KFMF18: From video games to James Bond

By Ray Bennett

KRAKÓW – David Arnold and his music for the James Bond film “Casino Royale” made sure the 11th Kraków Film Music Festival ended on a high note Sunday night as he played the iconic 007 guitar theme over the end credits at a screening of the film with live orchestra.

British conductor Gavin Greenaway led the Sinfonietta Cracovia in fine fashion at the Tauron Arena after Arnold made a surprise appearance to introduce the movie, the first to star Daniel Craig as the secret agent in 2006. In a brief Q&A before the film started, the British composer explained that was why the familiar 007 cues are not heard until the end of the picture. He said, “In an early scene, Craig’s Bond runs through a wall so we wanted music for a man who was a blunt instrument who could run through walls. We kept the familiar cues until he’d earned his place as 007.”

Arnold had written the scores for “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997), “The World Is Not Enough” (1999) and “Die Another Day” (2002) with Pierce Brosnan as Bond before the role was reimagined with Craig. He wrote the music for one more Bond film, “Quantum of Solace” and films such as “Made in Dagenham” (2010), “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” (2010), “Paul” (2011) and TV’s “Sherlock” along with Michael Price, and he will score Stephen Gaghan’s “The Voyage of Doctor Doolitte” starring Robert Downey Jr. due in 2019.

Saturday night at the festival had seen the Video Games Music Gala, also at the Tauron Arena, with world premieres of suites from many games by composers who were there including Academy Award-winner Elliot Goldenthal (“Frida”), Christopher Drake, Richard Jacques, Jesper Kyd, Eimear Noone and Austin Wintory. Swiss conductor Ludwig Wiki conducted the Beethoven Academy Orchestra and the Pro Musica Mundi Choir for most of the evening and they went beyond the call of duty to perform the typically bombastic music that video game fans adore.

Goldenthal’s “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” suite, from the 2001 computer animated sci-fi film inspired by the “Final Fantasy” video games, was the highlight of the evening with its sweeping orchestral techniques. The concert opened with a suite for “Medal of Honor” (1999) that showed the early promise of American composer Michael Giacchino, who went on to score editions of the “Star Trek”, “Planet of the Apes” and “Jurassic World” franchises and won an Oscar for “Up”. A suite from “Silent Hill: Downpour” was performed in remembrance of the late American composer Daniel Licht with his frequent collaborator Norman Kim adding his voice and electric mandolin playing with Tina Guo on the electric cello (below). Other soloists who performed included Sara Andon on flute and Przemysław Sokół on trumpet.

Austin Wintory contributed suites from “Journey: Apotheosis”, “ABZÛ: Delphinus delphis” and “Assasin’s Creed Syndicate: Ballet of Blades”. Jesper Kyd was on hand with suites from “Assassin’s Creed” and “Hitman” with Benoit Grey on bass, Eimear Noone conducted her music for “World of Warcraft” and “Lifeline” and Christopher Drake was represented by suites from “Batman: Arkham Villains” and “Batman: Arkham Origins” and Richard Jacques by “Headhunter” and “James Bond 007: Blood Stone: Athens Harbour Chase”. A suite from “Phantom Doctrine” by Marcin Przybyłowicz and Jan Sanejko opened the second half of the show followed by “The Witcher 3 Suite” by Piotr Musiał, Marcin Przybyłowicz and Mikołaj Stroiński with singer Ania Karwan. CD PROJEKT RED, producers of the hit “The Witcher” games, were awarded the FMF Ambassador Award during the concert and Marco Valerio Antonini, from Italy, won the sixth FMF Young Talent Award competition.

