Monday, December 12, 2016

2016 Original Score Awards Roundup

Here's the 2016 Roundup of Original Score nominations and winners from various associations. Winners will be marked in red and updated regularly!


[nominees announced January 14th]


Arrival (Johann Johannsson)
Hidden Figures (Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Benjamin Wallfisch)
*La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
Lion (Dustin O'Halloran, Hauschka)
Moonlight (Nicholas Britell)

Arrival (Johann Johannsson)
Jackie (Mica Levi)
La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
Lion (Dustin O'Halloran, Hauschka)
Noctural Animals (Abel Korzeniowki)

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (Kristopher Carter, Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion)
The Little Prince (Hans Zimmer, Richard Harvey, Camille)

The Red Turtle (Laurent Perez Del Mar)
The Secret Life of Pets (Alexandre Desplat)
Sing (Joby Talbot)



*La La Land (Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul)
Runner-up: Jackie (Mica Levi)


*Sing Street
Runners-up Tied: Jackie, La La Land


*La La Land (Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul)


*Jackie (Mica Levi)


*Jackie (Mica Levi)


*La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
Runner-up: Jackie (Mica Levi)


Arrival (Johann Johannsson)
Jackie (Mica Levi)
*La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
Moonlight (Nicholas Britell)
Noctural Animals (Abel Korzeniowki)


Arrival (Johann Johannsson)
Jackie (Mica Levi)
*La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
Lion (Dustin O'Halloran, Hauschka)
Noctural Animals (Abel Korzeniowki)


La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
Gary Clark, John Carney (Sing Street)


Arrival (Johann Johannsson)
Jackie (Mica Levi)

*La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
Lion (Dustin O'Halloran, Hauschka)
Moonlight (Nicholas Britell)


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Quick Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Music composed by James Newton Howard
Music conducted by Pete Anthony
Music orchestrated by Pete Anthony, Jeff Atmajian, Jon Kull, John Ashton Thomas, Philip Klein, Peter Boyer, David Butterworth, Jim Honeyman
Music recorded by Shawn Murphy, Peter Cobbin
Music recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London and AIR Lyndhurst, London
Album running time: 72 minutes (+25 minutes Deluxe Edition)
Available on WaterTower Records

Branching off the world of Harry Potter, the Wizarding World continues with the adventures of Newt Scamander.  Both a spin-off and prequel, we meet Newt entering New York City in 1926.  He of course has a briefcase of fantastic beasts, some of which escape and threaten to expose the American witches/wizards to "muggles", known as "nomaj" in the USA.

For the score, director David Yates enlisted James Newton Howard, not a stranger to some large orchestral and magic-filled films.  As of this writing, they are planning to make this a 5 film series with hopefully Howard continuing to score each one.  This new franchise gave Howard plenty of thematic opportunities - an overarching Wizarding World theme, a lively theme for Newt with heroic variations, theme for Newt and Tina's friendship, Fantastic Beasts fanfare, a jazz-inspired theme for nomaj Kowalski, and of course several motifs for the various creatures.   

As the Warner Bros logo appears in the Main Titles, John Williams' Hedwig's Theme gets a brief nod.  As the film's title appears we hear the first appearance of his Fantastic Beasts fanfare which goes from magical to menacing.  Newt's Theme appears as a lively and optimistic string ostinato and the fantastic sweeping second part which ends the cue.  

There Are Witches Among Us/The Bank/The Niffler begins with some choir which launches into the Wizarding World Theme, a mysterious swirling theme which appears several times throughout the score (and most likely in the following films).  Hijinks ensue when the creature the Niffler runs amok in a bank.  The Niffler is given a comic motif as it intermingles with the first phrases of Kowalski's Theme.  The second part of Hedwig's Theme appears (which hardly has shown up in post-John Williams 'Potter' scores).

Tina Takes Newt In/MACUSA Headquarters gives more grand statements of the Wizarding World Theme that match nicely with the entrance of MACUSA's building.  A more lilting and light version of the theme begins Pie Or Strudel/Escaping Queenie and Tina's Place.  The orchestration keeps things in the magical realm - bell trees, glockenspiel, woodwinds and celeste.  We briefly hear Newt's Heroic Theme as well as jazzy comic beats for Kowalski.

