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In season finale, Anchorage Symphony presents iconic music from great films

  • Author: Colin Roshak
  • Updated: April 4, 2019
  • Published April 4, 2019

Concert orchestras have long had a strong relationship with film. From the days of Charlie Chaplin to present day Hans Zimmer, the movie theater is perhaps the greatest concert hall of all. The Anchorage Symphony Orchestra presents its season finale on Saturday, April 6, with a concert featuring some of the greatest works ever put to film.

The concert begins with Leonard Bernstein’s Oscar-nominated orchestral suite from “On The Waterfront.” One of Bernstein’s most celebrated works for orchestra, the piece features typical Bernstein jazzy riffs, harmonies flush with dissonance and intrigue, and sweeping romantic gestures. The piece begins with a meandering horn solo which then passes to the winds, later accompanied by pizzicato strings. The simple theme repeats, developing slightly with each new iteration before the percussion and blaring brass take over and pull the listener into the drama of the film.

To put it simply, the music is very Lenny -- quirky, flamboyant and genius, much like the iconic composer and conductor himself. Stretching to just under 20 minutes, the suite walks a fine line between pastoral serenade and jazz-infused old school orchestral pop and serves as a rousing start to any concert.

Today, film music is synonymous with one name -- John Williams. The American composer’s scores have been nominated for 51 Academy Awards, 25 Golden Globes, and a staggering 67 Grammy Awards. His music has shaped generations of film scores and audiences. Having composed such memorable scores as the ones for the Harry Potter movies, “Jaws” and “Star Wars,” William’s has become a household name, and is one of the most frequently performed living composers today. His “Hymn to the Fallen” from Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” may not be his most recognizable work, but it’s certainly one of his most compelling. In the piece, Williams uses open harmonies, distant muted brass, rumbling percussion, and accompanying choir to create the hallowed and meditative work.

The final three pieces on the program, including the Williams, all make use of the choirs. In particular, the selections from Mozart’s “Requiem.” The composer lived to be only 35 years old before succumbing to terrible illness. His later years were spent in deteriorating health and debt. Despite his personal woes, Mozart remains a cornerstone of the classical canon for his prolific and prodigious compositional output. His final work, the requiem, is often thought of as his writing of his own eulogy, as it’s depicted in the 1984 drama “Amadeus.” The film features many of Mozart’s most iconic works, including a handful of movements from the Requiem. The Anchorage Symphony will perform three: “Dies irae,” “Confutatis” and “Lacrimosa.”

While a celebrated symphonist, Sergei Prokofiev’s work as a film composer is often forgotten. His breathtaking score for the 1938 historical drama “Alexander Nevsky,” however, cements his place in history as one of the early greats. While the piece caps at about 40 minutes, it is truly epic in scale, and accompanies what is considered to be one of the greatest war films ever made. Prokofiev’s original score was for the film, but he later reorchestrated it for a concert setting. It has since become one of his most enduring works. Epic battles, true love, betrayal and conquest -- all the markers of a true masterpiece -- are all on full display, as are Prokofiev’s signature Russian sound and taste for creative musical storytelling.

Not only is this performance the Anchorage Symphony’s season finale, it also closes out Randall Craig Fleischer’s 20th season as music director. In celebratory collaboration, the symphony will perform alongside the Anchorage Concert Chorus, the Alaska Chamber Singers and West High School’s choir.

“We like to think of ourselves as the axis around which the Anchorage music community spins ... I feel really proud of the position that we have carved for the Anchorage Symphony,” Craig Fleischer said. This sort of collaboration, while not uncommon, is very exciting, as it brings three of Alaska’s premiere musical organizations together for a night of music-making.

Anchorage Symphony Orchestra’s finale concert will be 8 p.m. Saturday, April 6, at the Alaska Center for the Performing arts.