Other recitals at this year’s KFMF included Cinematic Piano at ICE Kraków’s Krzysztof Penderecki Hall on Saturday in which German pianist Hauschka (Volker Bertelmann) and American pianist Dustin O’Halloran (above) performed improvised variations on themes from their score for the 2016 Garth Davis film “Lion”. It included a touching tribute to the late Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (“Sicario”, “The Theory of Everything”, “Arrival”) with a performance of one of his concert hall pieces. “The Art of Inspiration” (below) presented by Varèse Sarabande” at ICE Kraków, featured pianist Austin Wintory, cellist Tina Guo, flautist Sara Andon and conductor Eimear Noone perform while artist Angela Bermudez painted an art work.

My photo top, others FMF

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KFMF18: Celtic, Nordic and Hispanic funk and folk fill the night

By Ray Bennett

KRAKÓW – Music and songs from Icelandic film and television composer Atli Örvarsson’s band Torrek and the movies of Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar enlivened the night on June 1 in a funk and funk concert called Dance2Cinema: All About Almodóvar | Funk & Folk at Kraków’s Museum of Municipal Engineering.

Known for films such as “Season of the Witch” (2011), “The Perfect Guy” (2015), “The Edge of Seventeen” and “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” (2017) and the current long-running American television series “Chicago Fire”, “Chicago Med” and “Chicago P.D.”, Örvarsson founded Torrek after he scored Kevin Macdonald’s Romans in Britain adventure”The Eagle” in 2011.

With his sister, singer Hilda Örvarsdóttir, uilleann piper and whistler Flaithrí Neff and his brother, fiddler Eoghan Neff they perform electronica with an exhilarating blend of Celtic and Nordic influences. They released a self-titled album in May 2018 and they have played around the world with percussionist and tabla player Satnam Ramgotra. Örvarsson’s upcoming films include two from director David M. Rosenthal – a thriller titled “How it Ends” (2018) and a new version of Adrian Lyne’s 1990 horror tale “Jacob’s Ladder”.

In the first half of the concert, a lively group of Spanish musicians – singer Esther Ovejero, Francis Hernández on piano and synthesizer, Pancho Delgado on guitar, Carlos Perdomo on double bass and Roberto Amor on percussion performed songs from Almodóvar’s including “Volver” from the 2006 comedy crime drama of the same name. With music by Carlos Gardel and lyrics by Alfredo Le Pera (as Alfredo La Pera), it is heard in the film sung by Estrella Morente with Montoyita on guitar.

Two songs from the 1991 romantic comedy drama “High Heels” were featured – “Piensa en Mí”, written by Agustín Lara and sung in the film by Luz Casal, and “Un Año de Amor” by Gaby Verlor with lyrics Adapted by Almodóvar and performed on the soundtrack by Luz Casal. Jacques Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas” is sung in the 1987 thriller “Law of Desire” by Maysa. La Lupe sings C. Curet Alonso’s “Puro Teatro” in the 1988 comedy drama “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”. Written by Ramón Perelló and Juan Mostazo, “La Bien Pagá” is heard sung by Miguel de Molina in the 1984 comedy drama “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”

Lola Beltrán sings “Soy Infeliz” by Ventura Romero (as Ventura Rodríguez in the 1998 comedy drama “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”. Caetano Veloso  sings Simón Díaz’s “Tonada de la Luna Llena” in the 1995 drama “The Flower of My Secret)”. Chavela Vargas sings José Alfredo Jiménez’s “El Último Trago” in 1995 drama “The Flower of My Secret”. There were two songs from the 1993 comedy “Kika” – “Se Nos Rompió el Amor de Tanto Usarlo”, written by Manuel Alejandro and Ana Magdalena (as P. Casas Romero) and performed in the film by Fernanda de Utrera and Bernarda de Utrera; and Álvaro Carrillo’s “Luz de Luna” sung on the soundtrack by Chavela Vargas. “Sufre como Yo” is from the 1997 drama “Live Flesh” with lyrics by José María Fonollosa (as J.M. Fonollosa) and music by A. Pili Álvarez performed by Albert Pla. Dúo Dinámico sings “Resistiré” by Carlos Toro Montoro (as Carlos Toro) and Manuel de la Calva in the 1989 comedy drama “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!”.

