Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Featured Soloists

Film scores have often featured instrumental or vocal soloists in addition to the main orchestra.  It is no surprise that many of these names are well known, but there certainly have been plenty that haven't.  Yes, there are plenty of singers that perform songs, but I've focused more on the solos that are integrated into the film score itself.  I don't know why the soloist adds such an interesting dynamic, but as you can see from the list, composers love that effect.  Here are some soloists that have stuck out in my mind. 

Itzhak Perlman - violin
Schindler’s List (John Williams, 1993)
Hero (Tan Dun, 2004)
Memoirs of a Geisha (John Williams, 2005)

Yo-Yo Ma - cello

Seven Years in Tibet (John Williams, 1997)
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (Tan Dun (2000)
Memoirs of a Geisha (John Williams, 2005)

Joshua Bell - violin
The Red Violin (John Corigliano, 1998)
Iris (James Horner, 2001)
Ladies in Lavender (Nigel Hess, 2004)
Dreamer (John Debney, 2005)
Defiance (James Newton Howard, 2008)
Angels and Demons (Hans Zimmer, 2009)
For Colored Girls (Aaron Zigman, 2010)
The Flowers of War (Qigang Chen, 2011)

Hilary Hahn - violin
The Village (James Newton Howard, 2004)

Mark O’Connor - violin
The Patriot (John Williams, 2000)
Gods and Generals (John Frizzell/Randy Edelman, 2003)

Jean-Yves Thibaudet – piano
Pride & Prejudice (Dario Marianelli, 2005)
Atonement (Dario Marianelli, 2007)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Alexandre Desplat, 2011)

Lang Lang – piano
The Painted Veil (Alexandre Desplat, 2006)
The Banquet/Legend of the Black Scorpion (Tan Dun, 2006)
My Week with Marilyn (Alexandre Desplat/Conrad Pope, 2011)

Lisbeth Scott – vocal
Shrek (John Powell/Harry Gregson-Williams, 2001)
Passion of the Christ (John Debney, 2004)
Munich (John Williams, 2005)
Kingdom of Heaven (Harry Gregson-Williams, 2005)
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Harry Gregson-Williams, 2005)
Avatar (James Horner, 2009)

Other notable solos:
Annie Lennox, vocal
- Apollo 13 (James Horner, 1995)
Sissel Kyrkjebø, vocal – Titanic (James Horner, 1997)
Christopher Parkening, guitar – Stepmom (John Williams, 1998)
Emily Bernstein, clarinet - The Terminal (John Williams, 2004)
Kathleen Battle, vocal – House of the Flying Daggers (Shigeru Umebayashi, 2004)
Alison Lawrance, cello – World Trade Center (Craig Armstrong, 2006)

Nicola Benedetti, violin
- Eastern Promises (Howard Shore, 2007)

Jack Liebeck, violin – Jane Eyre (2011)
Rodrigo y Gabriela, guitars – Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Hans Zimmer, 2011)

The Lord of the Rings trilogy contained so many soloists; I wanted to do a special section for that.  There are many instrumental soloists in the scores that would be crazy to list out, but I’m thinking of them. 

  • Fellowship of the Ring featured many vocalists including Enya, Edward Ross, Elizabeth Fraser, Mabel Faletolu, Miriam Stockley, and Hilary Summers. 
  • The Two Towers featured Elizabeth Fraser, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Sheila Chandra, Ben Del Maestro, and Emiliana Torrini
  • The Return of the King featured Renée Fleming, Ben Del Maestro, Sissel Kyrkjebø on the Extended Editions, Sir James Galway on flute, and Annie Lennox.  Cast members Viggo Mortenson and Billy Boyd also sing in the film.   
Joshua Bell on violin, composer Aaron Zigman on piano

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Henry Mancini: The Charm

There have been so many popular film composers, but Henry Mancini’s film and television work seems to rise above many of the rest.  His penchant for melodic material is still obvious today.     

Born in Ohio in 1924, he was introduced to music from his flutist father.  He eventually learned piano and became interested in arranging.  He enrolled at Juilliard in 1942, but he was drafted into the Air Force.  While in the Air Force, Henry met Glenn Miller and in 1946 joined the Glenn Miller/Tex
Beneke band as an arranger and pianist. In 1947, he married Ginny O’Connor (who sang in the band), and eventually left the group to move to Hollywood. 

