Hollywood in Vienna 2015 review – Interview with James Newton Howard
Vienna is catalogued as one of the major origins of music in Europe, but if you ask Austrian people, they’ll probably tell you Vienna it’s not A source, but THE source.
The truth is that there’s part of reason in that assertion, as great geniuses of classical music have been Austrian like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johann Strauss, Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert or Gustav Mahler amongst others.
And all this without forgetting that talking about film music, there’re composers who have achieved great popularity in Hollywood like Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Ernest Gold or the incomparable Max Steiner, all with Austrian origin.
Therefore, with such a breeding ground, it is no wonder that in 2007 emerged the Hollywood in Vienna festival, which has evolved and grown to reach its current eighth edition this year 2015.
The idea of the festival is simple but effective at the same time; blend the best of both worlds, Hollywood and Vienna, leading to one of the best film music concerts that can be enjoyed in Europe right now.
This year the festival was held in October, over four days, from Tuesday 13th to Friday 16th, being the highlight of the festival a concert on Friday 16th, which included a gala and the Max Steiner Award ceremony, that went to James Newton Howard, as a tribute to his 30-year career as a film music composer, with more than 140 works credited.
The days before this concert and gala, several related events were held, as follows:
- A symposium on Tuesday 13th, focused for the general public, where prominent members of the film music industry took part (Robert Townson, Chandler Poling, Sam Schwartz, etc …).
- Several musical workshops on Wednesday 14th, focused mainly for new composers and music students, that were given by composers invited to the event: Richard Bellis and James Newton Howard.
- A concert on Thursday 15th, identical in content and structure to the same concert that is held the next day, Friday, but without the gala and the Max Steiner Award ceremony.
In this article I am going to focus on the Friday 16th gala concert, as it was the only event that I could attend entirely, and it’s the one that I’ll be covering in detail.
GALA CONCERT – PREVIOUS MOMENTS
The building of the Wiener Konzerthaus (Vienna Concert Hall) is where Hollywood in Vienna festival concerts are held, and the truth is that it’s a perfect place for it. Wiener Konzerthaus is a location with over 100 years of musical history, located in the heart of the city of Vienna, which has a large open rectangular room to hold mass events, with seats distributed in the courtyard and in a first height, making acoustics and vision of the show perfect from anywhere. This hall, with capacity for 1,800 people, was completely full and in fact the tickets were already sold months earlier.
On Friday around 6pm, the night and the gala started, and you could already see movement in the outdoor of the theater. The entrance had a photo-call with the logo of the event, a Red Carpet, like in the Oscars ceremony, but in this case it was more like a Blue Carpet because for its colors. A great idea, which helps heating up the atmosphere before the event.
The Red Carpet held a parade for the all guests invited to the event; celebrities, singers, actors and actresses, composers, musicians and various important people, who mostly were to participate in the concert that night, one way or another, and was the perfect place to take photographs (both from press and fans).
Here was where I had the opportunity to interview James Newton Howard, who although came with a tight schedule and had to meet press and television, found time to kindly answer a few questions (interview can be found at end of article).
Once the Red Carpet was finished, you could access into the theater, where a large room with a couple of bar counters and wardrobes, served as a reception and resulted in the right place for meetings and discussions among the participants, prior to the concert.
Then, walking up some stairs, you reached the big hall where the concert was held. The first thing to note once you entered the auditorium, was the feeling of being inside a movie set, or being in one of those great rooms that are only seen in great concerts of huge television productions. The decor, the spaciousness and the majestic feeling that the place offers is impressive and the sound quality is also very good, so witnessing a concert at the Wiener Konzerthaus is an experience worth trying and I totally recommend it.
The concert had two parts, about an hour each, with a half-hour intermission between. In the first part, named “Tales of Mystery“, scary / mystery / horror movie themes were interpreted, due to the proximity of Halloween.
The second part was dedicated exclusively to the work of James Newton Howard, under the name “A Tribute to James Newton Howard” and ended with the ceremony of the Max Steiner Award, to finish later with the theme For The First Time of the movie One Fine Day, performed by award-winning R & B singer Brian McKnight.
But let’s talk about both parts in detail.
GALA CONCERT – DEVELOPMENT
As in previous editions, the concert began with the Hollywood in Vienna – Fanfare (Max Steiner and Bruce Broughton), which offers a magnificent overture, with a majestic feel, in accordance to the place where we are.
Following, the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, performed a suite of Rebecca (Franz Waxman), directed by American conductor Keith Lockhart (current conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra), that replaced David Newman this year in Vienna, who had taken the lead of the event in the three previous editions.