The concert followed a screening of the 2017 film “Beauty and the Beast” in an FMF4kids family concert to mark International Children’s Day. Erik Ochsner conducted the Beethoven Academy Orchestra and Polish Radio Choir with Sylwia Banasik singing the part of Belle and Hubert Zapiór singing the role of the Beast as they performed Alan Menken’s score live to picture with songs by Menken with lyricists Howard Ashman and Tim Rice.

Photos: A Wroblewska (Blackshadowstudio)

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KFMF18: The sound of music, Polish style

By Ray Bennett

KRAKÓW – Often in minor chords and melancholy but then again rousing, lush and hopeful, the music of Polish cinema filled the newly named Krzysztof Penderecki Hall at ICE Kraków Thursday night as the Film Music Festival presented scores from films by homegrown filmmakers, especially internationally acclaimed director Agnieszka Holland.

Oscar-winning composer Jan A.P. Kaczmarek and fellow Polish composers Antoni Komasa-Łazarkiewicz, Radzimir Dębski (who goes by the name Jimek) and Zbigniew Preisner were on hand to hear the AUKSO CHamber Orchestra and Cracow Singers conducted by Marek Moś perform themes from movies directed by Holland (pictured below). Italy’s Sandro di Stefano also attended the concert and America’s Jeff Beal sent a video message while Hollywood-based English composer Clint Mansell sent his apologies.

The composers in the hall along with the director accepted the extended cheers and applause of an audience delighted by the sounds and images they were treated to. A suite from Di Stefano’s score for Bodo Kox’s 2017 time-travel yarn “The Man With the Magic Box” began proceedings followed by Mansell’s “Loving Vincent” themes from the Oscar-nominated oil-painted animation feature directed by Dorota Kobiela, from nearby Bytom, and Englishman Hugh Welchman. Jimek stepped to the podium to lead orchestra, chorus and some excellent soloists in a suite from his Polish Film Award-winning score for “The Art of Love: The Story of Michalina Wislocka” (2017). With Daniel Popiałkiewicz on electric guitar, the sometimes swirling and energetic music reflected the blend of drama and laughter in Maria Sadowska’s tale of a famed Polish sexologist. The same could be said of his score for Pawel Maslona’s comedy-drama “Panic Attack” (2017).

Other outstanding soloists included percussionists Wojtek Kowalewski, Monika Szulińska, Jose Manuel Alban Juarez and Igor Falecki, violinist Tomer Moked, Mateusz Kołakowski and Piotr Wrombel on keyboards and Andrzej Święs.

The second half of the concert was devoted to music from films by Agnieszka Holland with suites by Komasa-Łazarkiewicz from the war drama “In Darkness” (2011) and the crime mystery “Pokot (Spoor)”, which won the Silver Bear at the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival. Jeff Beal sent a video message in which he recalled fondly his visit to the film festival and introduced an original arrangement of music from the Netflix and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment series ‘House of Cards’ titled ‘Flute Fantasy’, which was then performed with typical flair by American flautist Sara Andon. Holland directed two episodes of the show about a corrupt U.S. president in 2015 and two in 2017. Beal said, “If you’re in Poland, I’d stay there as the place is being run by someone even worse than Frank Underwood right now.”

Jan A.P. Kaczmarek contributed a suite of music from three of the films he scored for the director: “Total Eclipse” (1995) with Leonardo DiCaprio (pictured top) as the young poet Arthur Rimbaud; D “Washington Square” (1997) a period drama with Jennifer Jason Leigh based on the Henry James novel; and the priestly drama “The Third Miracle” (1999) starring Ed Harris. Zbigniew Preisner contributed the main themes from Holland’s “Europa Europa” (1992), which was nominated for an Oscar for adapted screenplay, and “The Secret Garden” (1992), Holland’s adaptation of the early 20th century novel for children by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The music of Kaczmarek and Preisner is so rich and assured that you could listen to it all night.

Photos: FMF

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KFMF18: Penderecki, Goldenthal make spines tingle

By Ray Bennett

KRAKÓW – Krzysztof Penderecki does not make music for movies, directors make films for his music. That, at least, is how it appeared at the Kraków Film Music Festival’s Penderecki2Cinema concert Wednesday evening.

The legendary Polish composer (above), celebrating his 85th birthday, was on hand to accept several standing ovations after conductor Dirk Brossé led the National Polish Radio Orchestra through four of his most acclaimed works that were written for the concert hall but have featured in iconic movies by directors such as Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorses and Andrzej Wajda.

Before the concert, the large, versatile and acoustically adaptable ICE Kraków Auditorium Hall was renamed Krzysztof Penderecki Hall with a plague bearing a steel etching of a copperplate depiction of his profile. Krakow Mayor Jacek Majchrowski, who presided over the opening ceremony, noted that the world-renowned composer has been part of the fabric of the city for more than 60 years so to name the hall for him “seems to be a natural step”. But he said that the question was: “Is the hall worthy of him? Were the acoustics fine enough?” Penderecki approved, “so we decided to go ahead.”

Filmmakers must have asked themselves a similar question over the years and the many clips shown during the concert suggest they often succeeded. Maestro Brossé’s command of the music was majestic as the orchestra gave spine-tingling renditions of “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima for 52 Strings”, “Symphony No.  2,  I-II Moderato – Allegretto”, “Polymorphia for 48 strings” and “Symphony No. 3, IV Passacaglia – Allegro Moderato”. Scenes from William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” (1973), Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1980, above), Peter Weir’s “Fearless” (1993), Cuaron’s “Children of Men” (2006), Wadja’s “Katyn” (2007), Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” (2010), Pablo Larraín’s “Neruda” and David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” (2017) illustrated Penderecki’s already vividly evocative expressions of emotion.

His music is shattering as tension grows portentously, bows drawn achingly, eldritch sounds filled with menace that tickle the back of the neck; cacophonous with the strings of bass, cello and violin plucked and scratched, bouts tapped and slapped, building to a clamorous frenzy like a flock of disturbed ravens crying havoc, fleeing in chaotic panic from some nameless dread; and celebratory as horns and woodwinds begin to soar. No wonder filmmakers cannot resist.

The other highlight of the evening was the world premiere of Oscar-winning American composer Elliot Goldenthal’s breathtaking “Concerto for Trumpet and Strings”, which he wrote as the result of receiving the festival’s first Wojciech Kilar Award in 2015. Dedicated to 18th century Polish hero Tadeusz Kościuszko, a formative figure in the American Revolution, Goldenthal (above) said he was inspired by the bugles that call out from the tower of St. Mary’s Church in Kraków’s Grand Square every hour of every day. His enthusiasm for the performance of the orchestra and the splendid tone of Norwegian trumpet soloist Tine Thing Helseth was matched by the audience’s eruption of appreciation for musicians and composer at the end of the 17-minute concerto. Challenging, complex and eloquent, it offers passages that invite rapt attention and then splinters into unexpected dips, dives and flights of power and emotion. Goldenthal said afterwards that he would love to have the same orchestra, conductor and soloist make the first recording of the concerto.

The evening began with three Penderecki pieces in the Baroque style and then, in the absence of this year’s Kilar Award-winner Michael Nyman’s, a performance of his “The Piano for Strings” from the soundtrack of Jane Campion’s 1996 picture “The Piano”.

 

The night ended with rapturous applause from a grateful audience and the scene afterwards of the two masters, Penderecki and Goldenthal, deep in conversation. Penderecki had said at the earlier dedication of the Auditorium Hall in his name, that he had always hoped that one day long after his death he might be recognised in such a way. For it to happen now, “There is no greater joy,” he said. “I arrived in Kraków in 1951 and I did dream that I might achieve something in the city. Maybe it is the city that has made me a composer.”

Photos: Penderecki, Goldenthal FMF; ‘The Shining’ my photo; bottom photo courtesy of Varèse Sarabande’s Robert Townson

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KFMF18: Elliot Goldenthal on the ability to inspire

By Ray Bennett

KRAKÓW – American composer Elliot Goldenthal paid tribute to two Polish heroes at a media conference to open the 11th annual Krakow Film Music Festival today. Oscar-winner for “Frida” and recipient of the festival’s first Wojciech Kilar Award in 2015, he said that the first time he saw the sheet music for Krzysztof Penderecki’s “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima for 52 Strings” when he was 17, he turned pale and started to tremble.

“It was a deep moment,” he recalled. “I realised that I had seen my first real film score.” With the venerable polish composer sitting next to him on the speaker’s panel, he described spending an afternoon at Penderecki’s home with its bucolic surroundings. “We didn’t exchange many words but the silences – in music we call them rests – the rests were more poignant: “He has the ability to inspire. His music goes out, he doesn’t know where .. the wind will take it. For me, it took it to Brooklyn when I was growing up.”

Goldenthal also spoke of his admiration of Poland’s great military hero Tadeusz Kościuszko, a general and architect who played a significant role in Polish history and the American Revolution. Last night in NOSPR Concert Hall in Katowice saw the first ever presentation of the composer’s “Concerto for Trumpet and Strings”, which he has dedicated to Kościuszko. It will be performed again tonight in concert at the ICE Kraków Congress Centre. He said, “The dedication is related to the first time I came to Kraków and heard the trumpets.” The hourly bugle call from the tower of St. Mary’s Church in Kraków’s Grand Square has been heard for centuries. “They echo Kościuszko’s values. He was a great hero of the American Revolution and he instilled the values of social issues that are ever more important today. These issues come up every 20 years or so and it seems like we go down the same dark road but Kościuszko still has the ability to inspire.”

Penderecki admitted that when he was a young member of the avant-garde, he believed he should follow a straight line as a composer and thought that when his music was used in films that it was simply good publicity. “But then director Wojciech Has invited me to watch him film ‘Rękopis znaleziony w Saragossie’ [1965]. I saw several scenes being shot and I changed my mind.” Renowned in the concert hall, he said he enjoys writing music for short films: “At the moment, I combine classical music with film music.”

Polish director Agnieszka Holland said that she was ignorant about music and confessed, “Film directors are thieves. They see something glittering, like a trinket, and they steal it and transpose it to their own ends. For me, music in film is another figure, another character. Music is a particular piece of dialogue.” FMF Artistic Director Robert Piaskowski described the festival as “a great holiday of filmmaking” and said it was respectful of tradition but understood the power of innovation. Conductor Eimear Noone, who will conduct a concert of videogame music on Sunday, said that video games offered another great opportunity for composers and she promised a night of magic. Oscar-winning Polish composer Jan A.P. Kaczmarek added a cautionary note, observing that while concerts of film music had never been more popular, budgets for feature film scores were being cut. He said “Welcome to reality.”

And then there was cake.

In my photo: Magda Miśka Jackowska (RMF Classic radio star and moderator), composer Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, composer/conductor Eimear Noone, director Agnieszka Holland, composer Elliot Goldenthal, composer Krzysztof Penderecki, FMF Artistic Director Robert Piaskowski, RMF Classic Deputy Program Director Pawel Pawlik.

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KFMF18: Michael Nyman: Music that defines a world

By Ray Bennett

KRAKOW – When Michael Nyman asked director Jane Campion why she chose him to write the music for her 1996 film “The Piano”, she said something that pleased the iconic British composer very much. “You’re the only composer,” he recalled her saying, “who can create music that instantly and convincingly defines a world.” American actress Holly Hunter, who won an Oscar for the picture, also made a remark that he treasured. “She said I had helped her, through my music, to create the character,” Nyman told me. “That is the ultimate vindication of what the composer does. I had helped to create the mood or psychological grounding on which she was then able to build.”

