TV star Damon Gupton guest conducts Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for ‘Blockbuster Film Classics’

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews BSO's 'Blockbuster Film Classics' (Part 1)

You know his acting work from “Whiplash,” “La La Land,” “Bates Motel,” “Criminal Minds,” “Black Lightning” and “The Big Door Prize,” but did you know that Damon Gupton is also a respected orchestra conductor?

Damon Gupton conducts "Blockbuster Film Classics." (Courtesy Strathmore)

This week, he’ll guest conduct the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for “Blockbuster Film Classics” at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland on Thursday night, followed by Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore on Saturday and Sunday.

“This is a wall of epic sound,” Gupton told WTOP. “We’re going to do the incredible, lush orchestrations of a lot of the old film classics mostly spent on the first half, then the second half we’ll do some of the later things. So, we’ve got Old Hollywood to begin, then in the second half we bring out some newer things and maybe even a surprise or two. It’s really, really wonderful to be able to come hear an orchestra play film scores live.”

The set list includes John Williams’ iconic theme from Steven Spielberg’s “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982).

“Brilliant,” Gupton said. “That music is so magical and spectacular. Sometimes John Williams says he can’t pick one of his favorite scores, but I’ve heard him say on record that he’s really, really proud of ‘E.T.’ and, boy, should he be. Williams had written all this music, Spielberg heard it and said, ‘I’m gonna recut the end of the film to match it.’ That lasting image of Elliott looking up into the sky with French horns screaming, it gets me every time.”

It also includes Williams’ adventurous theme for Spielberg’s dino blockbuster “Jurassic Park” (1993).

“We have the full grandeur statement of trumpets, trombones, horns and percussion, even glockenspiel with the big theme on the entrance to the park,” Gupton said. “Then, when we get a little more reflective, we have some quieter moments of reflections in violins, violas and cellos. The soundtrack spoiled us because at the very end of the film he uses the piano, so we aren’t paying that particular passage, but there is a piano in there for sure.”

Film buffs will appreciate Maurice Jarre’s epic theme for David Lean’s masterpiece “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962).

“It certainly ranks very high on the AFI’s list,” Gupton said. “When you think about sweep of film, you have to try to match that in orchestra, often with strings, harps. As a matter of fact, he doubled some percussion to deal with the Anthony Quinn and Omar Sharif characters. Maurice Jarre wasn’t the first choice, he was relatively unknown at that time, so for him to come in and create this massive orchestra palette, it’s just fantastic, it’s an epic score.”

My personal favorite remains Bernard Herrmann’s hypnotic theme for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” (1958).

“I love Herrmann,” Gupton said. “He tapped Richard Wagner’s ‘Tristan und Isolde.’ There’s all this push and pull in the music, meaning crescendo to diminuendo. Things are falling, crescendoing, growing, spinning. The ‘Scene d’Amour’ is just gorgeous, it’s stunning, it’s a beautiful piece of music that holds up not just as a pops concert for films, but on a standard classical concert. I think it’s one of the greatest pieces of film music we’ve ever had.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews BSO's 'Blockbuster Film Classics' (Part 2)

Hear our full conversation on the podcast below:


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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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