as well as the big names in classical music such as Kiri Te Kanawa, Jessye Norman, Maurice André and the so-called easy listening of Yves Montand, Barbra Streisand and Charles Aznavour. He has also become a film producer. In fact, the 80-year-old Legrand has managed to live several lives within one lifetime.
The Michel Legrand concert takes place on November 3 at 8:30 p.m. at the Jerusalem Theater.