Our colleague & collaborator Frederic Torres recently had the opportunity to interview Constantino Martínez-Orts, alma mater of the Film Symphony Orchestra, which is currently touring the Iberian Peninsula with its latest production: “Henko“.
The interview takes place at lunchtime, in the relaxed atmosphere provided by the bar of a well-known and centrally located Valencian hotel. Constantino Martínez-Orts is punctual to the appointment, but somewhat rushed, as he has just become the father of twins, and has an upcoming appointment to rehearse and perform a special concert in Madrid for the celebration of Halloween night, starring a character of the shadows as emblematic as Dracula (read more).
However, the purpose is to talk about his new tour, baptized as HENKO, a Japanese word that comes to mean a “change from within and without return” (read more-1 and read more-2), as explained on the website of the Film Symphony Orchestra, founded by Martínez-Orts.
While he signs the covers of some of his compact discs and dedicates them to me, we talk about the “Fénix” tour, the last double compact disc released (the “Krypton” tour is still in production). And while on it, I launch the first question…
Where did the idea of naming the various tours come from?
It was a symbolism about the return to the stage, because the pandemic was a turning point that provoked a general reflection about how bad some people had it for personal and professional reasons, and how we managed to overcome the bump and somehow be reborn, so I decided to baptize the tour as Fénix/Phoenix, and as it looked good, we started to name the tours. Something that is not easy, because that first one looked good despite not having a cinematographic relationship, something that “Krypton” did have, which was Superman’s home planet. And as the FSO has always had a personal line, the fact of including in the program titles such as Captain Blood, the love theme of Spartacus, or the suite of The Cider House Rules, and trying to follow a common thread, has been something that has not limited the inclusion of titles, but it has been defining, because in those mentioned there is a “conflict”, as there is even in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Then, I also try to contextualize what is going to be interpreted, not so much in a technical sense in a masterclass plan, but from a cinematographic point of view, so that people recognize it or get curious to see that film and listen to look at the music.
In this sense, it’s been many years (in 2012 was the first tour) since you started touring with FSO, but what prompted you to do so?
I am a great lover of film music, as are you and the rest of the specialized critics, and in my youth I experienced the València Film Music Congresses in the nineties, where great composers such as Maurice Jarre, Michael Kamen, Patrick Doyle, Luis Enrique Bacalov… were present. Also many Spaniards, such as Roque Baños, Mario de Benito, Alberto Iglesias… That Film Music Festival disappeared, and the thing is that I am a composer graduated from the Conservatory and with a Master’s degree in the specialty at the age of 27. I went to London, but I could not decide between being a composer who conducts, or a conductor who composes, and after the Master’s in London, I went to New York to train as a conductor and on my return I passed a competitive examination so I became a civil servant, a conservatory professor.
But there came a time when I did not feel comfortable being a teacher because I wanted to compose and conduct, and although I did some little things in this sense, they were not much, some TV movie for Canal 9 and TV3, and that’s it, but I did not just channel the passion I felt. I’m an only child and I’ve always had a hard time with loneliness, and since I was a pianist and didn’t play a collective instrument, I wasn’t integrated in any band (you know that in the Valencian Community they have a lot of tradition), and composing isolated me even more. I have always liked the “brawl”, to be with people, and that’s why there comes a time when I think that I like to make music and I ask my girlfriend (who is now my current wife), after seeing the shows that were mounted in the Barbican and the Royal Albert Hall in London, and after returning from the U.S., after having been in the Hollywood Bowl, after seeing what was being done in the concerts of the Mostra de València (I’m talking about 25 or 30 years ago), with the Orquesta de València, there was a kind of atmosphere of lack of commitment, of not putting in value that music, in front of composers of the caliber of Maurice Jarre.
So I said to myself, I am going to create an orchestra to play this type of music that I like, which is film music, and play it with the dignity and respect with which I have seen it performed in other countries, specifically England and the United States.
How do you put together an orchestra?
I was basically a conductor and composer, not a businessman. So, an orchestra is put together… with many mistakes! The Film Symphony was born in a first concert that took place in the Plaza de la Virgen, here in València capital, during the last Mostra, with music from films of the James Bond saga and others by John Barry. And I didn’t know anyone in the City Hall or in the Mostra. They had just put Salomón Castiel, who was Andalusian, as director of the festival, and as there was an adventure theme and Barry’s death was recent, I proposed Bond, because I had a small orchestral formation called the European Academy, with which I was dedicated to perform classical music. Although the handbill already read “Film Symphony Orchestra Project“. That outdoor concert was the trigger. That’s when I said to myself, “let’s take this music everywhere”. And from there, with a lot of “sacrifice, sweat, and tears” (I almost killed my father, because I almost ruined him trying to set this up in an unsuccessful way), and thanks to some friends I was able to make the first tour, dedicated to Williams.
