What do Heathers, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Tommy Boy, Ice Age and The Sandlot all have in common? Besides being hit movies, they all feature the music of composer David Newman. With scoring credits for over 100 films, David is one of the top composers in the film world more than 30 years after he scored the Frankenweenie short. Yet given his conducting work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, New Japan Philharmonic and the American Symphony, he is also a prolific and well-regarded conductor.
Appearing at Radio City Music Hall on October 15th and 16th, the Back To The Future In Concert event is pretty much what it sounds like. At the famed New York City venue, the first movie of the Back To The Future trilogy is showing in HD while the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra plays its score live. In addition to conducting the NJSO, David Newman also wrote additional music to supplement the original Alan Silvestri score. Furthermore, there will be appearances by Silvestri, Christopher Lloyd (Emmett “Doc” Brown), James Tolkan (Mr. Strickland), and writer/producer Bob Gale during both shows.
I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with David, not only about Back To The Future In Concert but also his life as a successful composer. While I did not have the opportunity to get “last words for the kids,” I did come away with the realization that David is the byproduct of both endless practice and a supportive family. And yes, for the major collectors of the Back To The Future fanbase, autographed sheets from the score will be available as part of special VIP packages.
Having other composers in your family, were you encouraged to pursue a creative path?
David Newman: Yes and no. Our childhood was pretty normal in terms of who my father was [Editor’s Note: Alfred Newman,the Head of Music at 20th Century Fox from 1939-1959, won nine Academy Awards]. However, we had to study the violin and piano from age seven on. And we had a [Music] Theory teacher at age 12, so I supposed that’s a little unusual. We also had to play in several community orchestras in Los Angeles that rehearsed one night a week. So by the time we were teenagers, we were pretty busy with music. But it wasn’t all consuming.
Who was the most instrumental person in you choosing to pursue a career in music?
D: Probably my mother, but because of who my father was it was certainly an influence as well. But my mom was the one doing all the work. Driving us to lessons, to orchestra rehearsals, attending EVERYTHING that we did and being encouraging
When did you make your transition into conducting?
D: I always loved conducting from a young age, but mainly my early training was in violin, piano and Theory.
Are you able to compose for several movies at a time? Or can you only take on one project at a time?
D: I can certainly work on several at a time, but it isn’t ideal, But projects have a way of shifting around so very rarely do they fall on top of each other even if they are scheduled that way. It’s generally not a problem.
Do you have a favorite scene in Back To The Future?
D: The clocktower sequence and the end of the movie. It has one of the greatest endings of ALL TIME!
What was the biggest challenge in working on this project?
D: Syncing the music with the picture. It’s very difficult to stay in sync because of the fast tempo and the very original composing that Alan [Silvestri] did. A lot of the music fits together in a very unusual way. It’s not just playing melodies, etc., there is a lot of rhythm and drive in the score and it’s very important that that is present in the performance but it’s also just as important to stay in sync. This is not always such an issue in a movie but for Back To The Future, it’s paramount.
Did you talk to Alan Silvestri at all while working on this project?
D: I speak quite often to Alan as we are very dear and old friends. The premiere was this year in Lucerne [Switzerland] and we had the luxury of four rehearsals, so we got to go over the score completely with Alan present at all rehearsals. It was just a JOY working with him on a film that is just about as perfect as can be made and with a truly PERFECT SCORE.
When you’re not working, what do you like to do with yourself?
D: I enjoy playing tennis and working out with weights, and being with my wonderful wife, Krystyna and family.
Do you have a group of friends who you get together and play covers with? Or jam?
D: Yes, but it’s all classical music. We sing showtunes, opera, etc., and play violin and piano after a dinner and lots of drinks, so I’m not sure how good it sounds, but it’s fun.
-by Darren Paltrowitz