The next theme was Phantom Manor – Suite (John Debney), world premiere, before moving on to Death Becomes Her – End Credits (Alan Silvestri), where we noted the fantastic quality of the ORF and greatly enjoyed of the images that were projected on the back-screens, although there was some slight timing issue that I will discuss in the next section of this article.
Afterwards, to plunge even further on the terror ambience that impregnated the night, we listened to Poltergeist (Jerry Goldsmith with orchestrations by Nic Raine) and IT (Richard Bellis), also a world premiere, that received a deserved applause at the end of the piece.
Next, Alice in Wonderland – Alice’s Theme (Danny Elfman) was interpreted, which sounded gloriously, accompanied by the Neue Wiener Stimmen Choir, and had the stellar contribution of child soloist Emilio Haumer.
I’d like to emphasize that at this point we could fully enjoy the quality of visual projections, that were displayed on five screens located behind the orchestra, and that had been used during the whole the event so far. The screens showed images related to the music that was playing, but not scenes from the films, just animated images, leaving to the viewer’s mind to imagine situations related to music, but guided by these images. Evoke and suggest, but without directing. A very good idea to avoid distractions that produce the projection of movie scenes at the back of the orchestra, as I have seen that happens in other shows.
For the next theme, the soprano Daniela Fally appeared on scene, pregnant and looking great with a red beautiful dress, to wonderfully perform the piece Perfume – The Story Of A Murderer – Meeting Laura (Tom Tykwer, Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek).
Then we listened to The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button – Benjamin & Daisy, A New Life (Alexandre Desplat), where František Jánoška, delighted us with his skills at the piano.
Next theme, The Da Vinci Code – Chevaliers De Sangreal (Hans Zimmer) was in my opinion one of the highlights of the first part of the concert, along with Alice in Wonderland, because like in Ravel’s Bolero where the intensity grows as the piece progresses, this piece introduced energy and strength “in crescendo” in the hall from the beginning, and was perfectly accompanied by projections and lighting effects that tucked perfectly the music.
Another of the strongest points of this first part came next, with the performance of The Omen – Suite (Jerry Goldsmith), where the choir brought all the intensity and emotion that the piece required, and the light effects with red and white flashes, helped to create the necessary terrifying environment. A true delight!
And to relax some of the tension of the previous theme, the last piece of the first part was played, The Addams Family – Suite (Marc Shaiman, Vic Mizzy), giving way to a half-hour break before continuing with the concert.
During the break, we had the opportunity to greet old friends, talk with composers Conrad Pope and Richard Bellis, and meet the Austrian composer and conductor Johannes Vogel, a regular collaborator in the recordings of Fernando Velázquez.
The second part of the concert started punctually after the break, and it did with an unexpected surprise, pianist František Jánoška playing a tribute to James Horner. The piece was In Memoriam James Horner – Rose’s Theme from Titanic, while images were displayed on screens, showing James Horner two years earlier, accepting the Max Steiner Award in this same hall. A very emotional moment that received a big applause from the audience, and that gave us goosebumps.
Afterwards, James Newton Howard’s tribute began, starting with the theme The Last Airbender – The Wave that was fabulously played, both from its mild beginning to its intense ending.
Following, we had a suite of various James Newton Howard’s movie themes (Wyatt Earp, King Kong, Peter Pan, Lady in the Water, Dinosaur, Hidalgo, Atlantis), which although sounded great, was perhaps a little tangled, attempting to condense too many themes in a short time. Perhaps it would have been better to extend the duration, or to reduce some the content.
Then we listened to Signs – Suite, with the participation of the choir enhancing ORF’s music, to make way for one of the highlights of the second part of the concert, the themes The Village – The Gravel Road and Defiance – Nothing Is Impossible that had the fabulous and committed interpretations of the soloists Emmanuel Tjeknavorian (Violin) and Ina Patkova-Apostolova (Violoncello).
Next piece was Pretty Woman – First Kiss, which was just correct, followed by The Prince of Tides – Places That Belong To You with the participation of the singer Louise Dearman.
I think the dynamism that produces having orchestral themes interspersed with parts where there’re instrumental soloists, or parts where the choir takes the initiative, or themes where a vocalist sings alone, is one of the wise choices of the Hollywood in Vienna gala. That thematic and musical variety, makes the audience keep their attention and keep their guard up throughout the concert, almost without realizing.
The concert continued with a fabulous Maleficent suite, where the incredible interpretation of the ORF, superbly directed by Keith Lockhart, and supported by the chorus, along with the images projected on screens, made us levitate from our seats and get into a delicious world of fantasy.