Credence Hands Out Leaflets gives us the dark side of the magical world with long-held strings and an electronic rhythm to it.  One long sequence is represented in the track Inside the Case.  We experience the interior of Newt's suitcase and the various creatures that appear inside.  The first magical discovery is the Thunderbird motif, which gives way to both parts of Newt's Theme.  As they explore more lands inside the case, different creature motifs begin to emerge leading to another large reprise of the Thunderbird motif.  The music turns darker with the introduction of the Obscurus and ends on a tender moment for clarinet and piano.  

The Erumpent has some unique underscoring and unique orchestration.  The music turns comical as it becomes a charming waltz.  It later transforms into an action cue complete with snarling brass.  In The Cells returns to the darker serious tone heard earlier.  It's a bit hard to pick out the theme for the dark wizard Grindelwald, no doubt it will be expanded on in future films.  There is some great writing in Tina and Newt Trial/Let's Get the Good Stuff Out/You're One Of Us Now/Swooping Evil.  (Winner for longest track title on an original soundtrack??)  The dark atmosphere turns to an action cue with driving rhythms and racing strings and a great moment with Newt's Heroic Theme.

Gnarlak Negotiations brings us to the jazz world again, as we see a wizard and goblin speakeasy with our charachters trying to get help in finding the Demiguise creature.  A rousing but brief reprise of Newt's Heroic Theme ends the cue.  The Demiguise's musical motif features some exotic instrumentation in The Demiguise and the Occamy.  The Occamy music is a bit more threatening in tone, but the music is full of energy as Newt's Heroic Theme is reprised.  A Close Friend introduces the Friendship Theme, a touching piece for strings, harp and chorus.  

The Obscurus/Rooftop Chase gains intensity as the orchestra crescendos.  The strings and brass clearly have plenty of work in this action cue.  While it keeps the drama of the chase, it never gets too musically busy.  He's Listening to You Tina brings the Obscurus theme to an emotional scene with some serious string underscore. 

Relieve Him of His Wand/Newt Releases the Thunderbird/Jacob's Farewell is the longest track on the album, consisting of a good chunk of the finale.  As the villain's story is carefully wrapped up for now, the bleak tone is brought into the light with the Thunderbird motif mixing with Newt's Theme in another majestic moment.  Howard brings back the Friendship Theme, recalling some of his work for Maleficent.  This emotional half of the track is spectacular, and the last part of erasing Kowalski's memory is quite touching.  Kowalski's Theme returns in full jazz piano and drumset form - a fresh start.  Newt Says Goodbye to Tina/Jacob's Bakery brings back the Friendship Theme (perhaps to turn into a love theme in the future?).  One last reprise of the great Kowalski's Theme also offers a hint at the sweet theme for Kowalski and Tina's sister as the film ends.  End Titles begin with a strong start and segues into the reprises of Newt's Heroic Theme and his rousing second theme before the track fades away.

The bonus tracks are welcome additions to the score (and those willing can add them to the correct chronological order in the album).  A Man and His Beasts is a suite of the Wizarding World Suite - the theme that really doesn't appear much in the score itself but thankfully gets plenty of variations including one for jazz clarinet, muted trumpets and sliding trombones.  Soup and Leaflets is more of the darker material for Graves and Credence.  Billywig and The Demiguise and the Lollipop are shorter cues featuring some tense magical moments and the Fantastic Beasts fanfare.  I'm Not Your Ma features more of the Credence and Obscurus underscore that works great in the film but not entirely interesting on album.  Blind Pig is the source song (music by Mario Grigorov, lyrics by JK Rowling, sung by Emmi) for the speakeasy of the same name.  It's a nice moment in the film to include as a bonus track.  Newt Talks to Credence is a bit of mysterious underscoring.  End Titles Pt. 2 gives one of the lilting magical renditions of the Wizarding World Theme before leading to the larger choir rendition.  Kowalski Rag is a suite dedicated to all varieties of arrangements of Kowalski's themes ending with the dirty jazz and sweet Kowalski/Queenie love theme.  

