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Oscar nominee James Newton Howard is moving beyond celluloid

February 22, 2009 | 12:00 pm

James Newton HowardWhen composer James Newton Howard's name is read out at tonight's Academy Awards ceremony — his music for "Defiance" is among the nominees for best original score — it will mark his eighth time as an Oscar hopeful. Unfortunately for him, the smart money's on Bollywood veteran A.R. Rahman to take home the statuette for his score for "Slumdog Millionaire."

In the scheme of things, though, this week may contain a more significant milestone for Howard than any Oscar would be, for he will also hear the premiere of his first composition for the concert hall. The 19-minute piece, titled "I Will Plant a Tree," was commissioned by the Pacific Symphony for the 2009 edition of the annual American Composers Festival. It will, in fact, receive four performances during the festival.

Composing "I Will Plant a Tree," Howard told Jon Burlingame for an article in the Arts & Books section, represented "a soul-cleansing process for me — to be able to write completely unrestricted, provide my own narrative and work with [music director] Carl St.Clair and an orchestra the caliber of Pacific Symphony."

The theme of this year's Pacific Symphony festival is "Hollywood's Golden Age," and among the other composers whose music will be played are three, all now deceased, whose output represents some of the finest of that era: Miklós Rózsa ("Ben-Hur"), Erich Wolfgang Korngold ("Kings Row") and Bernard Herrmann ("Vertigo"). All won Oscars. But then, at 57, Howard still has many more years to vie.

— Craig Fisher

Photo: James Newton Howard. Credit: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times