A Night of Oscar's Best Songs, Just in Time for the 2018 Academy Awards

Steven Reineke, Principal Pops Conductor for the Houston Symphony, has named his favorite for Best Original Song at the 90th Annual Academy Awards.
Photo by Jeff Fitlow
Steven Reineke, Principal Pops Conductor for the Houston Symphony, has named his favorite for Best Original Song at the 90th Annual Academy Awards.
Our love affair with movies is unwavering. From the early days of Hollywood to present day indies, shorts, documentaries and over-the-top blockbusters, we can't get enough of these cinematic stories that make us want to laugh, cry or even start a revolution.

It truly does take a village to make a film, but there's something special about the music that can so eloquently evoke fear, suspense, triumph and despair. Imagine Jaws without the two note opening motif or The Wizard of Oz without a hopeful Judy Garland's singing "Over the Rainbow."

It's a big year for the Academy Awards® — 90 years never looked so good — and so when the Houston Symphony decided to present The Oscars®: Best Original Songs, we wanted to know how they whittled the choices down to fit into an evening-length program.

"It was quite challenging. Very, very difficult. There's so much great music out there. I knew the two singers that I wanted to bring down and work with, Ashley Brown and Hugh Panaro, they're friends of mine," says Steven Reineke, Principal Pops Conductor. "I wanted to tailor the songs to their strengths and voice types; they're extremely versatile, classically-trained singers, Broadway singers.

"Ashley Brown was the original Mary Poppins on Broadway and more recently the Disney musical; that music from Mary Poppins won the Academy Award, so we have to do that," says Reineke. "We're also doing one of the new songs from the movie Les Misérables; my gentleman Hugh Panaro played Jean Valjean and Marius. It also ties in to their careers."

Other favorites on the program include "Moon River," "The Way We Were," "Beauty and the Beast," "Let it Go," and "Writing's on the Wall."

There's a lot of buzz about this year's nominations for Best Original Song: "Mighty River" from Mudbound, "Mystery Of Love" from Call Me by Your Name, "Remember Me" from Coco, "Stand Up For Something" from Marshall and "This Is Me" from The Greatest Showman. So who does Reineke think will win the Oscar?

"I like all five songs; I think it’s a wide, eclectic mix of types of songs and music. But I really am hoping that it's the song "This Is Me" from The Greatest Showman; that's my pick." The music and lyrics are by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul — known together as Pasek and Paul — who won Best Original Song in 2017 for "City of Stars" from La La Land.

Reineke says he loves that it's a movie musical, and he's friends with fellow New Yorker Keala Settle who sang "This Is Me." "It’s a really great song, an incredible anthem; she plays the bearded lady. It did win the Golden Globe, so that's a good indicator."

Reineke's program also includes a few award-winning film scores from John Williams and Erich Korngold. "I wanted to feature the orchestra. That meant I’m going to pick some Academy Award-winning film scores; John Williams is the most Academy Award-nominated person living today," says Reineke, who says we'll hear the main theme from Schindler's List. "Big violin solo; gorgeous melody."

"But I’m also going to go back to The Adventures of Robin Hood, the second Academy Award in 1939," says Reineke, about Korngold's win for Best Original Music Score for the Marian & Robin Love Theme. "It’s hard music; he comes from a classical European tradition. He was one of the pioneers, one of the grandfathers of film music; he paved the way for the big orchestral sound. He was on the leading edge.

"Our concerts are March 1, 2 and 3, and the Academy Awards are on the fourth. People should come out to the red carpet, celebrate the Oscar greats and support the Houston Symphony," says Reineke.

Performances of The Oscars®: Best Original Songs are at 8 p.m. March 1-3, Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 713-224-7575,, $26 to $145.