James Newton Howard should get a lot of credit for this new musical world he's started.  If you haven't noticed, the motifs and themes are seemingly endless for just one film.  Not being a part of Harry Potter - but still connected - gave Howard a musical sense and inspiration that worked to his benefit.  His establishment of these ideas is exciting to see and of course to see in the subsequent films.  Standing up to past Harry Potter scores, this score and themes match nicely in tone and orchestration.  Howard uses the large symphony orchestra and choir to really showcase all varieties of style and instrumentation.  A totally interesting score that is worth many repeat listens.              

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Quick Review: The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven
Music composed by James Horner & Simon Franglen
Music conducted by J.A.C. Redford, Carl Johnson
Music recorded at Newman Scoring Stage, 20th Century Fox
Album running time: 76 minutes
Available on Sony Classical

The making of the score to 2016's The Magnificent Seven is a little more interesting than the score itself.  

The film itself is a Western retelling of the original 1960 film (which of course was a reinterpretation of the 1954 Japanese film Seven Samurai).  There were 3 following films in the 1960s-1970s and all were scored by the great Elmer Bernstein.  The Magnificent Seven theme is iconic in its own right, used in commercials, parodies and almost every Western pastiche that followed.  This score does reference the Bernstein theme (but more of the identifying rhythm) throughout the score...but more on that later.

More importantly, this is James Horner's final music for a theatrical film.  He had just completed Southpaw (2015) with director Antoine Fuqua and The 33 (2015) before his untimely death in June, 2015.  After reading the script, Horner started sketching themes and musical ideas to work on with collaborator Simon Franglen.  After Horner's death, Franglen and Horner's usual team consisting of music editors and orchestrators recorded those ideas as a present to director Antoine Fuqua.  From that moment, it would take a small group of collaborators to compose a new score for the film, while being sensitive and honoring the material that Horner composed.  One could boil that down to a new score containing the musical spirit of James Horner - worked on by the people that worked with him.  

Naturally the score is filled with many Horner-isms. It's hard to tell how many he would put in himself, or how many got added by Franglen and team.  The main theme, you could call it the New Magnificent Seven theme doesn't appear in its entirety until about halfway in the album.  Rather than a traditional rousing Western, the theme is noble and somewhat stirring.  

Most of the score fits the doubtful and slightly melancholic vibe set by our villain Bogue and his abuses on the town of Rose Creek.  His snakelike theme appears through many cues, but never latches as an intimidating theme on the album.  The many other reoccurring motifs are the echoing trumpet triplets (an effect that can be traced back to some of Horner's earliest film work).  The tinging percussion, female vocals, danger motif and breathy shakuhachi appear in multiple cues while guitar strums, banjos and hand claps add a bit to the Western flavor.  Of course, a major source of inspiration is the Elmer Bernstein rhythm which appears through many cues, but makes a broad statement near the end as it mingles with the New Magnificent Seven theme.  Those looking for the rousing Bernstein Western style will probably be disappointing, as this score is more minimal and modern in its approach.  

Those modern "gritty" moments don't have much to compare to the grandiose Western scores so many of us are accustomed to.  That isn't director Fuqua's contemporary approach.  While it works with the film, most of the score seems like a chore to listen to.  There are great moments - the Western swagger and sweeping melody does happen, just infrequently not large enough.  For a good sampling of the score, listen to Rose Creek Opression, Volcano Springs, Town Exodus/Knife Training, Seven Riders. The signs of Horner's touches are all throughout the score - something that makes it enjoyable to listen for.  Franglen and team crafted an interesting score, although it's a little too sloggish for me until the fantastic final cue where the score's identity finally shines through.  Still, it's a fitting farewell to one of the greats of film music.  

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Top 10 Scores Turning 10 in 2016

Back to our musical score time machine!  I know what you're thinking . . . 10 years ago wasn't 2006, was it?  Here's a look back at 2006 with my list of the 10 Best Scores Turning 10!

Let's start the ranking!

10. V for Vendetta (Dario Marianelli)
Using a militaristic sound, Marianelli soaks dread into most of the score.  The more romantically scored moments are strong and show off the choir and solo piano.  The Tchaikovsky moments in the finale are worth listening for.      

9. X-Men: The Last Stand (John Powell)
This score is a full bombastic summer blockbuster.  Large orchestra and choir in many action cues with a new strong X-Men theme and fantastic theme for the Dark Phoenix subplot.  

