Saturday, October 31, 2015

Forward into the past with "Back to the Future" at the St. Louis Symphony

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It's another movie weekend at Powell Hall as the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra plays the score of the 1985 science fantasy film "Back to the Future" to accompany a complete showing of the movie. It is, as they say, fun for the whole family (all three generations in my party had a good time) and also a reminder of how much film music has changed in three decades.

Specifically, it's a reminder that most moves have a lot more music these days. Composer Alan Silvestri has added an additional 20 minutes of music for this version, but even this is a refreshing reminder that there was a time when not every single minute of a commercial film had to be underscored. Hearing large blocks of unaccompanied dialog now seems almost retro, and the score that much more impact when it kicks in.

Alan Silvestri
Not that it needs that much more impact, of course. Silvestri's music has that brass and percussion-heavy sound that seems to have become the norm for fantasy and adventure films. It's also, to my ears, highly derivative of the big orchestral scores of John Williams. That's not necessarily a knock on Silvestri, though. Williams brought that big Hollywood sound back almost single-handedly with his "Star Wars" scores and by the mid-eighties it was casting a long acoustic shadow that you can hear clearly in the big, heroic main theme here.

Resident Conductor Steven Jarvi demonstrates once again that he's a dab hand at the specialized type of music direction required for these projects and the orchestra plays beautifully. Conducting for a live showing of a movie is, as I have noted before, a fairly specialized skill. It’s probably not part of the basic training of most classically educated conductors. Nevertheless Mr. Jarvi, aided by an audio click track and a podium-mounted screen, did an excellent job and the musicians sounded as fine as always.

As an added bonus, BTF co-creator Bob Gale was on hand to introduce the event Friday night. Mr. Gale, it turns out, was a St. Louis native (University City High School, class of '69), a fact that went down very well with the opening night crowd, as did his revelation that the idea for the movie sprang from a visit to his old hometown. Go figure.

St. Louis actor Jeffrey M. Wright as
Marty McFly at Powell Hall
There are two more showings of "Back to the Future" on Saturday and Sunday, October 31 and November 1, at 2 p.m. If you're looking for a Halloween weekend treat that adults can enjoy as much as kids, give this serious consideration. The movie itself holds up remarkably well after all these years and the Mahler-sized live orchestra adds considerable punch.

Tickets for these film events at Powell tend to go fast (the house was packed Friday night), so point your DeLorean to the symphony web site and enjoy before (you should pardon the expression) time runs out. Note that snacks and drinks are allowed in the hall for movie nights—a good thing considering how long the lines at the Powell Hall bars can be for these big events.

Next at Powel Hall: Nicholas McGegan conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, with piano soloist Orli Shaham, in an all-Mozart program on Friday at 10:30 a.m. and Saturday at 8 p.m., November 6 and 7. Powell Symphony Hall is at 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information:

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