Academy Award and Emmy-winning Composer Bill Conti will be the guest conductor at the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra’s concert titled “A Night at the Movies,” a show comprising songs from across Conti’s 40-plus year career writing music for film and television. If you’ve ever had the Rocky theme stuck in your head, perhaps as you’ve completed a long run or as you’ve lugged groceries up the stairs, you can thank Conti for that bit of sonic inspiration and nearly countless others.
This will be the first time Conti has performed in Pensacola, but certainly not the first time he’s been in town. “I’ve been coming to Pensacola for a long time,” Conti said, who met his wife of 48 years while attending Louisiana State University (LSU), and her parents had a place on Pensacola Beach. The couple has regularly visited for decades. “I said, ‘This is going to be fun. I’m actually going to go to Pensacola to do a concert rather than just enjoy being in Pensacola as I have for 30 years.’”
Born in Rhode Island, Conti said his family was very musical, and he began playing piano and absorbing influences as a child. “Rather than movies, in the beginning it was the opera,” remembered Conti. “The dramatic music that was in my house — my grandfather and my father would sing to Italian operas, so that kind of dramatic music was always part of my musical life.”
Conti attended high school in Miami, and under the advice of a teacher learned to play the bassoon to have a better chance of securing a college scholarship. The plan worked, and of the numerous offers he received, Conti chose to study at LSU, where he majored in piano and composition. Then, it was on to the Julliard School of Music for a second bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Later while working in Europe, Conti was introduced to the world of film scoring. After returning to the U.S. in the early 1970s, he began landing composing jobs in Los Angeles.
“On the very first performance with a fine symphony, I’m bringing music that if anybody would know a piece of music of mine, I’m not going to ignore it; I’m going to play it,” said Conti, who frequently is a guest conductor at symphonies in the U.S. and Europe, and currently serves as the guest pops conductor for the San Diego Symphony. “If it works on me, I’m thinking it’s going to work on you, so I won’t pick anything I hate. It’s going to be in the pop field.”
The music for 1976’s “Rocky” was Conti’s first hugely successful film score, earning him a Best Original Song nomination for “Gonna Fly Now.” His second nomination in that category was in 1982 for the song “For Your Eyes Only” from a James Bond film of the same name. Conti composed the score for each of the Rocky sequels, “Necessary Roughness,” “The Karate Kid,” “Private Benjamin,” and the 1999 remake of “The Thomas Crown Affair” among numerous other films. His score for “The Right Stuff” garnered Conti an Oscar in 1983.
His body of work also includes multiple television themes, including those for “Dynasty,” “Lifestyles of the Rich” and “North and South” — all of which are part of the program for this weekend’s show. His work in television has resulted in five Emmy wins and twice the nominations.
Conti’s projects have sold in excess of 8 million albums, and in 1989 a star with his name was placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Despite his success and accolades, Conti remains matter of fact about his body of work, stating the award winners mean as much to him as certain passages from lesser-known scores. “It would be arrogant and really to prideful to fall in love with it in an abnormal way,” said Conti of his pieces.
Speaking about the process of writing, Conti offered insight into where his success has come from: discipline and hard work. “There’s always a deadline. That’s one of the exciting things about it,” said Conti, who has completed scores in as little as a week, but typically has around three months to work.
And as for the possibility of stalling out mid-process, Conti stated, “‘Writer’s block’ is kind of a dilettante phrase,” as he has found that writing a little something every day — even if it’s something you don’t initially like — is the best way to keep moving forward. “There’s no block; sometimes it comes easier than another, but writers get the job done.”
In addition to writing, Conti continues working with orchestras, noting that live performance is a nice change of pace from the more “clinical situation” of working with producers in a recording studio. “You take a symphony orchestra with all of these wonderful musicians, and our goal is to make the soul of that music come alive,” Conti said. And, along with the PSO, Conti will likely do just that on Saturday night.
THE PENSACOLA SYMPHONY PRESENTS “A NIGHT AT THE MOVIES”
WHAT: Emmy- and Academy Award-winning composer Bill Conti conducts the PSO
WHERE: The Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox.
WHEN: 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 15
DETAILS: 435-2533 or pensacolasymphony.com