8.  Cars (Randy Newman)
A mix of Americana, full Country, brass fanfares, electric guitars, derivative Newman/Pixar material and the usual Newman semi-schmaltz.  Director John Lasseter gives Newman plenty of room to paint the scene, as in the 'romantic' ride of Sally and Lightning McQueen.      

7. Blood Diamond (James Newton Howard)
Howard supplies the film with some emotional beats, dramatic tension and African style throughout.  His main theme is particularly notable in the finale.     

6. The Da Vinci Code (Hans Zimmer)
Strings are the focus in this mostly foreboding score.  Adding to the mystery religious-sounding elements are solo soprano, violin and cello.  While it's full of Zimmer-isms, the Chevaliers De Sangreal (main theme) is the highlight.

5. Mission: Impossible III (Michael Giacchino)
Using his best action and suspense spy chops, Giacchino added a modern edge while staying true to the Lalo Schifrin tune.  A countermelody, driving ostinatos and new themes work well but got improved on his next Mission film.      

4. Lady in the Water (James Newton Howard)
Here Howard shines in another Shyamalan film.  The orchestra, choir and piano often have a rippling/circular motion giving us a water effect.  Themes converge to a rousing climax in The Great Eatlon.  A great score to a bad movie. 

3. Superman Returns (John Ottman)
Ottman's addition to and adaption of Superman is probably best part of the film.  There are times where his new material shines, but when he tactfully uses the Williams Superman themes, it is magic. 

2. Casino Royale (David Arnold)
Another action score that reminds viewers of the past and the future.  It features less electronics than Arnold's previous scores, strong brass licks, ethnic location flair, and of course brief hints of the Bond theme until the very end.  

1. Pan's Labyrinth (Javier Navarette)
For this fairy tale within a horrific real world, the score is based on a haunting lullaby.  It is an often sparse score, using atonal brass and strings for some choice moments.  It is the way he transforms the lullaby so evocatively makes it a score that is hard to forget.           

Honorable Mentions:

United 93 (John Powell), The Illusionist (Philip Glass), The Queen (Alexandre Desplat)

Any favorites of yours from 2006 that I didn't include?  Comment below!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Quick Review: The BFG

Music composed and conducted by John Williams
Music recorded at Sony Scoring Stage 
Music recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy
Music edited by Ramiro Belgardt
Album running time: 64 minutes
Available on Walt Disney Records

Based on the 1982 book of the same name, John Williams and Steven Spielberg reunite for another film in their multi-decade collaboration.  (For those keeping track, this is film 27 together).

While this musical material is new, the whimsical and magical style can be traced back to several other of his film scores - namely Hook, Home Alone and Harry Potter.  His thematic style and orchestration lend themselves to live almost in the same musical world.

For The BFG, the main theme is for Sophie (highlighted of course in the concert suite at the end of the album).  This theme permeates the score, mostly used for sweeter moments.  The meaner giants, Fleshlumpeater, Bloodbottler, Bonecruncher, among others, have a theme (which I'll just call Fleshlumpeater Theme).  There is a waltz-like theme for the traveling between worlds that I'll call Traveling Theme.  A lovely Friendship Theme, a Nightmare motif and a Queen motif round out the thematic material.   

Overture (unused in the film), is a lovely introduction to the score.  Harp glissandos and flighty flutes circle around a lovely statement of Sophie's Theme.  The Witching Hour begins in a slightly subdued and slightly spooky, representing London at Sophie's orphanage.  The clarinet takes over a lovely melancholy theme with low string interruptions.  As Sophie gets taken, the music grows larger and more menacing.  

To Giant Country begins with a low woodwind motif used for giants before the music opens up to the waltz-like Traveling Theme, fitting with The BFG's large strides and making it dance-like.  Dream Country, where The BFG bottles up dreams, is represented by Williams in an impressionist way.  Long melody lines, bell trees and harp glissandos give the dream-like feel of the magical place.  Parts of this track match the atmospheric/calmed sections of E.T. and A.I.  Sophie's Theme gets a few lovely reprises, with trilling flutes and racing strings accompany Sophie chasing dreams.  She does catch a nightmare, and Williams introduces his Nightmare motif.  It's unusual for Williams to have such a long track on the soundtrack, but this captures a long stretch of the film.

