Damon Gupton has two great passions: acting and music.
In his day job as an actor, the Detroit native has co-starred in such TV series as Empire, The Player and Prime Suspect. He recently joined the cast of A&E’s Bates Motel, which will return for its fourth season in March.
As for Gupton’s music background, he was the assistant conductor of the Kansas City Symphony from 2006 to 2008 and a conducting fellow with the Houston Symphony before that. He has served as guest conductor with orchestras in Cleveland, Baltimore, San Diego, San Antonio, Tokyo and Monte Carlo.
Gupton’s two worlds collide in a most pleasant way this week when he conducts the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra’s “A Night at the Oscars” program at Bass Hall on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
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The three performances will showcase Oscar-caliber movie music through the ages.
“I’ve done shows where we’ve done pieces from movies, but it’s the first time I get to do a show like this,” Gupton says. “To have the whole evening dedicated to Academy Award-winning or -nominated scores is really exciting.”
The lineup includes music from The Godfather, Star Wars, The Pink Panther, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Beauty and the Beast — classic films that are not a bit alike, except for the fact that they all have exceptional scores.
We chatted with Gupton last week about what’s in store.
How did you get this gig?
I’ve had the good fortune over the past couple of years to maintain a conducting career with my acting career. If you do it a few times and you do a good job, you get invited to do it again.
I’ve known Erik Finley [FWSO’s vice president of artistic administration] since he was with the Florida Orchestra — and the Baltimore Symphony before that. Erik was kind enough to extend an invitation. Lucky me.
What are some of your personal favorites from the lineup’s movie themes?
I’m a big John Williams fan, so the opportunity to do the score to ET is a treat for me. I’m also a fan of the Henry Mancini scores. Moon River, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, is incredible.
We’re also doing music from The Mission, which is one of my favorite Ennio Morricone scores. He’s such a special composer, so we’re delighted to play that piece. It features an oboe solo with strings and harpsichord. Just a gorgeous piece from a gorgeous score.
Isn’t it true that Williams’ scores in movies such as Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark sparked your interest in a music career?
That’s right. It was the score to Superman in 1978 that really ignited my curiosity about orchestral music. I became obsessed with his scores for a period of years — before I even heard or purchased a Beethoven or Tchaikovsky score.
His scores taught me a lot about instrumentation and color and harmony, even before I knew what those things were.
How important is music to a movie? Can a great score enhance the work of the director, the writer, the actors? Can a memorable theme turn an average movie into a great one?
I do believe that a great score can enhance the quality of a film. The music can be as important as the acting or special effects. For example, think of that half-step in Jaws. Would Jaws be as great without it?
If there’s one thing I’m a little disgruntled about with today’s movies, it’s that a lot of the scores aren’t as memorable.
You used to be able to sing the themes to movies. You could “hear” the characters in the scores. In Star Wars, for example, you always knew when Darth Vader was coming.
There are exceptions, of course, but nowadays one score often sounds like the next.
You prefer when you can walk out of the movie theater whistling a distinctive melody?
It’s funny that you say that because one of our selections is the Colonel Bogey March from The Bridge on the River Kwai. There may be some whistling involved in that.
What’s happening with your day job as an actor?
I’m spending a lot of time in Vancouver shooting Bates Motel, which I’ve joined for this season. The previous show I was on, The Player [on NBC’s fall 2015 schedule], got canceled. So now I’m here.
Well, don’t get too comfortable. With Norman Bates as the lead character, everyone in the cast is in grave danger.
It’s so true. We all know how Norman’s story will turn out. Speaking of which, I wish now we were playing a little bit of Psycho in Bass Hall. That was such a great score.
A Night at the Oscars with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra
- 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
- Bass Hall, Fort Worth
- 817-665-6000; www.fwsymphony.org