In 1952, Mancini began work for Universal-International.  He became house arranger and worked on several Abbott and Costello films.  He worked on hundreds of films in this time, mostly uncredited.  With his background of big band arranging, Mancini worked on films like The Glenn Miller Story (1954) and The Benny Goodman Story (1956).  His biggest breakout came from Touch of Evil (1958).  For the Orson Welles directed film, Mancini used many different styles like the blues, rock & roll, and Latin influences.  As he left Universal, a former Universal employee Blake Edwards hired Mancini to compose for his television show Peter Gunn.  The now famous theme is one of Mancini’s most recognizable themes, topping the Billboard chart and receiving Emmy and Grammy nominations.  It is also fun to note that among the great musicians in Mancini’s orchestra for the recording was John Williams on piano (yes, that John Williams). 

Mancini’s success continued into the 1960s with Blake Edwards’ Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961).  Mancini collaborated with lyricist Johnny Mercer for the song Moon River.  The song became a hit, with a Mancini song topping the Billboard chart.  Breakfast at Tiffany’s received two Academy Awards, one for Original Score and another for Original Song.  It is fourth on the AFI list of 100 Songs.  The 1962 film Hatari! featured some African instruments into the score, but is mainly known for the breakout hit Baby Elephant Walk.  Mancini and Edward reunited for Days of Wine and Roses (1962), with Mercer and Mancini winning another Best Song Oscar.  1963 saw more hits for Mancini, including one of my favorites Charade and of course The Pink Panther.  The title theme for The Pink Panther has been Mancini’s main achievement and has become one of the most recognizable movie themes. 
His collaboration with Blake Edwards continued with the Pink Panther sequel, A Shot in the Dark (1964) and the madcap film The Great Race (1965).

The 1970s kept Mancini busy with tons of television and film projects.  They include Darling Lili (1970), the MGM musical documentary That’s Entertainment! (1974), The Great Waldo Pepper (1975), Silver Streak (1976), The Prisoner of Zenda (1979).  He also worked on three more Pink Panther sequels: The Return of the Pink Panther (1975), The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) and Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978).  He also worked on the romantic comedy hit 10 directed by Blake Edwards.  Mancini’s work for the Hitchcock film, Frenzy (1972) was rejected and replaced by Ron Goodwin.
By the 1980s Mancini was still one of the most sought after film composers.  He also continued to regularly conduct orchestras around the world.  He wrote film scores like Mommie Dearest in 1981, and 1982’s Victor Victoria won him another Oscar.  Two more Pink Panther films were also released: Trail of the Pink Panther (1982) and Curse of the Pink Panther (1983).  Another hit for him in 1983 was the music for the TV miniseries The Thorn Birds.  He wrote again for TV, this time for the show Newhart.  In 1986, he composed the score (and two songs) for Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective

By the 1990s, Mancini had slowed down his pace of film scoring.  He worked on Ghost Dad (1990), Tom and Jerry: The Movie (1992) and his last Pink Panther film (and last film of Blake Edwards) – Son of the Pink Panther (1993).
Mancini died at the age of 70 in 1994 in Los Angeles.  His last work, the stage musical version of Victor Victoria opened in 1995.  The musical was dedicated to the memory of Henry Mancini. 

Henry Mancini has been a staple of the Pops orchestras, but I dislike him labeled as "easy listening".  His innovative use of instruments and arrangements made him a breakout hit.  He was able to write in multiple styles, but still keeping that Mancini charm.  His use of jazz harmonies never stood in the way of his melodic talents. 
His awards are too numerous to list, but he was nominated for 72 Grammys, winning 20.  He won a Golden Globe Award and nominated for 2 Emmys.  He was also nominated for 18 Academy Awards, winning 4.   

The Pink Panther Theme (Click here to listen)
Hatari - Baby Elephant Walk (Click here to listen)
Great Mouse Detective (Click here to listen)
The Great Race - Pie in the Face Polka (Click here to listen)
Moon River - Andy Williams and Henry Mancini on piano (Click here to listen)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Quick Reviews: Thor / Captain America

Here are two different scores from the Marvel franchise and the scores couldn’t be more different.  It will be interesting to see what happens when all characters mix in The Avengers next year and what composer will helm the score.  For now here is Thor and Captain America.