Sophie's Nightmare stays on the darker side, giving full statements of the Nightmare motif, my favorite being in the muted trumpets.  Building Trust is a particularly nice Williams track, fitting in with warm, gentle feelings associated with a Spielberg film.  The piano leads Sophie's Theme, eventually growing to the whole orchestra.  There's a bit of cartoon side to it near the end with Sophie's Theme being played in the woodwinds.  Fleshlumpeater brings us the 'villain' theme.  The mean giants do eat humans, but the music keeps them in a threatening/bumbling comic tone throughout.  (Most listeners know this style from Home Alone burglars, Jabba the Hutt's theme, or Gilderoy Lockhart in the 2nd Harry Potter score).

Dream Jars has some really interesting writing for flutes (many representing the dreams themselves).  It has an impromptu feel and might feel out of place without the film's visual.  A solo harp takes over for a bit, before leading into a quick reprise of Sophie's Theme.  The mean giants material returns in Frolic, and launches into a full-on Strauss-ian polka with a grand ending.  Blowing Dreams introduces the Friendship Theme, a lilting and lovely theme. The flitting flutes return and the orchestra shares some touching underscoring with solo woodwinds.  Snorting and Sniffing features Sophie's Themes in some new statements and add to the bumbling giant music heard earlier.  

Sophie's Future is another tender rendition of Sophie's Theme for flute and harp and later transitions into the Friendship Theme before returning to a bigger statement of Sophie's Theme.  A truly beautiful lullaby-style statement of both themes.  The slightly sad tone returns in There Was A Boy, with Sophie's Theme and the Traveling Theme making appearances.  The Queen's Dream opens with the Nightmare motif which returns us to a more action style with some reprises of Sophie's Theme.  This track also includes the Queen motif, a regal horn chorale.

The Boy's Drawings begins with the flighty flutes and transitions to Sophie's Theme, a few references to the Queen's motif and the Friendship Theme.  This darker backstory isn't in the original novel, but gives Sophie's motivation to round up the mean giants.  Meeting the Queen jumps into the snare drum and a regal variation of the Friendship Theme.  The Queen's motif obviously makes an appearance in that same horn chorale style.  Much of the Queen's scenes in the film are used with some British tune arrangements (used in Barry Lyndon and arranged by Leonard Rosenman).  

An airy version of Sophie's Theme starts off Giants Netted, while the strings charge along.  The Nightmare motif appears with the Fleshlumpeater Theme getting a full statement.  Even then, the mean giants are given music akin to Captain Hook as they receive their banishment.  Finale brings us back to a sweet and tender arrangement of Sophie's Theme on solo piano.  The Friendship Theme gets a reprise before the wistful ending.  Sophie and the BFG is a 8-minute suite of themes, each getting a chance to shine - Sophie's Theme, Fleshlumpeater, Traveling Theme, Friendship Theme, Nightmare motif - with Sophie's Theme taking one last bow as the flute flits off once more.  

Most of my criticism towards the score is more towards the film.  The BFG film is a bit of a puzzlement.  It is more of a serious film with serious topics of loneliness, loss of friendship and I guess the main moral is don't judge a book by its cover (?)  Of course being a Roald Dahl book, his made-up words are supposed to be funny but seemed to fall flat.  And of course the whizpoppers (ie farts) are completely odd in between the serious atmosphere.  (There is one that is actually funny because who can't resist?!)  After all, in Willy Wonka the main characters burp themselves down from the ceiling.  

All that said, John Williams brings his magical touch back with this score.  And of course, along with that touch are echoes of scores of years past.  Most filmgoers will instantly hear connections to previous works, and it might be hard to separate, but this new score does have a new identity.  On a technical musical level, Williams brings a new level of writing - both challenging and deceptively simple.  The parts for woodwinds could easily fit into his concert works, with the flute taking a majority of the solos.  His new themes work nicely in the film and the album, while somewhat out of order, is varied enough for an enjoyable listening experience.  Is this the score and film people will remember for years?  Probably not - it sadly doesn't reach the emotional level and iconic spirit as some of their best collaborations.  Still, grab a bottle of Frobscottle and listen to a touching and masterfully written score by the best!