Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Film Score Orchestras



Discussing film scores would not be complete without the orchestras themselves.

In previous posts, I've highlighted the scoring stages and recording studios that most Hollywood film scores are recorded.  Now it's time to turn to the orchestras used.

The first thing to know about film score orchestras is that they don't have set musicians.  When you see a typical concert orchestra, it's the same set players every time.  The "Hollywood Studio Symphony" is quite misleading, as there are no set names and each musician is contracted individually and just known collectively as the "Hollywood Studio Symphony".  This contracting is done for every HSS score, and is an easy way to adjust for orchestra size, instrument numbers and specific players.  If the orchestra members for a specific film are listed in the CD booklet, you'll notice many similar names over the years.  (trivia tidbit:  both John Williams and David Newman started out as session musicians)

In the Hollywood studio system, each major studio had their own orchestras, e.g.
The Twentieth Century-Fox Symphony Orchestra, The MGM Symphony Orchestra.  They naturally played on their own scores with the contracted players and composers/conductors.  

Since the end of that era, studios have been able to use a variety of orchestras.  The topic of moving a huge chunk of recording to Europe is still hotly debated.  

But it is worth highlighting the orchestras that have played on some favorite film scores.  Here's a look at some orchestras both in America and abroad.  

Hollywood Studio Symphony

The majority of score recordings in Hollywood are done by this collective group.  These top musicians go from session to session, performing at the various LA scoring stages.  The orchestra received its name in 2002, after union negotiations with AFM and AMPTP to keep scores in Los Angeles instead of abroad.  
Scores recorded include: Back to the Future, The Village, Star Trek, Godzilla 

Northwest Sinfonia

A recording-specific orchestra in Seattle, made up of musicians from other orchestras originally set up in 1995 for films and video games.  Used as one of the first live orchestras used for video game scores, which continue to this day.    
Scores recorded include: Medal of Honor, Brokeback Mountain, The Incredible Hulk, Mirror Mirror

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

A traditional concert orchestra, used on two special projects: recording of classical pieces for Fantasia 2000 and fittingly for John Williams' score to Lincoln.

Boston Symphony Orchestra

A traditional concert orchestra, used for a few projects such as Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan and Mystic River.

London Symphony Orchestra

Outside of Hollywood, the LSO have probably recorded the most film scores.  Still a concert orchestra, they started recording film scores in the 1930s, but began their recent popularity with the Star Wars series. 
Scores recorded include: Henry V, Star Wars Episodes 1-6, Aliens, Braveheart, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Munich Symphony Orchestra/Graunke Symphony Orchestra

A concert orchestra, used for many film and television scores.
Scores recorded include: El Cid, Sleeping Beauty, The Wind and the Lion, Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Masters of the Universe, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, The Silence of the Lambs

The London Philharmonic Orchestra

One of the other popular orchestras to record with in London and a favorite of Howard Shore.
Scores recorded include: Lawrence of Arabia, TRON, The Mission, Naked Lunch, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Thor: The Dark World

National Philharmonic Orchestra

The orchestra, set up by Charles Gerhardt primarily for recording, recorded in England and used often by Jerry Goldsmith and Michael Kamen.  The Gerhardt recordings of classic film scores are one of the orchestra's highlights.  
Scores recorded include: The Omen, The Elephant Man, Alien, Brazil, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Total Recall, License to Kill

The Sinfonia of London

A session orchestra on many classical albums in addition to the film scores.
Scores recorded include: Tom Jones, Young Sherlock Holmes, RoboCop, Tombstone, Lost in Space, The Mummy Returns.

Royal Scottish National Orchestra

A concert orchestra known for their numerous classical albums.  Known in the film world for their re-recordings of Bernard Herrmann (among others) scores led by John Debney and Joel McNeely.  

The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra
A film score orchestra primarily known for their re-recordings and compilations, but they have appeared as the orchestra in new film scores.

Scores recorded include: The Ninth Gate, Oliver Twist, Pan's Labyrinth, The Lives of Others, Grand Piano  


Take a look back at the Scoring Stages:

Friday, August 1, 2014

Screen Credit Quiz (Round Alexandre & Alan)

It's time for a Screen Credit Quiz!  It's been a while since our last quiz, so let's get this started.  For this quiz, all films are either composed by Alan Silvestri or Alexandre Desplat.  Because why not?!  Enjoy! 

