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Rocky’ Composer To Conduct Symphony Pops Concerts


Bill Conti, principal pops conductor, San Diego Symphony.


Oscar and Emmy winner Bill Conti will take over as the San Diego Symphony’s new principal pops conductor. KPBS arts reporter Angela Carone says the veteran composer is best known for his score to a classic 70s movie.

Composer Bill Conti will step into the role of principal pops conductor for the San Diego Symphony.

The image of Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa running down a Philadelphia street in grey sweats is now iconic. But that scene from the 1976 film "Rocky" relies heavily on composer Bill Conti's musical composition "Gonna Fly Now."

Conti composed the entire score for Rocky and its sequels (though he didn't write 'Eye of the Tiger," which depending on your taste is either a shame or a badge of honor).

The 70-year-old veteran film composer will begin his post as the San Diego Symphony's principal pops conductor next year.

Pops concerts blend classical and popular compositions. Pops conductors also get to exercise a little showmanship on stage. Conti plans to tap into his long career as a film and television composer. "If I turn to the audience, it will be as a film composer doing a pops concert." said Conti by phone from his home in Los Angeles. "And I’m going to tell you stuff that’s happened to me over the years that I think is interesting."

He should have plenty of material. He says writing the score for the famous "Gonna Fly Now" montage in "Rocky" was like scoring workout videos. "There’s 10 miles of Sly doing pushups and running and jumping. He’s gonna lose. But in that 10th reel, we want the audience to think he has a chance of winning."

The faint chorus singing on "Gonna Fly Now" is not a choir at all, but Conti's wife and her co-workers. While composing, he called and asked her to bring over anyone from the office who could sing.

Conti also composed the music for the film "The Right Stuff" and for multiple TV shows, including "Dynasty." He served as the conductor for the Academy Awards 19 times.

The position of pops conductor was formerly held by Marvin Hamlisch, who died earlier this year.

KPBS' Maureen Cavanaugh and Claire Caraska contributed to this story.

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