The magic of Mancini: Arsht Center to celebrate composer’s 100th birthday

Photo credit: Adrienne Arsht Center
Photo credit: Adrienne Arsht Center

Whether it’s the heavenly melodies that accompanied Audrey Hepburn, the nostalgic backing track to the Pink Panther’s mischief or the sultry latin rhythms of Lujon that have decorated film soundtracks, you’ve undoubtedly heard his music. But have you heard his name?

Henry Mancini is the composer of this musical magic behind the silver screen, and his presence is felt right here at UM’s Frost School of Music.

Astutely named the Henry Mancini Institute (HMI), graduate music students can be found in various ensembles such as an orchestra, big band and string quartet within the institute.

The HMI Orchestra will grace the stage of the Adrienne Arsht Center on Friday, Nov. 3 along with Mancini’s daughter and Grammy-nominated vocalist Monica Mancini, dean of the Frost School and pianist Shelly Berg and eight-time Grammy winner and producer Gregg Field for a night of celebration and an immersive journey through Mancini’s compositions.

“You can expect a fantastic performance by some really well-known and remarkable artists,” Berg said. “With multimedia film and other images and a night full of melodies that everybody knows, it’ll be a lot of fun for all who attend, and it doesn’t matter what kind of music you like or what age you are.

In both his music and his life, Mancini’s legacy is often described as versatile. After being introduced to flute and piano at a young age and later taking his talents to the Juilliard School of Music in New York, he was drafted into the Air Force, serving overseas and in the infantry during World War II.

After returning home from the war, Mancini joined the Glenn Miller-Tex Beneke Orchestra as a pianist and arranger, and it was there that he met big band vocalist and soon-to-be wife of 43 years, Ginny O’Connor.

Not long after joining the orchestra, he began carving out a name for himself in Hollywood with Ginny by his side. In 1952, he joined the Universal-International music department, where his musical talents contributed to over 100 films.

1954 film “The Glenn Miller Story” earned him his first Academy Award nomination, and was the beginning of a long and rich list of major award achievements in film scoring for Mancini, including 20 Grammys, 4 Academy Awards and a Golden Globe.

The Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra.
The Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra. Photo credit: Frost School of Music

“Henry Mancini redefined what it meant to be a film composer. Before that, it was all sort of late romantic classical music, and he pushed forward into jazz and world-music and other popular things, paving the way for the composers that came after him,” Berg said.

In 1958, Mancini pivoted to more independent work as a free-standing composer and arranger. He garnered a close relationship with film director and screenwriter Blake Edwards, where he embarked on some of his most notable projects, like the Peter Gunn television series and movies Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Days of Wine and Roses and the Pink Panther.

Henry’s daughter Monica Mancini reflected on this stage of her father’s career and what it was like growing up surrounded by music.

“It was a musical home with all kinds of different genres. We were listening to showtunes, The Beatles, The Beach Boys…so as a result of that, my Dad also took a lot of interest in the music that we were playing. So, I think that inspired him to broaden his musical space as well,” Mancini said.

Mancini’s versatility across genres was cause for his global in-demand presence, being a concert performer for major orchestras around the world in his later career. This cross-genre experience is at the heart of the Frost School and will be reflected on stage Friday.

“The Henry Mancini Institute is designed around versatility, where musicians come to the Frost School to not only play the genre that they’re majoring in, but to play world music, jazz, popular and classical music,” Berg said. “In this concert, there’s gonna be everything from very classical music to very jazzy music to a country hoedown.”

Mancini music programs are found at various institutions across the country, but this Friday’s concert at the Arsht Center holds a special meaning for the Mancini family.

“My mom passed away a couple years ago, and she was my biggest fan. She used to show up in Miami at all the concerts, she was very into being at the Arsht Center with me and sitting front and center and closing her eyes and listening to the music,” Mancini said.

The enchanting evening will take place at 8 p.m. this Friday, Nov. 3 at the Adrienne Arsht Center, and students can also be a part of the magic and receive a discounted ticket when registered with the ArshtPass.