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January 15, 2009
American Youth Symphony Gala Honors Alan Silvestri
Film music fills L.A. Music Center with classical music patrons

LOS ANGELES—Composer Alan Silvestri conducted the American Youth Symphony in suites from many of his most popular film scores at a concert attended by an estimated 1,500 Monday night, Jan. 12, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

The Oscar-nominated, Grammy-winning composer was met with a lengthy standing ovation after the 75-minute event, which included not only music from eight films but commentary and anecdotes about the scores and the process of creating music for film.

The occasion was the 2009 benefit gala for the AYS, one of the nation's leading ensembles of young, pre-professional, musicians. Patrons and donors were treated to dinner and entertained by baritone Rod Gilfry after the concert.

The concert began with a crowd-pleaser: An eight-minute suite from the Back to the Future trilogy (1985, 1989, 1990) that featured the big Western theme from the third film and an extended arrangement of the main theme from the first film.

Silvestri spoke of the "tremendous discipline" it takes to be a professional musician, and likened the AYS to a garden that needs support and nurturing, the outcome being "food for our souls" in the music that will result. AYS alumni can be found in dozens of orchestras around the country, including the Chicago and Detroit Symphonies and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

Music from What Lies Beneath (2000) followed, with the orchestra negotating the shifting dynamics of Silvestri's Bernard Herrmann-esque score with aplomb. Five minutes of MouseHunt (1997) – the only film on the program that was not directed by Robert Zemeckis – was next, the music a fun and lighthearted "scherzo for mischievous mouse."

Silvestri's 10-minute suite from Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) was everything the film itself offered: fun, lively, even raucous, with the manic cartoon music offset by the composer's sexy saxophone for Jessica Rabbit and jazzy, film-noir-style theme for detective Eddie Valiant. Augmenting the AYS orchestra were jazz soloists Randy Waldman on piano, Steve Schaeffer on drums, Michael Valerio on bass and Matthew Ennis on sax.

A seven-minute suite from Beowulf (2007), the most recent score represented, was appropriately dramatic and powerful, with special emphasis on the "Hero Comes Home" theme that received a World Soundtrack Award nomination.

Silvestri introduced music from Cast Away (2000) with an anecdote about Zemeckis' decision-making process, which ultimately led to almost no music in the movie. He spoke of the difficulty of "finding the musical voice" for the film, which featured Tom Hanks as a castaway on a Pacific island. His gentle, melancholy music – which won a Grammy – was played by the orchestra's strings, woodwinds and piano. Silvestri won another Grammy for the song "Believe" from Polar Express (2004), and it was the centerpiece of a seven-minute suite from the film score. The Christmas cheer in this score was palpable.

The composer concluded the concert with a nine-minute overture of his Oscar-nominated music for Forrest Gump (1994). Like Back to the Future, this was accompanied by film clips (assembled by producer David Michaels). All of Silvestri's key themes were included: the famous "feather theme," music for Forrest's childhood, his relationship with Jenny and Forrest's "running theme."

The next AYS concert will be at 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 1, at UCLA's Royce Hall. Alexander Treger will conduct music of Kodaly, Barber and Mendelssohn, with soprano Diana Newman performing. Admission is free.

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