Because it has to be clear that this is a private company, right?
I believe in private enterprise, and although we have some contribution from the Ministry of Culture and therefore I cannot say that it is 100%, for the volume that the project means, the help we receive is practically residual. I think that public orchestras and culture should be financed by the State to bring them closer to the people, to the people in the street, offering popular prices so that everyone can afford to listen to a good orchestra with a good conductor, but that is not my goal. How things are done afterwards is another matter. I would not see any sense in creating an orchestra with public money to play film music. It’s the same with public services, whether it’s a gymnasium, a library, or an opera house. Pay a reasonable price. You’re not going to pay 300 euros for an opera ticket. I understand more the concept of attending an opera as it is understood in Germany than here, which is more elitist.
My project is therefore a private company, with all the risk that entails, and it is created to satisfy that dream of mine because film music has generated very good and very nice feelings in my life. I literally cried watching movies at home and listening to their music, and I thought that this must happen to many more people. And this is the trigger that makes me create FSO. And since we created it we have been growing little by little from that first concert in the Mostra, to the more than seventy concerts we give now all over Spain, with more than fifteen concerts in Madrid, six in Valencia, four in Barcelona, two in most cities and in the islands. And we don’t do more concerts because I like to be in charge of the project and I don’t want to delegate.
Regarding the programs, there is a preeminence of music from the eighties and nineties, with Horner, Silvestri, etc., playing a leading role. Your sentimental attachment is noticeable. Do you always select the program?
I have always been in charge of the artistic direction of the project, and I start from my knowledge, from my passion, from my history, from the soundtracks I have grown up with, and well, I also try to be fair with all the history of cinema, with all the composers, but the reality is that it is not always like that, we are not going to fool ourselves! I sit in my armchair at home and think about what I would like to hear in a concert, which film. For example, now in “Henko”, we have Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which has that particular henko of the character, with that passage from childhood to adolescence, with the “trial of the Three Wizards”, and above all, Doyle’s music, a brutal score, very inspired, maybe not at the height of those of Williams, but … Then, what themes of the film I select? There’s “Harry in Winter”, there’s the Hogwarts hymn… Well, I’m going to make a suite!
So, are they your arrangements?
It depends, sometimes yes. Now, in Dracul, there is a beautiful suite of Gremlins by Goldsmith. From The Prophecy, there is a suite that can be improved… If it exists, then it is bought, the rights are paid. If it doesn’t, and there is no way to get it, then I do it. As I have done with Potter, with The Rules of Cider House…
On this tour there are five or six suites that are mine. Yes, Doyle’s scores are available for rent, but they are not always to my liking. In the case of Harry Potter there is a suite with some of the aforementioned themes (“Harry in Winter”), some of the waltzes that appear in the film, etc. But not as I would like to hear them. What I do, after all, is like a chef’s plate, I serve you whatever you want, but I do it my way. You will be able to taste Potter or Star Wars in other concerts, but not the way I like it. For example, we play the Obi-Wan theme, but I’ve added something to it that’s not in the standard interpretation. On the other hand, the love theme of Spartacus, well, we play it as it is written, because it is so good that it’s not worth to tinker with it. We also play very classic pieces, like the Indiana Jones march, but this year we have incorporated it into the “Final Credits” of the Temple of Doom, where you have the theme of Short Round, the slave children, Willie’s love theme, so it is true that it is the same as always, but reinterpreted.
We must not lose the north, not because you eat caviar every day you have to lose sight of what you have in front of you. We play film music on the assumption that it is functional, that it is at the service of the image, of course, but because of the quality of the scores, because of that inspiration, that genius of the composer, that music has transcended the film, and therefore, it can be enjoyed in a concert hall. And that is why there is a lot of Spanish film music (also foreign), which we do not play because here in Spain, well, the tables are turning a little and some more international authors have understood that film music is “concertable”, such as Alberto Iglesias, Roque Baños, Fernando Velázquez, but there are others, as happens with the music of Pepe Nieto, with all due respect and however good a filmmaker he is, which is more arid to interpret.
