Discovering new things has always been something that I find fascinating, so when I had the opportunity to attend Krakow Film Music Festival (Krakow FMF) for the first time, even if it was for circumstantial reasons, I didn’t think twice … and said… and why not?
This festival, now in its ninth edition, is a European reference in the world of film music (along with the festival of Ghent), and as I had occasion to be in Ghent in October last year, here I had a good opportunity to compare both festivals.
In this extensive article (you’ve been warned), I will try to give an overview of what I experienced at the festival day by day, focusing on those events that I attended (which were many but not all) as it is literally impossible to take part in all activities that occur daily in this full and fabulous festival’s calendar; high-level and high quality activities.
Although the festival had already begun with the Scoring4Polański concert held yesterday, Tuesday, in Katowice, those who arrived a little later to Krakow had the option to enjoy the same event tonight, but with some slight variation.
Whilst the previous day there was a gala ceremony where the Wojciech Kilar Award (now in its second edition) was given to composer Alexandre Desplat, today, all the honors were for director Roman Polański.
Both were present in the room, but was Polański who received a great applause at his arrival and sat for a while in the front row, going after the first song on stage like a young grasshopper, jumping without using the stairs, to collect a special distinction that was granted by the Polish Directors Association (SPF) for his contribution to Polish cinema.
The concert lasted approximately 2:00h divided in two acts and with an intermission of 25 minutes, and the themes played, were a good selection of music that different composers had created for the quirky and interesting world of Polański.
Dirk Brossé was the conductor of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, and the pieces played were as follows:e:
I would like to mention to trumpeter Tomasz Stańko that appeared at various times on stage accompanying the orchestra, captivating the audience with his accomplice and hypnotic sounds, and especially during his masterful interpretation of Chinatown from Jerry Goldsmith.
As a weak part of this concert, I’d like to mention the Jazz quartet that filled the first thirty minutes of the second part of the concert, that was a bit long, and more typical of a small and alternative local, than of a concert hall like the present.
Still, the grade of the first day of the festival was very good, and I ended up pleasantly surprised by the great organization, coordination and quality of the event.
By the way, it was a wonderful gesture from the organization of the FMF (thank you very much Joanna Pichola for all your work), to congratulate publicly my good friends Olivia and Kristof during the second part of the concert, as they had chosen Krakow and the festival to celebrate their wedding, and were together there with their guests enjoying the concert on that special night.
My route through the various conferences and sessions given by the people invited to the festival started today. Mostly they were held in the hub of the festival, the Krzysztofory Palace, located by the main square of the city.
The facilities had a cafeteria, a media room and a rest room, plus a reception office for the public, before moving on to the conference area, which was a fairly wide room, that had English / Polish simultaneous translation options through a personal receiver and headphones that were given at the entrance. A cozy and very well prepared site, which already showed the quality we could expect from the festival.
The first conference I could attend was “Artist, Artisan or Machine Operator?“, by veteran and expert composer Richard Bellis, who along almost an hour, and in a very educational and visual way, explained the composition process and the method to be creative without losing sight from the deadlines established to deliver the work. He also explained something that is not learned in composition schools, that much of the process is to know how to properly manage human relations, to reach a good agreement and understanding between the director, the producer and the composer.
All this came wrapped up by multiple examples and own anecdotes, specially the secret that laid behind his most famous and award-winning composition “It” … all was the result of the noise a hair dryer made when changing its engine’s speed, varying the sound between two notes!! As Richard said, inspiration is everywhere, it’s just a matter of having the mind clear and free of workload, to fill it with external stimuli that push creativity. A conference highly recommended, which I encourage to attend if there is chance to have Richard Bellis sharing it nearby.
After lunch, it was time for another conference, “Composer or Computer Specialist?” with Joseph Trapanese, Dave Porter and Cliff Martinez, hosted by Ray Bennett, speaking about the infinite possibilities electronic elements offer when composing music, how should instruments that will be part of a piece be chosen, and how the use of these instruments can set the tone and meaning of the whole work. A very didactic and interesting panel.
Following, and with almost no time to digest the previous conference, it was time for a Meet & Greet with Alexandre Desplat, accessed by invitation (requested for free using the website’s link), and that was very interesting but brief, due to the busy schedule of the composer. Despite that, he found some minutes at the end of the talk, to sign covers to those who wanted. A detail much appreciated by all his fans.