And when we were still enjoying in our heads the previous piece, the show surprised us again, because to perform the next piece, Blood Diamond – Solomon Vandy & London, a group of African musicians came on stage (the soloist Velile Mchunu and the choir Insingizi & Friends, which also incorporated percussion), and they stood in the front line next to the conductor.
Beneath them, and placed in several rows, the children’s The Superar Choir was deployed from side to side of the stage, almost getting to the first row of the stalls.
When we heard the first chords of the theme played by the orchestra, and the African voices joined while children sang and clapped rhythmic their hands, and later got the support of the voices of the rest of the members of choir, the room looked like it was going to come to life. This was another of the highlights of the night, which had its deserved and long ovation.
The next piece was Batman Begins & The Dark Knight – Suite (James Newton Howard / Hans Zimmer), brilliantly played by the orchestra and fabulously portrayed with the projections and with the light effects.
In a new display of originality, another of the great moments of the night arrived with the theme The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 1 – Hanging Tree (world premiere). When the orchestra played its first notes, we began to hear the voice of the singer and actress Edita Malovcic (Madita) in the room, yet her voice did not come from the stage. She was slowly walking down the main aisle from the outside door, while singing the first verses of the familiar theme.
Wearing a great black gala dress, culminated with a Mockingjay brooch (like the protagonist of the Hunger Games), Madita approached the stage step by step, passing James Newton Howard, when in that moment, several members of the choir entered by the side doors of the hall, and started to sing to harmonically accompany the singer.
Once on stage, with the Mockingjay logo slowly emerging on the screens ablaze, with the orchestra adding their music, with Madita taking the reins of the theme, and with several members of the choir singing on the side aisles of the hall, music and lights flooded the place.
The music came from everywhere, and the staging made the public feel amidst the “Hanging Tree”, being nearly part of the show. Astonishing and unbeatable.
After this great moment, and when we had already enjoyed almost 75 minutes of concert, the Max Steiner Film Music Achievement Award 2015 was given to James Newton Howard for his career. A couple of video messages from director M. Night Shyamalan and Hans Zimmer were played, and honoree James Newton Howard went to the stage to collect the award, said some words to all those who had made this moment possible, and celebrated receiving this award in Vienna, which had been in his memory since his first piano lessons as a child with books of Mozart’s music.
And to finish the gala, Brian McKnight performed the theme One Fine Day – For The First Time, leading then to closure of the evening with the same piece that opened it, the Hollywood in Vienna – Fanfare, and with all the participants of this fantastic gala, bidding farewell to the public from stage.
A night to remember, that I’m looking forward to get to the 2016th edition, and that I highly recommend to any fan of film music (or just music in general).
SUMMARY AND POINTS FOR IMPROVEMENT
Before going to the interviews, and making clear that I believe that there’s no other similar event in Europe at the moment, I would like to summarize strengths and areas for improvement of the Hollywood In Vienna gala, in a constructive way.
If there is something that needs to be emphasized tonight, I think on the one hand would be the production of the concert and on the other hand would be the quality of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra – ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra.
On the musical side, you can feel the experience and the cohesion of the orchestra, which along with the fabulous performance of the choir, has led to a musically perfect (or nearly perfect) concert.
On the production side, both in the purely orchestral themes, as in those themes who had choir or soloists accompanying the orchestra, the light effects, the images projected on the 5 screens that were behind the orchestra, and the music that wrapped the entire room, offered a show like I have rarely seen.
The level of synchronization, integration and fusion amongst all the elements, was such, that everything flowed very naturally, and hinted the number of hours and hours of rehearsals and preparation that may be behind this event.
I think it’s a wise chose to use 5 screens behind the orchestra, integrated with the columns and with the architecture of the hall, instead of a large screen that goes from side to side, as it gives a greater sense of immersion. Also, I think it’s a wonderful idea to project images specially created and designed for the occasion in these screens (in most parts of the show), suggesting and evoking what music is transmitting, instead of projecting scenes from the movies, that sometimes distract too much from the music that is heard, as the viewer unconsciously expects a union between the two.
Another good point of the event is the opportunity to enjoy the concert later, first through a broadcast in the Austrian Radio OE1 of the entire content the following Sunday (that was available online), and a week later in the Austrian television ORF III, but with a different order and content of the concert (in this case only available in Austria, although some videos have already appeared in the Internet, allowing to enjoy the event to those who could not attend).
There’re have been several editions of the Hollywood in Vienna gala over the years, and if copyright and authorizations allow, I think all the fans of the event would welcome a DVD / BluRay release of concerts held so far, or at least, an edition on CD, to remember and relive the music heard there.