Put your guesses in the comments! And have fun!!

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Quick Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Music composed by John Powell
Conducted by: Gavin Greenaway
Orchestrated by: John Ashton Thomas, Andrew Kinney, Randy Kerber, Dave Metzger, Tommy Laurence, Pete Anthony, Germaine Franco, Jeff Atmajian
Additional music/arranging by: Paul Mounsey, Anthony Willis
Score Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, AIR Lyndhurst
Album time: 68 minutes
Available on Relativity Music Group

How to Train Your Dragon 2 continues the adventures of hero Hiccup and his dragon Toothless.  It's also the follow-up to the massively successful How to Train Your Dragon (2010), both a box office gem and two time Oscar nominee (Best Animated Feature and John Powell's first nom for Best Score).  Both the first film and score are personally held in high regard, I was slightly nervous yet optimistic about this score.  Taking more personal time out from scoring, Powell has done only animated films since 2011, including Rio, Kung Fu Panda 2, Happy Feet Two, The Lorax, Ice Age: Continental Drift.  This year he also scored the sequel Rio 2.


For lovers of the first score, I can say this score can be held proudly next to it.  The strong themes from before appear throughout the score, often with variations in context and orchestration.  Three major new themes appear in this score, one for Valka, villain Drago and for the song For the Dancing and the Dreaming.  These themes are often interwoven with past themes for some breathtaking moments.

It is hard to talk about some of the score/film without spoilers, and even the track names spoil - so I give fair spoiler warning here.    

The score opens with Dragon Racing - a knockout track full of magnificent writing and rousing returns past themes.  One of the highlights of the album, this track will bring you back right into the sonic world Powell started.  The Berk theme is used a lot in the track, but the flying theme with choir will put a smile on your face.    

Together We Map The World is a sweet track, with a great melody heard later.  There are bits of lighthearted moments to match the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless.  Hiccup the Chief/Drago's Coming begins with a tender rendition of the romantic theme heard in Romantic Flight.  The second half introduces the large choir and propulsive rhythms for Drago.  The Berk theme appears slightly hidden under different arrangements.  

Toothless Lost sounds frantic at points, with the choir crying out and the melody heard earlier in Together Map the World.  Should I Know You begins with the gentle female choir and Valka's theme before combining with statements of the Berk theme.  Valka's Dragon Sanctuary is another highlight of the score (and film).  Utilizing the choir and Valka's theme and the Map the World theme, there are some magical and majestic moments.  Losing Mom/Meeting the Good Alpha begins with a bit of drama before a tender version of Valka's theme rising to a stunning choir crescendo and dropping off to a piano solo.

Meet Drago begins with Drago's theme over a metallic rhythm and choir.  His music is menacing at times with quick fluttering blasts, with an exotic flare.  In addition, themes from the past film make appearances.  Stoick Finds Beauty has some more great usage of a choir and woodwind solos.  The bagpipes make a subtle entrance with Valka's theme.  Flying With Mother (another highlight), begins with a twinkling intro right into Valka's theme.  The melody becomes slightly rollicking, with the addition of female choir and the change for the theme to get a lively full orchestral rendition.  For The Dancing And The Dreaming begins as a Celtic tune whistled by the characters, before adding lyrics and turning into a quick jaunt.  The song has some comedic moment interruptions, but is a great tune (written by Powell and Jonsi).  The melody has been compared to a theme from Brave, and they certainly do share some Celtic DNA.  

Battle Of The Bewilderbeast is a massive cue - featuring Drago's fluttering blasts and Hiccup's heroic theme.  The flying theme makes an appearance with more excitement and choir this time around.  The momentum races to the end with the brass charging ahead until the percussion tag.  Hiccup Confronts Drago begins with a martial version of the Dancing Dreaming theme.  The bagpipes arrive with a repetitive pattern over a brutal percussion pattern.  Stoick Saves Hiccup lets Powell transform themes like Valka's into powerfully emotional moments.  The moment the choir comes in is spectacular.  Stoick's Ship continues that emotion, with the orchestra, bagpipes and choir bringing the Dancing Dreaming theme into another powerful moment.  The swell of the main Dragons theme - first starting as a clear trumpet duet is fantastic.