Have you found the magic formula for a tour every year with different content, but with similar characteristics?
Yes, we do a varied concert program, unless it is a monographic one like “Krypton”, which being so we also try to make it diverse, so it is true what you ask. We have been very careful with the characteristics of the show, so to speak, because I think that what we do goes beyond a concert, it is an experience. You go to listen to music, but you find an orchestra that is not dressed in the classic tailcoat, and with a lighting that tries to enhance as far as the technique allows us the emotions of the public, with a conductor who presents the works, if possible with some humor. We also put a digital contest with an application to raffle a trip to Hollywood trying to interact with the public. In addition, everything ends with a big party with the music of the Cantina (from Star Wars), with the Orchestra scattered around dancing. So, I understand that people knows that when you have to perform the music you have to do it in a serious way, but that when we get to the end and we play that Cantina music, it’s like saying we’ve done everything we had to do, and now we’re going to party.
And haven’t you considered continuing to do monographs dedicated to other composers, instead of continuing with the potpourri style?
It could be, yes, and I think it will be done. I couldn’t tell you if it would be a genre show, like the Dracul show that has been prepared in Madrid for Halloween night, or the Bridgerton’s kind, which was a personal craze of mine. I watched the series with my wife and marveled at his music. I found it super inspired and thought I’d bring this fantasy to reality. So, yes, it is on the table to carry out monographs, although let’s be honest, going beyond other opportunistic orchestras that are now doing film music in which the program consists of pitting Williams against Zimmer, or selecting the best of Disney along with more music by Williams, something that apparently does not keep any coherence, while we do try to give it, from my point of view, which is not universal, of course.
Always trying to please the general public, because I cannot get into doing a monograph dedicated to Alex North, as much as I like the classics because I do not have public funding to support me. If this were so, I would choose Waxman, Korngold, Steiner, because I come from classical music and I pick up the heritage of these Central European composers. So, the fact of not producing a concert like Dracul has a very simple answer, because being a private initiative, we have to sell tickets for the company to survive and create shows that work, and for that we have to do tastings. And for Spain, we chose Madrid, which is the city where I believe there is more show business culture, because I have lived there and I have been a consumer of musicals, theater, concerts, opera, zarzuela. In short, people go out. So, if you are going to do a test, you choose Madrid.
I would love, on the occasion of Halloween, to have done a previous tour of Dracul three weekends before in other cities, because I like it very much, and if so, it will surely be a success, because I have rarely failed in that appreciation for the public, but this is a show of some complexity that combines many elements and I think we have hit the target, but I find it hard to see Dracul performed in June in Seville, for example.
Is that then the explanation why you do not program Spanish composers, for commercial reasons?
Spanish film music has grown a lot, and in the last few decades some very good scores have appeared. But it is still a very functional music, with a much less commercial vision, like all European music in general, but with nuances, as opposed to American music. Will we incorporate it in the future? Well, I’m not saying no. But I have to find the time. There is also a fundamental question, and that is that I think that over the years we have earned a certain respect, that we are not a “temporary” orchestra, that we are a stable formation with more than seventy people and with a very good orchestra sound because we are a team and we have been playing for ten years, and only live.
I think that beyond personal mistakes, which happen even in a Philharmonic like the Berlin Philharmonic, the quality of the orchestra is sufficiently contrasted so that Spanish film music can be recorded with it. I am very sorry that this music, both for cinema and television, is recorded in Bratislava, in Prague, in Macedonia, in Kiev, in Bulgaria. Here I have a thorn in my side, because, although we have recorded some Spanish TV series like GEO, it makes me very angry that the budget allocations of public money destined to Spanish cinema end up going to other places. And as this is a private company, in the end we made that decision. In the budget and in the corresponding aids, the director (whether Valencian, Catalan or from wherever), the photographer, the scriptwriter, and also the composer, are taken into account, but not where the music is recorded. And we have enough quality, and we have already demonstrated it. And as we are ignored in the Spanish cinema, for the moment we stay out of it and follow our line in what we consider to be the best film music, which is not that of Spanish cinema despite the fact that there are many very good scores (there are also others that are not).
And the Spanish orchestras, which are public, are not created to record soundtracks, but to bring culture closer to the people, as I said before. I understand cinema as an industry, and from that perspective, which is that of the Americans, I contemplate my project. Another thing would be for some musicians from these public orchestras to perform on their own and get together to record, but outside the public sphere.
Could this also be mediated by the type of project you carry out, i.e. how do you consider it, as a concert or as a show?
