Monday, November 16, 2015

Backing Music

Saturday night, I had an outstanding evening at the symphony. And an outstanding night at the movies. The Colorado Symphony Orchestra put on a special screening of the movie Back to the Future. Like their Psycho screening from just a few weeks ago, they presented a special print of the movie with the orchestral soundtrack removed; the symphony then performed live all the music for the film.

I've previously gone on at length about how Back to the Future is my favorite film, and won't reiterate the many reasons why here. In the past couple of months, it's been made clear that many people share my affection. With the 30th anniversary of the original, and the celebration of October 21, 2015 (the future date to which they traveled in Back to the Future Part II), people all over have been cheering this great movie.

This symphony screening of Back to the Future is actually part of that anniversary celebration. Symphonies all over the world have been performing to this newly commissioned print all year long. The composer of the score, Alan Silvestri, worked personally on this project, adding an additional 15 minutes of music to be performed. This new material plays mostly over the opening portion of the film, which in the original didn't have a single note from the symphony until the reveal of the DeLorean in the mall parking lot. (A choice which gave a lot of extra punch once the music finally arrived.) With this added material, Silvestri also took the opportunity to weave in brief samples of the themes he created for Back to the Future Part III, just to give audiences a bit more for their experience.

But it was a thrill for me in any case. My favorite movie, one of my favorite movie scores, presented in this unique manner. Seeing the score instead of just hearing it made me appreciate it on even more levels. It made me realize what a real showcase this music is for the woodwinds section, which is seldom the star of modern movie scores; a great deal of Back to the Future's melodies are carried on flute, oboe, and clarinet.

Even the more commonly featured instruments aren't used commonly. The big brass fanfare, which most composers would always place on the trumpets, involves the french horns just as much. And as for those trumpet players, they're popping mutes in and out of their instruments every minute or two (the trombone players too), as Silvestri really toys with how a subtle change can twist an emotion a certain way. There are even a few odd accents in the score I'd never identified before, such as a percussionist playing a cymbal's edge using a violin bow.

These film-and-orchestra shows have been a real treat, and I can't recommend them highly enough if you're here in Denver (or if the local symphony in your city is doing them too). Back to the Future may have been a high water mark for me, but I still plan on attending more when the right movie comes along.

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