As points for improvement, first I’d like to say that although the presenter of the show, Steven Gätjen, did very well his introductions of the pieces that were going to be played, on several occasions, such introductions were only in German, leaving much of the public wanting to know what was happening. I think this should be changed in next editions.
As for the orchestra, although the execution of the pieces has been great, the second part of the concert, dedicated to the main guest James Newton Howard, was better prepared than the first part, which was more general and had works by various composers. In fact, I have the feeling that Keith Lockhart has not gotten the same integration and complicity with the orchestra that David Newman had, as some themes were slightly misaligned in rhythm or tempo, finishing before the images that were projected on screens, in at least two occasions (eg in Death Becomes Her and Alice in Wonderland).
But all these, are minor details that do not affect the enjoyment and the experience that was lived in the concert hall, and I have no doubt that can be polished in subsequent editions of the festival.
And to end this lengthy article (which I hope was not too boring), I leave you with interviews kindly granted by James Newton Howard and Sandra Tomek (festival Director).
James Newton Howard - Interview
First of all, thank you very much for taking some minutes in your busy schedule to answer some questions.
A pleasure. Thanks to you.
How do you feel when you see that a festival as important as “Hollywood in Vienna” dedicates an edition especially for you and your music?
It’s very humbling, it’s almost embarrassing. I am so flattered and so honored. Film composers spend so much time by themselves, in studios, so when the music it’s brought into the public arena, it’s quite shocking. It’s really wonderful.
We assume that preparing a thematic concert, with such an extensive work to choose from, has to be complex and laborious. What can you tell us about the process of preparing a concert like the one we’re going to enjoy today? How are themes/suites chosen?
Well, I hate to disappoint you, but I didn’t really choose the material, that was really done by Hollywood In Vienna. They made a lot of surprising choices. Some of the choices they made, I wouldn’t have chosen, but then when I heard them, I thought they were great.
So I think it’s almost better if someone else does it, because to me, there’re might be things that I want to choose that mean a lot to me, but don’t mean the same to anybody else. They tend to choose things that have more popular appeal and I’m very happy with that.
How much time does it take to prepare a concert like this?
We’ve been preparing this concert back and forth for around six months.
Every day, more and more soundtracks are launched in digital format, compared with releases on CD (in fact many OSTs don’t come out on CD). Also new ways to “expand” the soundtrack beyond the film are being used (interactive OSTs, extended OSTs in App format that offer an immersive experience). What do you think of this change in the model of interaction with the public? What have your experiences been in this field?
To be honest with you, I really don’t have an opinion about that, I think that once record business started to become digital and things changed so much, I kind of lost track of how the thing works, honestly.
I just try to write the best work that I can, and make the best CD or digital presentation I can make. I mean, the final media matters, but I don’t really understand it so I don’t really pay much attention to it.
We can see that the interest for film music festivals is increasing. ¿What do you think of festivals that are based on concerts and film music? ¿Could we say that the soundtracks in concert are kind of “classical music for the XXth – XXIst century”?
I don’t think that soundtracks are classical music and I don’t think they should be described that way. I think that classical music has a very special place in concert halls, but I think it’s a very good thing when some of the best of the film world also is in the concert world.
But I don’t think one replaces the other. I don’t think every film score should be in the concert hall and I don’t think every piece of classical music should be in the concert hall. I think you should take the best of each.
And finally, talking about film music festivals, Spain has a lot of movement in this matter…. We have at least 3 major film music festivals… in the north, in the south, in the Canary Islands …. Would you like to be invited to Spain, to let us enjoy your work there with you?
Well, yeah, I’ve been invited several times, and unfortunately, I’m always working, so I’d have to retire and then I’d love to come. Maybe on vacations.
Let’s hope we see you next time in Spain!
Sandra Tomek (Hollywood in Vienna festival Director)
How does the idea of “Hollywood in Vienna” come up? Tell us about the history of the idea and how it has been developed till we reach the present time.
The idea was to create awareness of the musical connection between Hollywood and Vienna – and at the same time, to celebrate the greatest composers of our time in the musical capital of the world, Vienna.
We are witnessing a proliferation of film music festivals (for example in Spain, we have at least 3 major festivals and many punctual events). How do you see the future of film music festivals and their evolution?
I think it is beautiful that the appreciation of the art of film music increases more and more and that enthusiastic fans are making a lot of effort to set up festivals. We are good friends with the producers of e.g. the Spanish festivals and it’s lovely to exchange ideas.
Any leads on who could be the main guest of the festival in 2016?
This will be decided at the end of the year. So keep posted!