Last night the Henry Mancini Institute had a "Tribute to American Film Music" at Royce Hall, at UCLA. The program notes were expertly written by film music historian Jon Burlingame, and provided some insightful information on the pieces to be performed at the concert. After an introduction by HMI's Executive Director Daniel Carlin, the orchestra started the show with a piece by the Institute's namesake, Henry Mancini. "March from The Great Waldo" was a fun piece and the orchestra seemed to enjoy playing it, under the baton of Artistic Director Patrick Williams. Composer David Newman came out to guest-conduct David Raksin's "Main Title Theme" from Forever Amber, and then they performed a suite from his own The Marrying Man. The music was good - as I doubt many in the audience were familiar with Newman's piece - and the HMI Orchestra seemed to be in top form.

The first big powerhouse cue came with Elmer Bernstein's Hawaii, conducted by Richard Kaufman, the Principle Pops Conductor for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. The percussion was pounding, and the orchestral sound was huge. This was definitely a performance they could be proud of. UCLA professor and acclaimed film composer Paul Chihara came out next to conduct a suite of music from his score to Sidney Lumet's 1981 cop drama, Prince of the City. The jazzy score was accompanied by Doug Masek on saxophone, who gave a smooth and dead-on performance. Kaufman came back to the stage to conduct an excellent suite of music from Franz Waxman's Sunset Boulevard, before the break.

When we returned from the intermission, Patrick Williams came on stage to conduct two pieces from his own score to The Cutting Edge. The Russian was fun, and the USA cue was patriotic, as one would expect. Kaufman then returned to conduct music from last year's Oscar-winning film score, Finding Neverland by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek. The performance was sweet and lush, per the score's requirements.

One of the evening's highlights, James Newton Howard took to the stage with violinist Bing Wang, and pianist Michael Lang, to conduct "The Gravel Road" from his Oscar-nominated score to The Village. It was a truly exceptional performance, and Wang had her entire part memorized - and put so much emotion into it that the audience could not help be feel moved by it. Kaufman came back to the stage to conduct his final piece, "Prelude and Fugue" from William Walton's Spitfire. It was a very "classic" film score, and the performance was well done.

Alan Silvestri - wearing a full tuxedo - came on next to conduct a suite of music from Forrest Gump. It was amazingly well done, and the emotion was just pouring off the stage. One thing I should note at this point; selected pieces had film footage accompanying them. Ultimately this was distracting as it pulled the audiences attention away from the music and the orchestra, and onto the film. And in the case of Gump, the audience's laughter at the moments in the film on screen felt inappropriate to the music.

The final piece of the night was "The Glory Days" from The Incredibles - and the energy level was kicked up to "eleven". Composer Michael Giacchino came out to conduct the piece, and aside from a small "sync" issue with the footage on screen (again, I don't think they should do that in the future), it was a great way to end the concert. The brass section really let loose, and when it was all over, the entire orchestra got a well-deserved standing ovation.

Every year the HMI holds at least one free film music concert, and I strongly urge everyone to keep an eye on their website next year so you don't miss out. It was a lot of fun, and if next year's concert is half as good as this one, it'll still be great.