KFMF marks Elliot Goldenthal’s 70th with his ‘Symphony No. 3’

By Ray Bennett

American composer Elliot Goldenthal’s affinity with Poland and that nation’s cultural icons reached another pinnacle with his ‘Symphony No. 3’, which will be performed as part of the Krakow Film Music Festival’s ‘Traces of Memory’ evening at the Krakow Philharmonic Concert Hall on May 22.

The 43-minute work is inspired by words of the Polish poet and activist Barbara Sadowska, who died aged 46 in 1986, three years after the death of her son Grzegorz Przemyk, aged 19.

The young man’s death became emblematic of the world’s struggle against authoritarianism as it is believed widely that he was beaten and murdered by communist authorities in response to his mother’s political protests.

Goldenthal (pictured top) had long intended to write a symphony for voice and orchestra using Titania’s ‘Ode to the Environment’ from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. That changed when he was invited to create a piece using Barbara Sadowska’s words for the Beethoven Academy Orchestra, which was founded in 2005 by Elzbieta Penderecka, widow of the late Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. The orchestra had collaborated with him before and other Oscar-winning including Hans Zimmer and Jan A. P. Kaczmarek,

New York-based Goldenthal became acquainted with Krzysztof Penderecki (pictured with him below) and Elzbieta Penderecka on frequent visits to Poland in connection with the influential Film Music Festival held annually in Kraków since 2008.

His first visit was in 2012 and in 2015 he was the inaugural winner of the festival’s Wojciech Kilar Award, named for the Polish pianist and composer who died in 2013 aged 81. Kilar wrote the music for more than 130 films including Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’, Jane Campion’s ’Portrait of a Lady’ and Roman Polanski’s Oscar-winning film ‘The Pianist’.

The festival assembled a council of experts to choose the first recipient of the Kilar Award and organisers said Goldenthal was an almost unanimous choice. ‘In his music,’ the FMF said, ‘Goldenthal balances between dissonant, atonal music and classical harmony, often during a single phrase, blending traditional orchestral music with jazz and rock, as well as electronic music.”

The festival noted that the composer is comfortable working on pieces that are extensive symphonically and chorally as well as more ambient and intimate as he creates both traditional and unusual compositions: ‘Goldenthal is highly valued for his unique, dark, and almost dense style. None of the contemporary composers of film music use their talent in creating works in such a variety of musical genres.’

Goldenthal won the Academy Award for his score to ‘Frida’, directed by his partner Julie Taymor, who created the original ‘The Lion King’ on Broadway. He wrote the music for Taymor’s ‘Titus’, ‘Across the Universe’, ‘The Tempest’, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘The Glorias’. He was Oscar-nominated for best score for Neil Jordan’s ‘Interview with a Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles’ and ‘Michael Collins’.

He also provided the music for Jordan’s ‘The Butcher Boy’ and ‘The Good Thief’ amid a range of films that include ‘Alien3’, ‘Batman Forever’, ‘Batman & Robin’ and ‘Heat’. Busy in the concert hall, Goldenthal composes chamber music and writes symphonies, ballets and operas. As well as the Oscar, he has won two Golden Globes, three Grammy Awards and two Tony Awards

At the 2018 FMF, Goldenthal spoke of his admiration of Poland’s great military hero Tadeusz Kościuszko, a general and architect who played a significant role in Polish and American history. In tribute, he wrote ‘Concerto for Trumpet and Strings’, which was performed at the NOSPR Concert Hall in Katowice and the ICE Kraków Congress Centre.

The dedication was related to the first time the composer went to Kraków and heard the hourly live bugle calls that have been heard for centuries from the tower of St. Mary’s Church in the city’s Grand Square,‘They echo Kościuszko’s values,’ Goldenthal said. ‘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 twenty years or so and it seems like we go down the same dark road but Kościuszko still has the ability to inspire.’

After the Beethoven Academy Orchestra approached him for the Sadowska commission, Goldenthal became affected deeply by the poet’s work. He spent two years on an intense and moving vocal symphony that was to have debuted in Poland in August 2020 until the coronavirus pandemic got in the way. Along with everything that happened as a result of Covid 19, the world situation regarding authoritarianism has only grown more threatening. ‘Symphony No. 3’ challenges that boldly.

The ‘Traces of Memory’ concert programme was inspired by two anniversaries: The 30th anniversary of the Polish release of ‘Schindler’s List’, with the Oscar-winning score by John Williams, and Goldenthal’s 70th birthday. The concert also will feature works by Krzysztof Penderecki, Antoni Komasa-Łazarkiewicz and the band Kroke. The concert is organised in cooperation with the Krakow Philharmonic and the United States Consulate in Krakow, which has been a part of the city for 50 years.

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