Unfortunately, at the same time that this event was happening, the Cinematic Piano concert was being held, which I would have liked to attend, but had to discard.
In addition to these events, along this first day I had the opportunity to interview Dave Porter, followed in the next days by Richard Bellis, Joseph Trapanese, Dynamic Music Partners (Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion and Kristopher Carter), Łukasz Targosz and Cliff Martinez, interviews we are hoping to offer you in the next weeks, as a complement to this article about Krakow FMF.
But all this maelstrom of events was going to take its toll on me, and unfortunately at night, the hustle of the day would not let me go to the concert Wars & Kaper – Deconstruction, as I had to save some energy for what was yet to come.
I started the day with the official press conference of the festival, with composers, authorities and the director of the festival, Robert Piaskowski, after which a cake with the logo of the festival was cut and distributed to all attendees, both public and composers.
Then, a panel was held, that although didn’t have much to do with music and composition directly, it was completely related to that scene, because under the title “Composers’ Agents: Traps, Tricks, Case Study, High Risk Job” and with the participation of John Tempereau, Beth Krakower, Chandler Poling and George Christopoulos, and hosted by Daniel Carlin, our eyes were opened to what happens behind the scenes when publicists, agents and producers have to reach agreements, so composers can focus on what they do best: create music.
A break for lunch, and later we recovered the rhythm of the day with the conference “Sounds and Music in Animations” with expert composers Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion, Kristopher Carter, Heitor Pereira and Diego Navarro, hosted by veteran Doreen Ringer-Ross, that told us their experiences in the world of animation, and how music has special importance in it, not only for the difference of storytelling from live-action films, but also for the target audiences this genre has.
And when night came, it was time to enjoy another fabulous concert at the ICE Krakow congress center, with a concert hall ideal for the evening events that had been held since Wednesday.
Today it was the turn of a special concert, that under the name alterFMF Gala – Drone Sounds, was initially based on electronic music but perfectly complemented with orchestral sounds, trying to push the listening experience of the public a little further, with the incorporation to the performance of curious, unusual, or in some case almost experimental instruments. A very interesting concert.
With duration of about 2:10h divided in two parts, and a break of 25 minutes, the AUSKO Chamber Orchestra of the City of Tychy was conducted by Anthony Weeden, and the pieces played were:
The concert started strong with the music of Polish composer Łukasz Targosz, who was also on stage playing various instruments (I think I counted a total of 6!!), who with the strength and freshness of his music, surprised the audience showing that Polish productions and their music, have nothing to envy to the best American big-budget blockbusters. Unfortunately, this strength didn’t allow the pieces of Cliff Martinez to shine as much as if the order of the pieces of the first half had been altered.
The second part of the concert began, and first the music of Jóhann Jóhannsson was played, starting with electronic suites, to end with the suite of the melodic and Oscar-nominated The Theory of Everything. Then, Joseph Trapanese took the stage to conduct his music, starting with a groundbreaking suite of Earth to Echo, following later a fabulous sample of the best of his works, that raised the audience’s applause at the end, and got a standing ovation from the public when his fellow composers joined him on stage.
Another day was ending, and this time with an original, intense and beautifully performed concert, which captivated the audience and gave a lot to talk about.
Today the day was going to be shorter, since the main concert, Film Music Gala: Animations, was scheduled for 5 pm (3 hours before the concerts of the previous days), and changed its location to TAURON Arena, with capacity for 20,000 people, in order to reach all audiences due to its subject.
In the morning, we had one of the most anticipated conferences of the festival, “Composing for Animations” with Harry Gregson-Williams, who after a preamble of piano improvisation by Jean-Michel Bernard with the music of Chronicles of Narnia saga, began his “show”.
The room was specially equipped for the event with computers, sequencers, tablets and keyboards, plus a piano. Using these marvelously prepared and connected elements, and with some of the tools commonly used in his studio to mix (Cubase mainly I recall), Harry Gregson-Williams explained for 45 minutes the process of composing music for films like Antz, Shrek, Man on Fire, Arthur Christmas, The Martian or Unstoppable.
In each of them, Harry began explaining the indications the director had given him, what he wanted to convey with each scene, and then Harry, taking first the piano as a base, gave the audience hints of the initial layers that formed the melody, to later add electronic elements, guitars, percussion and vocals with the computer, one over another, leading then to the whole piece.
During the process, scores were being showed and individual tracks were being played, and finally, the full musical puzzle was played with the movie projected on screen in the auditorium, so the public perfectly understood the creative process, and the idea that each layer that had been added was meant to transmit.