Alpha Comes To Berk builds slowly, until it reaches the heroic main theme.  It also contains some of the brass and choir bubbly sound heard earlier.  Toothless Found builds on past themes to an exciting climax full of brass, choir and lends itself to some triumphant moments.  The heroics continue into Two New Alphas, a mixture of the film's themes ending with a bow on top.  The new themes already feel familiar at this point, and give the score a nice extension of the musical world from the first film.  We end with one more flying theme appearance.  The album ends with Where No One Goes (sung/co-written by Jonsi).  It actually appears early in the film (and end credits) and is based on themes by Powell.  I prefer this song to their song on the last film - Sticks & Stones.             

It was worth the Powell hiatus to hear his continuation of the How to Train Your Dragon series.  While the first film had so many standout cues, this score fits right next to it.  The new themes are strong and match the tone of the past themes.  As I probably mentioned before, the use of choir in this score is fantastic.  The tone of the film really let Powell expand the world and give a bit of maturity to the music.  While parts of the first film had more lighter music, this score sounds more grown-up, like the film's characters.  I know they plan on making this at least a trilogy, and I can't wait to listen and see what happens next.  This album begs to be listened to and enjoyed over and over again.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Composers Going Ape!

There must be something about scoring any of the Planet of the Apes films....it seems like it makes the composers go ape!  Just for fun and amusement, here are some scoring session photos with our ape-like composers Jerry Goldsmith, Danny Elfman and Michael Giacchino.  







Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Spotlight On...Planet of the Apes


The newest Spotlight On takes a look back at the Planet of the Apes series.

Follow the films - like the classic original, the forgotten sequels, remake and popular second reboot.  Spanning a few decades, these films have scores by Jerry Goldsmith, Leonard Rosenman, Tom Scott, Danny Elfman, Patrick Doyle and Michael Giacchino.    

Here's a look back on the Planet of the Apes films score by score. 

Planet of the Apes (1968)
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Goldsmith employed many tricks to give this score an otherworldly feel.  Notably the exotic percussion, atonal brass and ram's horn.  He pushed the boundaries of a symphony orchestra with its modern sound.  Oscar nominee.  (Just listen to: Main Title, The Hunt, No Escape, The Revelation-Part II)

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
Music by Leonard Rosenman
With Goldsmith moving on to score Patton, Leonard Rosenman was brought in.  Also known for his innovative techniques Rosenman's score is more brash and atonal.  (Just listen to: Main Title, Captured, Underground City, Off to War)

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Goldsmith returned to this sequel and again, got musically creative.  Adding more of a groove, he added groovy jazz elements (steel drum and electric guitars included).  While considered one of the better films in the franchise, the score was not released separately until 1997.  (Just listen to: Main Title, Interrogation, Mother and Child)

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)
Music by Tom Scott
Saxophonist and composer began his film score career with Conquest.  The exotic percussion and horn calls return, as well as jazz elements for this darker film.  Like before, this score wasn't released until 2001.  (Just listen to: Main Title, Subjugation Soul, Revolution)

Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)
Music by Leonard Rosenman
Rosenman returned with his avant-garde style, following past patterns with new themes.  The action material is creatively handled, and also includes some melodic material near the end.  (Just listen to: Main Title, Mutants Move Out, The Battle, Only the Dead)

Planet of the Apes (2001)
Music by Danny Elfman
With this re-imagining/remake, Elfman brought the booming percussion and brass - atypical of his usual style.  The score is more tonal and melodic than previous Apes scores, the bombastic rhythms keep this score interesting.  (Just listen to: Main Title, Hunt, Preparing for Battle, Return)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Music by Patrick Doyle
In this reboot, Doyle branched out of his typical style and more into the modern blockbuster sound.  Many great musical moments happen in the calmer sections, but his swirling strings fit well in the larger action moments.  (Just listen to: Bright Eyes Escapes, Muir Woods, Caesar Protects Charles, Caesar's Home)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
Music by Michael Giacchino
To be continued....

Check out the others!