Music composed by Patrick Doyle
Orchestrated by: James Shearman, Patrick Doyle
Conducted by: James Shearman
Performed by The London Symphony Orchestra
Recorded at: Air Lyndhurst Studios, London
Album time: 72 minutes
Available on Buena Vista Records

With Kenneth Branagh directing, he naturally turned to Patrick Doyle for the music.  They had previously collaborated together at least seven films, notably Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.   Patrick started as more of a classical-influenced composer, using those talents on many period films.  His past adventure scores for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Eragon have been incredibly enjoyable. 

His score for Thor seemed divided into two worlds.  The film itself has the same issue.  We have the mystical Asgard and all that takes place there, and there is the part of the film on Earth.  Doyle seems like a great choice for the Asgard sections, but the Earth parts are too reminiscent of a typical action score.  I can understand if that is what Marvel had in mind with the character.  Just look at the terrible Ramin Djawadi score to Iron Man.  If that is what the case was, Doyle did his best at duplicating the formula of the Remote Control Productions crew – rather than bring out the type of music Doyle does best. 

Doyle does give us some great heroic themes, notably in Sons of Odin and other times on the soundtrack.  Doyle has always been able to bring out the emotions of the scenes without getting in the way.  The score features a lot of those quiet moments, which work both on film and on the album.  His action material in Frost Giant Battle and The Compound are some of the best of the album.    
His melodies shine through on the tracks Ride to Observatory and Banishment.  The horns and ostinato strings (like many other Doyle scores) are featured prominently throughout the score, especially in Thor Kills the Destroyer.  His percussion is booming but not overpowering on the album.  But like so many other recent films, the film mix is incredibly bass heavy (including sound effects).  The score ends with some really beautifully emotional music, like in Can You See Jane?       
The score does bridge between the two styles, but it's clear which one just works better for Doyle.  Branagh really knows how to set a scene, and really gives Doyle plenty of moments for his score to shine through.  Overall, his action and dramatic moments work fine in the film and on the album.  The score doesn't fix the film's problems, but it adds to the epic nature and the seriousness of the project.  It’s nice to see another serious symphonic score for a blockbuster.

Sons of Odin
Ride to Observatory
Hammer Found
The Compound
Thor Kills the Destroyer
Can You See Jane?

Captain America
Music composed by Alan Silvestri
Orchestrated by: John Ashton Thomas, Mark Graham, Dave Metzger, Alan Silvestri
Conducted by: Alan Silvestri
Recorded at Air Studios, London
Album time: 74 minutes
Available on Buena Vista Records

From the beginning of Captain America, you can tell this film is different than the rest of the Marvel films.  This of course has to do with Joe Johnston directing, and how much of the film felt like an action adventure film during a typical superhero origin story.  The World War II setting alone sets it apart.  Many people compare the film with Johnston’s 1991 film The Rocketeer, which features a great James Horner score.  Here, we’re given a theme that is fit for such a patriotic superhero.  It fits extremely well with the World War II setting and in a way a throwback to the action scores of Silvestri and Goldsmith and Williams. 

The score begins slowly with ominous underscoring.  Silvestri works well with the suspense here.  We’re given a melodramatic villain’s theme, which is effective throughout the score.  There is a moment in Farewell to Bucky that reminds me of Night at the Museum (also by Silvestri).  The heroics really begin as the character of Captain America emerges.  There are several solid action cues – prime Silvestri material.  Cues like Captain America "We Did It" and Triumphant Return and Captain America feature the Captain America theme prominently.  In “This Is My Choice”, we’re given transformation of the theme.  Later in the album we get such great action tracks as Howling Commando's Montage and Hydra Train, the latter reoccurring in the end credits.  These scenes are really moved well by the music and propel the story well.  Overall, we get a solid score with tons of great moments.  The score is a great listen.    

In case you listen to the score without seeing the movie, one thing sticks out - the song Star Spangled Man.  The song (Music: Alan Menken, Lyrics: David Zippel) works surprisingly well in the film and gives the film a bit of campy fun.  The song is reminiscent of a song that would fit in the period. 