I could speak in detail of all the examples showed, and I just hope that the video of the panel can be made public at some point, but I want to emphasize the explanation given for the two central themes of The Martian, Making Water and Crossing Mars, and how this second piece began as a rock version, in a Pink Floyd-ish (Dark Side of the Moon) style of the main theme of the film, and after a discussion with director Ridley Scott, ended up being the fabulous orchestral piece that was left at the end (during the conference we could see examples of the initial version, discards, and the final version). Just wonderful!!
I want to say that I don’t recall having attended another panel as interesting as this one in other festivals, and it can teach a lot to both novice composers in particular and fans of film music in general. At the end of the conference, despite the tightness of his agenda, Harry Gregson-Williams dedicated time to sign covers and take pictures with people that queued in the cafeteria area.
The last conference before lunch was “Varèse Sarabande presents – After life of film music” with Joseph Trapanese, Jean-Michel Bernard and Heitor Pererira, hosted by Robert Townson, where they spoke at length and interestingly of the phenomenon we are experiencing lately of bringing film music to concert halls, and the best way to do this from the point of view of each composer, taking into account the difference between both media and that the music has been composed initially to go attached with the image.
In the afternoon, it was time to move to the TAURON Arena for the concert Film Music Gala: Animations, main dish of the day and probably of the week.
Located on the outskirts of the city, the TAURON Arena is a huge and impressive place, specialized in large events, and although it doesn’t have such good acoustics as ICE Krakow congress center, it had been properly set up for the occasion (except for an aspect that I will point at the end).
The Beethoven Academy Orchestra together with the Polish Radio Choir commanded by conductor Frank Strobel, were in charge of the evening, except when Diego Navarro came on stage to conduct his music for Capture the Flag, that was great!, and when Harry Gregson-Williams did the same with Shrek.
The evening featured the solo voices of Edyta Górniak, Katarzyna Łaska, Magdalena Wasylik and Marcin Jajkiewicz as well as the soprano Wioletta Chodowicz for the different themes that were played during the 2:20h concert, divided into 2 acts with an intermission of 25 minutes.
The list was:
The alternation of orchestral pieces with songs including soloists, made the gala quite pleasant, despite many cuts which involved presentations and awards delivered during the night. Video greetings were shown from Alexandre Desplat, Michael Giacchino and John Powell, the latter apologizing for not being able to attend the festival.
As a highlight, I’d like to point both Diego Navarro and Harry Gregson-Williams conducting their music (bravo for both), the great suite of Heitor Pereira for Despicable Me 1 and 2 and The Minions, and the wonderful suite of John Powell of How to Train Your Dragon (although the music did not correspond to what was seen on the screen, and slightly mislead people who knew the movie and the soundtrack).
Regarding the songs and the soloists, Let it Go (in Polish) was the best part, followed closely by Beauty and the Beast and Colors of the Wind, without belittling When You Believe that also was great and perfectly closed the evening.
And this is where I would like to make a point, as when there were soloists on stage or voices predominated over the orchestra, there was quite a remarkable echo coming from the back of the hall, and according to what they told me later, it was only appreciated in the front area of the arena, as it was difficult to equalize the sound alike for such a big place.
Now, this detail did not tarnish a great gala evening, followed and enjoyed in the TAURON Arena by 15,000 people!!
Entering the final days of the festival, it was time for a special morning concert, the FMF Youth Orchestra: Animations, to be held at 12 noon at the Karol Szymanowski Philharmonic Hall in Krakow, where the FMF Youth Orchestra, specially established for the festival, and under the baton of Monika Bachowska, gave a wonderful concert with music from Dynamic Music Partners (Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion, Kristopher Carter).
This concert, which has been produced in collaboration by the Krakow FMF and FIMUCITÉ, and that will be repeated in Tenerife in September during the tenth edition of FIMUCITÉ, was a little gem that I could not miss.
A concert with young musicians, but eager and energetic, that although had some moments when they showed there was still some way for improvement, in many other moments, lived up to many professional orchestras.
The program, approximately 1:20h, that had on stage the three composers conducting each a piece of their music in the middle of the concert, was as follows:
And with no time to attend any of the other conferences of the day due to various commitments, it was the moment of the night event, “Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark Live in Concert” with music performed live by the Sinfonietta Cracovia and brilliantly conducted by the expert baton of Ludwig Wicki (film screened in English with Polish subtitles).