Like a show, no doubt! We make a show. If the Spanish producers don’t consider us because we go on “El Hormiguero”, because we play little fragments in an advertising action in a prime-time program to generate a funny moment and try to break that barrier between classical music and the general public, if one is not able to come to one of our concerts and appreciate a revival of Ben-Hur, King’s Row, Captain Blood, Lawrence of Arabia, The Godfather, part II, that’s it, that’s it. I’m not going to go knock on the door of the producers. We don’t need to. I have always been very open to musical gambols, as I was saying, to accompany Omar Montes, for example, playing reggaeton. I don’t mind because I don’t think we are disturbing anyone’s dignity. It’s just that there are people who get offended at the slightest change, who interpret that there are things that the orchestra cannot play, that a concert is a concert and lights should not be used…
That’s what I was getting at…Normally when you go to a concert the first thing you hear before the concert starts is the warning to turn off your cell phones and not to record or take pictures. However, in yours, the opposite happens, you incite the public to use them to upload the recordings to social networks and comment on them…
Well, we don’t really encourage people to go around recording with their cell phones. And if they do, they should do it without flash, so as not to disturb. Nor do we encourage people to upload them to the social networks. But if you want to take a picture, or want to record a small fragment, we will not prevent it. Another question is fanaticism. For example, are all Muslims jihadists? No. And like everything in the world, there are Taliban who take advantage of this and record the whole concert. And on top of that they put the flash on you. But what we cannot do is to penalize everyone who comes for this, in the same way that we do not blame all Muslims, not allowing them to take pictures or videos. I think that, with respect, with common sense, which unfortunately is the least common of the senses, everything can be done. This is our way of understanding it, whoever does not want to come, do not come. If we are playing the soundtrack of your life, such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, as it happens this year in “Henko”, and it has a special meaning for you or for your partner, if you want to record a piece, you do it discreetly and do not bother anyone. Another question is that there are people who leave their mobile with the sound on and do not even take pictures…
But, with all distinctions, we have John Williams playing at the Musikverein with the Vienna Philharmonic, or in Berlin with its no less known Philharmonic, or at La Scala in Milan, trying to raise the level of film music (in this case, his own) to the level of the so-called “cultured music”…
Forgive me for correcting you. John Williams comes from playing at the Hollywood Bowl, doing open-air concerts for the twenty thousand people who fit in those bleachers, where they are eating their sandwich and drinking their beer, with the music sounding super-amplified. So, here purism loses its role. Williams comes from this. But as he knows how old he is and the vital expectations are what they are…Williams does not need money and surely does all this simply to enjoy it, and if he has the opportunity to play with the best orchestras in the world, which have not invited him in his entire life because of those objections of the purist Taliban, of the sacred cows who defend classical music, who have always considered Williams as a second rate composer, now they have swallowed their words and have intelligently changed their minds. At the Royal Albert Hall he did not get to play because he fell ill, but the concept of lights and show is similar to ours. From this perspective, what I have done is to import a show model that was already being done there for more than twenty-five years, as well as in New York and Los Angeles. So, if they don’t like it, I understand that they don’t like the Hollywood Bowl model or the Albert Hall model either, because our model is exactly the same, with a presenter who contextualizes the themes.
You usually baptize your tours with a specific name, do you think it affirms the project even more each year, when it comes to identifying the tour?
Well, I don’t know if it affirms or not. But as I was telling you before, as a result of the pandemic, some things changed, and with the rebirth of the culture and also of the company, we decided to baptize the tour as “Fénix/Phoenix” as a kind of collective merit. And it was a success, in the face of something as generic as “The Best Film Music in Concert”, which was how we used to advertise ourselves before. It still is, and that is why we also carry this legend as a subtitle, but around a title that defines the poetics of the annual tour.