I can’t recommend enough getting the fantastic concert version on iTunes only, Captain America March.  It's the music first heard in the credits.  You’ll be instantly transported to both Captain America and to John Williams’ old concert marches of Raiders and Superman.  (And that’s not a bad thing at all.)

I would have to rank this one of my favorite scores of 2011 so far.  I hope should they make another World War II story of Captain America, or whoever composes The Avengers keep the score quality of this film.         

Training the Supersoldier
Captain America “We Did It”
Howling Commando's Montage
Hydra Train
Motorcycle Mayhem
Captain America March (iTunes bonus)

Friday, August 12, 2011

2011 Fall/Winter Movie Preview

Just what you need!  Follow your favorite (or least favorite) composers with this handy guide to the 2011 fall/winter season.  All info subject to change. (and newly edited!)
Craig Armstrong
In Time
 Tyler Bates
The Darkest Hour
Christophe Beck
Tower Heist
Marco Beltrami
The Thing
Carter Burwell
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Pt 1
Mychael Danna
John Debney
 New Years Eve
Dream House
Alexandre Desplat
The Ides of March
Danny Elfman
Real Steel 

Ilan Eshkeri
Johnny English Reborn
Michael Giacchino
Mission: Impossible -  Ghost Protocol
Harry Gregson-Williams
Arthur Christmas

Larry Groupé
Straw Dogs
Paul Haslinger
The Three Musketeers

Alberto Iglesias
The Skin I Live In
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Mark Isham
Dolphin Tale
Henry Jackman
Puss in Boots

Johnny Klimek/Reinhold Heil
Killer Elite

Deborah Lurie
Cliff Martinez
Trevor Morris
Thomas Newman
The Iron Lady

Rachel Portman
I Don't Know How She Does It
John Powell
Happy Feet Two
Graeme Revell
Shark Night 3D
Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
William Ross
A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas
The Mighty Macs
Edward Shearmur
Theodore Shapiro
The Big Year 
Howard Shore

A Dangerous Method
Thomas Wander/Harald Kloser

Craig Wedren
John Williams
Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn
War Horse
Gabriel Yared
In the Land of Blood and Honey
Christopher Young
The Rum Diary
Aaron Zigman
What’s Your Number?
Hans Zimmer
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Best Pictures and Composers

Upon thinking of the Oscar winning composers, I was looking at the list of Best Picture winners and began wondering which composer had worked on the most Best Picture Oscar winners.  So I compiled a list by composer. It is interesting to see which individual score Oscar also went with Best Picture. Some of the results seem obvious, but others may surprise you. For example, Jerry Goldsmith only worked on one Best Picture – Patton.

Here is the list:
(** indicates Best Score winner)

Cimarron (1930/1931)
The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
Gone with the Wind (1939)
Casablanca (1943)

How Green Was My Valley (1941)
Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
All About Eve (1950)

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)**
The Departed (2006)

Braveheart (1995)
Titanic (1997)**
A Beautiful Mind (2001)

Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Out of Africa (1985)**
Dances with Wolves (1990)**

Rain Man (1988)
Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
Gladiator (2000)

The Lost Weekend (1945)
Ben-Hur (1959)**

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
Mrs. Miniver (1942)

A Man for All Seasons (1966)
Platoon (1986)

The Sting (1973) with Scott Joplin**
Ordinary People (1980)

The Godfather (1972)
The Godfather Part II (1974)**

The King’s Speech (2010)
Argo (2012)

On the Waterfront (1954)
West Side Story (1961)** Adaptation award to Saul Chaplin, Johnny Green, Sid Ramin, Irwin Kostal

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
Around the World in 80 Days (1956)**

Gigi (1958) Adaptation Award to Andre Previn**
My Fair Lady (1964) Adaptation Award to Andre Previn**

There are tons of one-time composers, but here a few of them.
American Beauty (1999)
Schindler’s List (1993)**
Rebecca (1940)
You Can’t Take It with You (1938)
Patton (1970)
Forrest Gump (1994)
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)**
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)**
Shakespeare in Love (1998)**
The English Patient (1998)**
Chariots of Fire (1981)**
Rocky (1976)
Tom Jones (1963)**
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)**

Monday, August 1, 2011

Screen Credit Quiz! (Round 2)

Here's Round 2.  Can you identify these films by the composer's screen credit?  Put your answers in the comments.