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Top Five Film Scores that Thrive as Concert Works

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It takes a certain skill to compose a great film score. It takes an even more precise one to compose a great score that can be appreciated outside of the movie theater and in a concert hall. On the eve of the 83rd Academy Awards, here are the top five scores that hold up on their own.

1. It’s difficult to steal the thunder to a filmmaker as illustrious as Sergei Eisenstein, but if anyone came close, it was Sergei Prokofiev with his great score for the Eisenstein film, "Alexander Nevsky." The genius of both filmmaker and composer come together in the epic Battle on the Ice, where Eisenstein shows Nevsky’s Russian forces gathering to defend against the oncoming invaders from the west, as Prokofiev’s music builds the mounting tension.

2. This list would be incomplete without a nod to the master the action-adventure soundtrack, John Williams. His suites from movies such as "Superman" and the "Indiana Jones" trilogy are staples on Pops concerts. But his most beloved work comes from "Star Wars," which has appeared everywhere from marching band performances to Volkswagen ads, and continues to grace concert schedules.

3. "Psycho" wouldn’t be "Psycho" without it’s equally creepy and unsettling Bernard Herrmann score. NPR called it one of the 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century. On the occasion of the film's 50th anniversary, no fewer than four American orchestras (Chicago, Dallas, Minnesota and St. Louis gave live performances of the score alongside a screening of the Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece).   

4. Though Leonard Bernstein’s music appears in several movies, "On the Waterfront" remains his only film score. Some critics thought the brassy and sometimes dissonant music too assertive in parts of the movie. Quickly, it became appreciated for its own merit. A year after the film’s release, he turned the score into a symphonic suite that Bernstein biographer Humphrey Burton compared to a 1950s New York interpretation of "Romeo and Juliet."

5. John Corigliano’s Academy Award-winning score for "The Red Violin" also provided a source for a concert piece: a Concerto for Violin and Orchestra: The Red Violin. The film, which tells the story of a 17th century violin stained crimson with the blood of the maker’s dead wife, proved to be great inspiration for a virtuoso violin showpiece. Joshua Bell, who played solo violin on the soundtrack recording, later toured with the paired down 20-minute concerto.

Weigh in: What film scores would you enjoy hearing in the concert hall? Leave a comment below.