Grammy-nominated film composer James Newton Howard took his talents from Tinseltown to the opulent confines of the Knight Concert Hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center this past Friday.
Then he wasted no time before engulfing the room in movie magic.
It was his first onstage appearance as creative director of the University of Miami's Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra.
The opening piece was from Snow White and the Huntsman. It came with a spoiler-ridden, ten-minute set of clips from the film that actually might be the best way to watch the movie — or any movie, in fact.
The concert was better than most nights at the movies. all the drama, emotional upheavals, unbridled action, and riveting moments were present — minus the salty popcorn and sticky floors.
Pieces from The Hunger Games, Maleficent, and Water for Elephants highlighted Howard's knack for writing music that elicits a sense of awe and wonder. Regarding The Hunger Games, Howard revealed he originally turned down the project — then his 15-year-old son persuaded him to take the job.
Thank God for well-read teenagers.
The Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra and the chorus magnificently brought Howard's scores to life, and in the case of The Hunger Games, re-created every narrow escape and harrowing pitfall.
Throughout the evening, Howard took time to share anecdotes about the movies he’s worked on —for example, Pretty Woman was originally titled 3,000, a reference to the price a high-end prostitute would charge a john. He also took the audience through his creative process. After the intermission, the concert became more than just a show and turned into a learning experience.
“This is the educational part,” Howard half-joked before giving a firsthand account of how he scored Peter Jackson’s King Kong. He played the climax of the film where King Kong climbs the Empire State Building sans music. As the audience watched the clip, Howard explained he wanted to subtly make the music feel like it was rising with the ape. The second time the clip played, the orchestra kicked into full gear and demonstrated the surge toward the pivotal moment he achieved with the score.
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After a chilling yet heartbreaking number from The Sixth Sense, Howard brought out one of his closest friends and frequent collaborator, M. Night Shyamalan. They fawned over each other, showing the world’s classiest bro-mance.
The final three pieces — “The Hand of Fate” from Signs (dedicated to Shyamalan who remained in the audience), “The Hanging Tree” from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, and the Suite from Maleficent — were displays of something Shyamalan mentioned during their onstage conversation. Howard’s main problem is that he’s too talented, the director said. He comes up with a flurry of ideas with little regard for discipline, and that’s where Shyamalan has to come in and remind him not to “use the entire Crayola box.”
Though this weekend's concert was brilliant, what’s more exciting is how he’ll shape the students of the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra.