By Ray Bennett
KRAKÓW – Animated films tend to be filled with basic emotions that offer composers the opportunity to revel in them all from the terror of oppression to the tumult of revolt, the panic of flight to the anguish of loss, and the joy of mischief to the elixir of romance and the splendour of victory all in one picture.
The music of a dozen top film composers at the Kraków Film Music Festival’s Animation Gala on May 28 reflected all of those and with many clips chosen aptly for the big screen, all the audience of 16,000 at the Tauron Arena Kraków needed to do was relax and enjoy the fun.
German maestro Frank Strobel was the conductor except when composers took the baton and he led the superb Beethoven Academy Orchestra and Polish Radio Choir through three-hours of cues, songs and suites from some of the most popular animated films of recent times.
British composer John Powell’s nimble music for “Ice Age 2: The Meltdown” (2006) kicked things off and his Oscar-nominated score for “How to Train Your Dragon” (2010) came along in the second half.
Frenchman Alexandre Desplat, who had been in Kraków earlier in the week to accept the Kilar Award, left behind a video in which he introduced his song “Still Dream”, which Renée Fleming sang in “Rise of the Guardians” (2012). He said, “It’s a very difficult song to sing” and then Kraków Opera star soprano Wioletta Chodowicz came on and showed beautifully just how it should be sung.
A typically adventurous suite by British composer Harry Gregson-Williams for Aardman Animations’ “Arthur Christmas” (2011) was played live for the first time followed by a stunning rendition by radiant Polish pop star Edyta Górniak (pictured top) of “Colors of the Wind”, the Oscar-winning song from “Pocahontas” (1995) written by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz and sung in the film by Vanessa Williams.
American composer Michael Giacchino appeared in a video from the set of “Star Trek Beyond” to introduce a bold and frisky suite from “Zootopia” (2016) and then sublime Polish vocalist Kasia Łaska, a star of Musical Theater ROMA in Warsaw, delivered in Polish a flawless version of “Let it Go”, the Oscar-winning song from “Frozen” written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez and sung in the film by Idina Menzel.
Frank Strobel conducted the live world premiere of music by Harry Gregson-Williams from “Shrek 2” (2004) and the composer stepped up to present the FMF Young Talent Award, for which he was a judge, to Dutch composer Joep Sporck (pictured left). Gregson-Williams then doffed jacket and tie, picked up the baton (pictured above) and took the orchestra through a rousing suite of his score for “Shrek” (2001).
Following an intermission, Spanish maestro Diego Navarro took the podium to conduct a vigorous selection from his score to the film “Capture the Flag” (2015), directed by Spain’s Enrique Gato and then there was a pause in the music as Hollywood industry veteran USC Thornton Professor Daniel Carlin (pictured below left with host Magda Miska-Jackowska), a Kraków regular involved in panels and master-classes, was awarded the annual FMF Ambassador Award.
There was more of Gregson-Williams’s fleet-footed music, this time from “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas” (2003) performed live for the first time with Marcin Suszycki a standout on the electric violin. Another sensational Polish vocalist, 20-year-old Magdalena Wasylik, also a star of Musical Theater ROMA, appeared to perform the Oscar-nominated song “Once Upon a December”, written by Stephen Flaherty (with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens) for “Anastasia” (1997). It was sung in the film by Liz Callaway and Angela Lansbury.
The exuberant scores of Brazilian composer Heitor Pereira were next in the spotlight as clips added to the pleasure of hearing live for the first time suites from “The Smurfs” (2011), “Angry Birds The Movie” (2016), “Despicable Me” (2010), “Despicable Me 2” (2013) and “Minions” (2015).
Warsaw recording artist Marcin Jajkiewicz joined Kasia Łaska for a breathtaking performance of the Oscar-winning song “Beauty and the Beast” from the 1991 film of the same name, written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman and sung in the movie by Angela Lansbury and then over the end credits by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson.
After Powell’s “How to Train Your Dragon” suite, vocalists Łaska and Wasylik were back to close the show with a sublime delivery of Stephen Schwartz’s Oscar-winning song “When You Believe” from “The Prince of Egypt” (1998), sung in the movie by Michelle Pfeiffer and Sally Dworsky and over the end credits by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey.
Such concerts are meat-and-potatoes for film music shows but Kraków FMF’s ability to attract top composers and provide excellent musicians and singers is almost unparalleled. Not for the first time, the only problem the audience had was to choose which theme to hum on the way home.
The festival runs through May 31.
Photos: Robert Slusniak