A film that turns 35 years right now, and that is a clear example of how an adventure movie has to be filmed. A film that stands aging so well, that each scene devised by Steven Spielberg, transmits and captures the viewer’s attention, with the undeniable help of the legendary soundtrack composed by maestro John Williams.
Glorious finale to the week (although it was slightly tarnished because of certain sound problems, which made the orchestra “eat” dialogues or sound effects in many occasions).
Monday, my last day attending this wonderful Krakow FMF. Unfortunately it was time to leave, and I had to miss the concert dedicated tonight to The Witcher 3 Video-Game, although references I’ve had about the concert have been very good, and I have been told that it was superbly performed by the AUSKO Chamber Orchestra of the City of Tychy and the Pro Musica Mundi Choir, under the baton of Marek Moś.
However, before saying goodbye to Krakow, I had time to go to a final panel in the morning, “Dynamic Music Partners Presents: Composing for Warner Bros” where Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion and Kristopher Carter explained how is their work composing for animation series and movies, and gave advice to young composers and musicians who were in the room, mainly members of the FMF Youth Orchestra that performed their music the day before.
Before concluding this lengthy article, I think it is important to make a summary of the festival, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses, in order to make improvements for future editions.
WEAK POINTS TO IMPROVE
- John Powell, one of the main guests, could not finally attend the festival, but nevertheless sent a greeting video that was screened during the animation gala on Saturday. I think that it was already known that his presence was not possible at the festival; however he was still announced on the website as a guest that would be in person in Krakow during the whole week. The festival has to be more careful with this and update the website with something so important, not to lead to misunderstandings or frustration among the attendees. Many other sections of the web received updates throughout the festival, but this, curiously, didn’t.
- The acoustic of TAURON Arena was not as good as it should, and although I am aware that it is difficult to get a proper sound balance in such a huge place, a place that is not prepared for this kind of concerts, I think it should be considered, if possible, to make some improvement in this matter for next editions.
- At some point, two interesting events coincided (“Meet & Greet” with Alexandre Desplat and “Cinematic Piano” concert for example) and this should be avoided, not forcing people to choose.
- Although the official festival website was full of information on all events held, and with great detail, I miss (or I could not find) a digital document containing the full program of the festival in one place, with a general planning and detailed daily information with events, schedules and content. It is true that the mobile application of the festival was complete and offered updated information, but it is not a good choice for people coming from abroad, as it is relying on an internet connection that may not be available in all cases.
- I think it is a fabulous idea that there is the possibility to buy a compilation CD during the festival, with music from each year’s guests (edited by Varèse Sarabande).
- Likewise, the existence of a record store both at concerts and next to the conference room is a good move, as it allows to discover and find music of those composers that you just listened (sometimes for the first time) that you want to know more about.
- The last day, you could get on the reception desk of the conference room a completely free DVD, with videos and summaries of the workshops and master classes conducted the previous year. A great idea!
- Simultaneous translation for English <-> Polish and logistics and technical preparation of Krzysztofory Palace were great, and with its central location, made the place an ideal venue for conferences and panels held throughout the festival.
- The proximity of the composers and the friendliness of the festival’s organization members and volunteers is one of the strengths of Krakow FMF, where both audiences professionals and amateurs, are treated with affection and respect, without elitism or classism, being the conferences a great source of information and a fantastic point of contact between both audiences. Free, open, close and participatory. A luxury!
- It is clear that Krakow is very well prepared for managing events and festivals, and through its office KBF (Krakowskie Biuro Festiwalowe), flowed the gear to articulate many of the logistical parts of this festival.
Also, the experience of 8 editions of FMF festival behind showed many lessons learnt, and showed details that were the result of the improvement seen year after year.
The organization of all the events was flawless, at a level bordering excellence, better than any other festival in which I have been, and I can only have good words for everyone who patiently attended to professionals and amateurs alike, with all the kindness of the world.
Exhausted by the intense marathon of events that I have tried to fit in my “6-day festival”, but with a feeling of having discovered a great treasure, I left the Krakow FMF 2016 … tired but happy!
Waiting for the announcement of new dates for 2017, from here I’d like to invite you to give a chance to this veteran festival, that next year celebrates its tenth edition, and that I’m sure will prepare something special to surprise us.
It’s time to start marking May with red color in the calendar every year … destination Krakow!!
Article by Gorka Oteiza (SoundTrackFest)