Film composer David Newman leads a deep dive into film scoring at Tanglewood


LENOX — When film composer-conductor David Newman first appeared at Tanglewood in 2013 to lead the Boston Symphony in a film-to-music screening of the 1961 Oscar-winning classic "West Side Story" — a performance repeated last summer as part of the Leonard Bernstein centennial tribute — it was the beginning of a fruitful, nearly annual collaboration that has yielded three major appearances this summer.

Newman, a son of the renowned Hollywood composer Alfred Newman ("Wuthering Heights," "All About Eve," "Captain From Castille"), has also forged a close relationship with John Williams, sharing the podium with him or substituting on several Film Night events over the past seven years. David Newman is credited with 110 film scores, notably "Ice Age," "War of the Roses," "Hoffa," "Tarzan" and "Anastasia," an Academy Award nominee.

Williams has recalled how Alfred, "one of the most admired composers, a hero to me," had taken him under his wing as a fledgling composer in Hollywood back in the 1950s.

With the BSO's Tanglewood residency entering its final two weekends, film music will be prominent, beginning this Friday with a Shed screening of "Star Wars: A New Hope," led by Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart.

The new Tanglewood Learning Institute's fourth "immersion" weekend (Aug. 23-25) takes a deep dive into the art of cinematic scoring. Williams and Newman will present a 90-minute discussion "of their shared passion and distinguished careers," according to a BSO announcement, at 1 p.m. on Aug. 23, in the Linde Center's 250-seat Studio E.

The next evening, Newman (who conducted the Boston Pops at Tanglewood on July 7 with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter in "Across the Stars: Music of John Williams") will lead the annual Film Night, with Williams as host-narrator.

Newman told The Eagle via e-mail on Monday that details on both upcoming programs are still under discussion. Meanwhile, he's conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl in two programs this week, "America in Space," and "Jurassic Park in Concert."

He is attached to Steven Spielberg's greatly anticipated adaptation of "West Side Story," now filming with a screenplay by Tony Kushner.

Newman explained that he is barred from discussing the project, but online sources report he has signed on to conduct, arrange and compose the underscore as well as adapting Bernstein's music for the remake, slated for release next year by 20th Century Fox. In 1933, Alfred Newman composed the Fox Fanfare as the opening for nearly all of the studio's films.

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A Los Angeles native, David is classically trained as a violinist and pianist, with degrees from the University of Southern California in orchestral conducting and violin. Now 65, his Hollywood career began as a violinist in studio orchestras in his 20s, where he played on the soundtracks for "E.T.," the original "Star Trek" and others.

A self-described opera buff, he has called film scoring "a bizarre art form."

"Good artists that make movies do what's right for the movie, not necessarily what they want to do," he pointed out in a YouTube interview for BMI Music last January. "My primary goal is to make the orchestra understand that every single thing they're doing is part of the story."

Concert music, Newman explained, "can be very complicated, and film music generally can't be that complicated. There's all this stuff going on under the surface, but fundamentally, you are an actor in a movie."

As a bearer of the torch, he traced a timeline of 20th century luminaries including his father, Max Steiner, Alex North, Jerry Goldsmith, Henry Mancini and, of course, John Williams, along with more recent notables such as his brother, Thomas Newman, Danny Elfman, Alan Silvestri and Hans Zimmer.

As live film-to-music becomes a programming staple for many orchestras, Newman has developed ties with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra (where he premiered "Home Alone") and the New York Philharmonic, where he'll conduct screenings of "Singin' in the Rain" and "Mary Poppins" next spring.

"One of the great legacies of film music is that it can be unabashedly sentimental, without sentimentality being a pejorative, which it is now," he noted.

For a film score to push through dialogue and sound effects, "everything needs to be out front, even if it's soft, by making everything you do have meaning."

Clarence Fanto can be reached at, on Twitter@BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551


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