For Variety‘s second installment in our series on potential Oscar nominees in the music categories, I interviewed five composers, seven songwriters, a music supervisor and a director. Our main story features John Williams, in his first interview offering details of his new Star Wars score, as well as Hateful Eight music supervisor Mary Ramos talking about Ennio Morricone’s music; and The 33 director Patricia Riggen discussing the late James Horner’s contributions to her film. I also wrote four of the six composer profiles (on Thomas Newman, Michael Giacchino, Carter Burwell and Brian Tyler) and half of the song story (including interviews with Spectre singer-songwriter Sam Smith and The Hunting Ground songwriters Diane Warren and Lady Gaga). And there’s still more to come!
Last weekend marked the first time that the paying public had ever seen Steven Spielberg’s classic E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial with live musical accompaniment. (John Williams conducted a studio orchestra before an invited audience at the Shrine Auditorium in 2002.) More than 35,000 attended over three nights as David Newman conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Williams’ iconic score at the Hollywood Bowl. I wrote the program notes for the evening, but I felt it was also important to report on the event. My overview contains details you won’t find anywhere else.
I wrote the program notes for last fall’s Los Angeles Philharmonic opening night concert and gala — “A John Williams Celebration,” as it was called, with Gustavo Dudamel conducting and Itzhak Perlman as violin soloist. It was a wonderful mix of John’s concert music (“Soundings,” written for the opening of Disney Hall), his film music (Schindler’s List, Catch Me If You Can, Star Wars, Jaws, Amistad, etc.) and his Olympic themes. I’m delighted that C Major, which has produced this 103-minute DVD and Blu-Ray of the evening, has chosen to include my notes, which include comments from both Williams and frequent collaborator George Lucas.
Ian Fraser was among the most beloved of music directors in Hollywood. The winner of more music Emmys than anyone in history, he was also an Oscar nominee and favorite collaborator of Julie Andrews, songwriter Leslie Bricusse, and many others. The name of Ian Fraser as music director on any project — whether film, TV, a stage show or an album — always assured a classy orchestral sound and impeccable taste. Fraser, who died in October, was remembered at a memorial service yesterday by some of his famous friends, including Andrews, Bricusse and composer John Williams. Here is a recap of the event.
The subtitle of this wonderful new album by the brilliant concert pianist Gloria Cheng is “Great film composers and the piano.” A few years ago she was presented with a five-movement suite by Bruce Broughton; a four-movement piece by John Williams followed. Cheng then commissioned three more pieces (by Don Davis, Randy Newman and Michael Giacchino) and added a recent work by Alexandre Desplat. It’s a wide-ranging album in terms of mood, texture, color and complexity; I’ve played it several times and continue to find new facets and subtleties. Most of the liner notes are by the composers themselves, but I penned the introduction. Here is a piece that goes into more detail about it.
Composer John Williams is being honored this week at the gala opening concert of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, so Classical KUSC has taken excerpts from my 2012 Williams radio special “American Journey” and incorporated them into this week’s Arts Alive program. In addition, I’ve written the program notes for the concert (including his Olympic Fanfare, “Soundings,” and pieces from Schindler’s List, The Adventures of Tintin, Catch Me If You Can and Star Wars).
The Academy’s musical choices were all fine in its first staged concert of Academy Award-nominated music. The problems were the host and the interviewer, neither of whom came off well. My editors chose to leave out my recitation of the more ludicrous moments. This is what didn’t make it into the Variety story:
Film critic Elvis Mitchell, enlisted to interview the composers between segments, was hit-and-miss, getting one of the Arcade Fire composers’ names wrong (“William Phillips”? It’s William Butler) and drawing head-scratching and irrelevant parallels with his favorite Western scores (Ennio Morricone for Gravity, Williams’ obscure The Missouri Breaks for The Book Thief, which could not be farther afield from one another).
The Winter Olympics offered an opportunity to explain, in more depth than I’ve ever seen, just how Leo Arnaud’s “Bugler’s Dream” wound up as the renowned brass fanfare so closely associated with the Olympic Games. Along the way I get to discuss John Williams’ own contributions to the Games and report on Dimitri Tiomkin’s surprising salute in this year’s Closing Ceremonies.
Every year at Oscar time, Variety asks me (and other writers) to talk to score composers who are in the running for awards. This season, it was Alexandre Desplat (for Philomena), Mark Orton (Nebraska) and John Williams (The Book Thief). Earlier in the season I interviewed Henry Jackman (Captain Phillips), Nicholas Britell (the period source music in 12 Years a Slave), Daniel Pemberton (The Counselor) and, of course, Hans Zimmer (Rush and 12 Years a Slave).
… a headline I liked, for a change. This was a really interesting topic thrown me by a Variety editor: How has the music of comic-book movies changed over the years? Can you still do what John Williams did in Superman in 1978? Or does the music need to reflect the darker tone of many contemporary superheroes? Hans Zimmer, Brian Tyler and Marco Beltrami were some of those I interviewed on the subject.