It may be the classiest tribute of them all.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra has commissioned a musical composition in honor of P-22, that beloved mountain lion who was euthanized last December and was buried in the Santa Monica mountains by tribal leaders. The intrepid cougar, who made his home in Griffith Park for 10 years, was famed for venturing from the distant Simi Hills and safely crossing both the 101 and 405 freeways — the only one of his kind to complete both of those risky crossings unscathed.
The piece, a five-minute fanfare entitled “Cool Cat,” was composed by Adam Schoenberg, an Emmy-winning and Grammy-nominated composer for film, TV and orchestras across the globe who resides in Eagle Rock. It will premiere on Sept. 12 at the Hollywood Bowl as an opener for LA Phil’s program that features works by Philip Glass and Gustav Holst.
P-22, (P stands for puma, another name for mountain lions, also called cougars) was part of a two-decade long study by the U.S. National Park Service of roughly 50 cougars in the Santa Monica Mountains hemmed in by freeways and threatened with inbreeding and extinction. His father was P-1.
The slick, stealth and at times feisty male lion who would venture outside park boundaries to prey on pet chihuahuas and appeared in close-ups on hundreds of homeowner video feeds, succumbed to internal injuries after being struck by a vehicle.
He reached Hollywood celebrity status for his tenacity and urban survival instincts, qualities shared by his human neighbors, and became the subject of murals, posters, museum exhibits, school art and science projects — and on Feb. 4 his own memorial celebration in front of 5,000 people at the Greek Theatre.
There’s a Congressional effort to put his image on a U.S. postage stamp. The Los Angeles City Council on March 15 passed a resolution to commission a statue for the Tom LaBonge Panorama Trail, a hiking path by the Griffith Observatory, near where P-22 lived his final 10 years roaming for food but never finding a mate. Efforts continue to immortalize him among the stars of Tinsel Town on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
And his likeness could appear at the largest wildlife crossing being built to span the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills. That major achievement, spurred on by the love affair Angelenos had with the wild beast, could lead to a safe crossing for lions and other wildlife often killed on L.A.’s freeways.
As the drive to save the Santa Monica Mountain cougars grew in a city of 3 million people largely because of the story of P-22, so have the number of tributes to the “Hollywood Cat.”
“You cannot over-memorialize this cat,” said Beth Pratt, P-22’s spokesperson and self-described BFF of the famous cat. Her official title is California regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation.
But this nod to P-22’s legacy may be the most special, she said.
“This latest one, we were all like, wow. This has a little upside,” she said on Thursday, April 6. “We’ve already bought tickets and we will all be there.”
Schoenberg, whose other job is teaching music at Occidental College in Eagle Rock, called his piece an upbeat lead-in to the night of classical music. “Cool Cat is a celebration more than anything else, as I was specifically asked to not write an elegy,” he said on April 6.
“It’s very rhythmic, lively and energetic,” said Schoenberg, 42. “The piece starts with strings and then the orchestra comes in with brass. After a huge climax, the piece rebuilds to a bigger climax.” In the middle, it slows down as the music imagines the cat’s amazing journey. “I wanted it to be the exploratory of how P-22 survived in the habitat of Griffith Park,” he explained.
The piece features Afro-Cuban and Japanese-style drums as well as “a fun trumpet solo,” he said. It’s dedicated to his 7-year-old son, Leo, an energetic boy who loves soccer.
A wild mountain lion is not your typical muse. “No one ever asked me before to write a piece of music based on an animal,” he said.
Many musical works have been composed as homages to famous people, but this one is unique, said Meghan Umber, LA Phil’s senior vice president of programming, in an emailed response. “But this is the first piece in honor of a wild cat to my knowledge.”
Schoenberg was asked to write the piece shortly after P-22’s death. He wrote it in three weeks, saying he was inspired by P-22’s story. He sent a digital mockup to the LA Philharmonic so the orchestra could get a feel for what it sounds like.
“I can’t wait to hear it played live at the Hollywood Bowl – the orchestra will add so much energy and spirit to the score,” said Umber.
Source: Orange County Register