Nyman, who is unable to attend, will be honoured as the recipient of the 4th Wojciech Kilar Award during tonight’s opening concert of the 10th Krakow Film Music Festival at the NOSPR Concert Hall in Katowice, which will be repeated Wednesday night at the ICE Kraków Congress Centre. The Polish National Radio Orchestra conducted by Belgian maestro Dirk Brossé also will perform Nyman’s “String Quartet No. 3”, from his score from “The Piano”, arranged by Nikiforos Chrysoloras.

Previous honourees were American Oscar-winner Elliot Goldenthal, French Oscar-winner Alexandre Desplat and Canadian Oscar-winner Howard Shore. The Kilar Award is named for the late Polish conductor whose prolific film work included Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and Roman Polanski’s “The Ninth Gate”. Coincidentally, he also scored Polanski’s Oscar-winning “The Pianist” and Jane Campion’s 1996 film “The Portrait of a Lady” while Nyman’s best-loved movie score is for Campion’s “The Piano”. Notoriously, it was not nominated for an Oscar for his score for “The Piano” although the soundtrack has sold more than three-million copies.

The music for the picture is dissimilar, however, to his celebrated scores for British filmmaker Peter Greenaway’s films such as “The Draughtsman’s Contract” (1982), “A Zed and Two Noughts” (1985), “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover” (1989) and “Prospero’s Books” or Andrew Niccol’s “Gattaca” (1997), Neil Jordan’s “The End of the Affair” (1999) or Michael Winterbottom’s “Wonderland” (1999). Not to mention his equally acclaimed operas (such as “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat”), multi-media work, books and 40-year career with the Michael Nyman Band.

He is proud of his work for Greenaway although when they first started working together, he hadn’t thought of himself as a film composer. He told me, “We were two fellow artists working together and our ideas and ideals happened to coincide in certain areas and not coincide in other areas. When I was working with him, I didn’t think, ‘Oh, this is how one gets into the film business; this is how one gets into the soundtrack business.’ I was literally just working with my colleague and fellow artist and I think that is so unusual. I didn’t realise how fortunate I was. I found the one film director who encouraged the film composer to be as independent minded as possible and to write music that wasn’t dictated to in the way that you are in the commercial world.”

The concerts, Pendericki2Cinema, are part of the City of Krakow’s celebrations of Krzysztof Penderecki’s s 85th birthday and they will feature several of the celebrated Polish composer’s works. Elliot Goldenthal also will be on hand for the premiere of his “Concerto for Trumpet and Strings”, which is dedicated to 18th century Polish hero Tadeusz Kościuszko.

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Diversity in the top Academy Awards: a look at the numbers

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – In the discussion about diversity in the top prizes of the Academy Awards, it’s worth noting that the Oscar for best director has gone to a white American male only five times in the 16 editions of the 21st century and only once in the last nine years. Continue reading

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BAFTA Film Awards: my predictions and favourites

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – My hopes are with Guillermo del Toro’s dazzling “The Shape of Water” (pictured) at tonight’s 71st British Academy Film Awards although such is the high calibre of most of the nominees that it would be hard to begrudge other winners. Continue reading

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FILM REVIEW: Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Phantom Thread’

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film ‘Phantom Thread’, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as an eccentric and punctilious fashion designer in 1950s London, is a thoroughly absorbing intellectual horror film in which the horror is entirely internal. Continue reading

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FILM REVIEW: Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Post’

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Given the times, it’s no surprise that Steven Spielberg wants to tell the story of a corrupt swine in the White House who turns the press into an enemy. It’s also hardly surprising that film critics on newspapers love the earnest depiction of print versus power in ‘The Post’. It is disappointing, however, that with all the talent involved, the film is so dull. Continue reading

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