In addition, the media are interested and ask questions, because “Henko” is no longer a name or title that they grasp at first glance. Many, for example, thought that it was something strictly oriental, which is also true, but it is not about that, it is a much broader concept, because there is Williams, with Seven Years in Tibet, with that “conflict” that the character lives, in addition to Mulan, with the main girl, who also suffers that “transformation”. We left that “mainstream” current of so much concert as there is now of the type “Williams and Zimmer”. Okay, we play The Rock, but, although it is paradigmatic of Zimmer’s style, as it is the one that opens somewhat the ban on the characteristics of the Mediaventures studio, as it was then called what is now known as Remote Control, it has almost never been interpreted. As is the case with The Cider House Rules. Goldsmith’s Mulan suite, which is ours, is spectacular, as is Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, very rarely performed. As is Captain Blood, the love theme from Spartacus, the End Credits from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Godfather, Part II, the Oscar winner by Rota, with a special suite I created. A very varied repertoire, as you can see. Apollo XIII, by Horner, with that astronaut who also lives that “transformation”. And with some absolute novelty, like the overture of Obi-Wan, by Williams, with that character already retired from life, in exile, sad, with a very dramatic theme. It is a hard, sad, and at the same time epic theme. There are also songs, like the one from Skyfall, or the one from Pocahontas.
Have you ever thought of dedicating yourself exclusively to film music composition?
Since I started with the FSO I have composed practically nothing. I get rid of that “little thorn” with the suites. With the special and personal arrangements that I prepare, like the ones I mentioned, The Godfather Part II, Harry Potter, Cider House Rules, Seven Years in Tibet, they are all mine. The scores we get from Zimmer are very difficult in the sense that they are not meant to be performed live, they are meant to be recorded in sections, and all of that has to be adapted accordingly. On the other hand, when you get one by Williams, orchestrated, for example, by Conrad Pope, you see how wonderful that is. And I come from there. The other thing has to be worked on a lot so that in concert it sounds as it should. But because it is not a music designed for that purpose. No more, no less.
In closing, how do you see yourself in the short, medium or long term with FSO?
I haven’t given it much thought, to be honest. I am working on the next tours for 2024-25, and also 25-26, but I can’t say anything about that (*laughs*). But in the short term, we are developing some fantasies that I had in store, such as the Dracul mentioned above, another one that is a special Valentine’s Day, full of love themes, which we have repeated several times thanks to the success obtained. Also one dedicated to classical music, entitled “Classictacular“, which are great classical works (which have nothing to do with film) filtered by my personality and in the style of the FSO, and you can imagine that it will not be a concert to use, as could be seen in any usual auditorium, as the orthodoxy of classical music requires. Although also the other concept, that of classical music used in film is in a drawer waiting for its moment.
And all this would be in parallel with the almost seventy concerts that we have of “Henko” all over Spain. What happens is that on the web you can see only the first twenty or thirty. For example, we are coming back to Valencia in February, but also in March and May. And we will do it at the Palau de la Música, where the FSO will sound much better, as we all know. And as we have never been allowed to perform at the Palau de les Arts, which is the only place in Spain where we have always been ignored, despite the fact that artists of all kinds perform there, such as Sergio Dalma, we will be at the Palau de la Música after its reopening, after five years of closure, although with the visual issue of the lights, I have my doubts, since the Palacio de Congresos allows a more global and panoramic view, in addition to the technical issues that this entails.
Finally, I must ask you if you don’t get hot in the Neo-style “cassock” you wear whenever you conduct the FSO….
(*laughs*) Yes, I get very hot & sweaty. Although it is true that the halls are very well conditioned and it shows. However, as I have that energetic style when conducting, as if each concert were the last of my life, then I sweat a lot, because I give it all. That’s why I wear three jackets for each concert, because after the concert each one could walk off to the cleaners by itself. But I don’t give them up, because in the creation of the FSO many aspects have come together, as I have mentioned. So, on the one hand, there is that personal passion for film music that I believe is universal and shared by many people. On the other hand, the absolute absence in Spain, even in Europe, of any orchestra dedicated to this. There were festivals like FIMUCITÉ, or the one in Úbeda, but there were no orchestras dedicated to this. Now there are more or less opportunistic companies that are moving shows, but that is another matter. But there was a lack of an entity that would not treat film music as second-class compared to classical music, and that would give it the care and affection it deserved.
The third leg would be that, coming from the classical world, from conducting in auditoriums with tails, I have always missed the young people, the family audience. This type of concerts have always been characterized by a rigidity and a pomp that do not suit me. I like the Matrix cape, the lights, the orchestra dressed as superheroes, the conductor talking, that we all end up dancing. And these are our codes, which ultimately try to democratize the symphony orchestra. I know that there are people who feel uncomfortable with breaking these molds, but this is the bet we have made. Bringing music closer to the people, even if they are not experts and do not know who Korngold or any other composer was, do not worry, I will explain it to them during the concert. Nobody needs to be an expert in classical or film music to get excited and end up crying.
Interview by Frederic Torres
Pictures by Frederic Torres & FSO