World Soundtrack Awards 2015

In June 2015, the first names of the World Soundtrack Awards were released to the public. Daniel Pemberton, winner of 2014’s ‘Discovery Award’, would be back, showing his face to update the audience on what he has done since his win. Patrick Doyle, the Scottish great, would receive the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ for his stunning contributions to the films of Kenneth Branagh, Ang Lee and Brian DePalma, among others. Most intriguing of all was the announcement of Alan Silvestri. Yours truly’s favourite film of all time is ‘Back to the Future’, Robert Zemeckis’ 1985 masterpiece about Marty McFly going back in time, accidentally interrupting his parents’ first meeting and almost messing up his own conception. Alan Silvestri’s rousing, uplifting, triumphant yet emotional and home-hitting score remains one of the best soundtracks ever written. And that’s just one of his many many accomplishments. While he has scored every Zemeckis feature since 1984, he also worked for a variety of other directors. Most impressive are his slew of lesser-known works, culminating with the 1994 release of ‘Richie Rich’, the soundtrack to the Donald Petrie movie of the same name. Silvestri’s score for said movie is light-hearted, whimsical, enjoyable and terrific. A massively underrated gem that deserves to be rereleased and rediscovered.

2015’s World Soundtrack Awards were held on 24 October 2015 in ‘t Kuipke in Ghent, Belgium. Prior to the ceremony, a press event was held in Kinepolis, the largest cinema the city of Ghent has to offer. Patrick Duynslaegher, artistic director of the film festival (officially called ‘Film Fest Gent’) moderated a table discussion with Pemberton, Doyle, Silvestri and Dirk Brossé, the Belgian maestro that would conduct Brussels Philharmonic and Flemish Radio Choir. Duynslaegher wanted to know how a career can benefit and change through working with the same director over multiple films, the career modus operandi for both Patrick Doyle (12 collaborations with Kenneth Branagh) and Alan Silvestri (15 collaborations with Robert Zemeckis). “It’s so personal to each composer and director. In working with Ken, it really has to do with a complete comfort zone. He can be totally relaxed, honest and frank. It’s a man who deeply respects all aspects of filmmaking. Every department. He’s extremely generous about the process of creating any kind of art. Very respectful of each department, including music. He’s also very funny, and I like to have a laugh. It makes the process a lot easier. It’s a telepathic thing.” according to Doyle.

“Bob will allow a kind of complete freedom, and yet, when you bring your brilliance to him, he’ll look you right in the eye with love, and go: “God, it’s beautiful, Al, but I don’t get it.” And that’s Zemeckian code for “this is not gonna be in my movie” (audience laughter). One of the most important things I have learned about Bob over the 33 years of our professional relationship, is how truly brilliant he really is. And how, when you have any kind of interaction with Bob Zemeckis about his movie, you better be listening and you better understand that everything is conveying information to you. I have really grown up in my profession through my interaction with Bob. For many of the first films we did, there was always one cue in the movie where I got that “Al, it’s beautiful, but I don’t get it” response. Looking back, it was a passive-aggressive thing on my part. In large part, because I didn’t really believe he was as brilliant as he was. I had to learn about this. We don’t have those moments anymore. We haven’t had those for the last five or six films, because of something that I’ve learned through this long-term relationship. It’s been an amazing thing for me, he’s changed my life creatively, financially and in every way.” added Silvestri.

Mr. Duynslaegher then asked maestro Brossé what the specific qualities of the three composers’ music were. This was an out-of-the-blue question. “It’s an easy question”, Brossé said, “Personally I love the work they do. The kind of music they write is part of the collective memory. As a conductor, I’ve been conducting thousands of pieces, from Bach to the romantic repertoire. Speaking in a modest manner, I know the orchestra inside out. Reading their scores is like coming home and meeting music history. You know these things are going to work. Every year we have a composition contest, and every year we receive 70 scores from young composers from all over the world. The first thing I do, is selecting them by just reading. You can tell immediately whether something will sound good or not. I can even tell if somebody wrote this on a table or on a computer using IT-tools. Reading without listening is already a treat. Alan told me earlier: a composer’s task, in this case, is writing music for the film to serve the story. But if they can, on top of that, write music that could be performed in a concert hall, well, that’s really fantastic. That’s the case with Pemberton, Doyle, and Silvestri. Their work has a contour, a melody. Neurologist and musicologist Oliver Sacks, who unfortunately passed away a few weeks ago, researched the brain his entire life. What do we forget? What do we keep? One element we keep is the rhythm, and another one is the melody. The rest, we kind of forget. This is very important for both the concertgoer and the performer. All scores we will be performing tonight have melody. Nowadays, a lot of directors are afraid to have melody. They’re asking their composer for ‘colour’ and ‘clusters’. The melody is what makes the work of these composers unique. It’s like coming home. They have their musical signatures, from the first note. Orchestration, melody, timbre, rhythm … we’re all insiders and music lovers, and we can say: ‘Ah, this is another Doyle score’. I love it. I have the most beautiful job in the world.”

Daniel Pemberton then talked about his work on ‘Steve Jobs’, the new Danny Boyle movie chronicling three career defining moments in the life of the Apple wizard. “Danny described the first act as ‘vision’, the second act as ‘revenge’ and the third act as ‘wisdom’. The music’s different for each part: analogue electronics in the first segment, an orchestral score in the second segment, and digital music in the third segment. That’s an interesting way of telling the story, in different ways and reflecting different aspects of Steve’s life. It makes a lot of sense to have a huge orchestra playing great orchestral music rather than having a keyboard go ‘dum-dum-dum’. I love all music. I’m a big fan of sound design and weird noises, but when you’re in an orchestral setting, you want to have the best experience you can. And that’s why you need a great orchestra.”

A question and answer session with the public ensued, but the results were awkward. Only four people got to ask a question, and one guy greedily took the microphone twice. Another chap didn’t ask a question, but plugged his own ambitions and asked for an internship with one of the composers. Without further ado, the Q&A came to a close. A lot of disappointed faces in the crowd, and many people whose chance to finally ask that one burning question slipped through their fingers.

Fast forward to 8 PM. ‘t Kuipke was ready for Brussels Philharmonic and Flemish Radio Choir, and vice versa. Thomas Vanderveken, the ever trustworthy and talented presenter-talk show host-pianist, took the stage with flair and aplomb. There’s truly nothing he can’t do. He’s a natural, bursting at the seams with talent. The first award was the ‘Sabam Award for the Most Original Composition by a Young International Composer’. Quite the mouthful. Three finalists (Maxime Hervé, Peer Kleinschmidt and Roman Falkenstein) had written and recorded new music for a scene from the iconic 1949 Carol Reed movie ‘The Third Man’. Kleinschmidt was crowned the winner, and received a cheque for €2500. Next up: ‘WSA Public Choice’, presented by director Caroline Strubbe. John Paesano was victorious for ‘The Maze Runner’. “My daughter will be very happy”, Strubbe quipped. Paesano thanked his wife, as always during acceptance speeches.

Antonio Sánchez made some of the funniest remarks of the evening when he won the ‘WSA Discovery of the Year’ for his work on ‘Birdman’. “It’s cool to see that drums are finally getting some love this year in the film industry. Thanks to Martín Hernández and the sound design team that made my drums sound like a million dollars for roughly 16 million Mexican pesos.” For failing to score an Oscar nomination this year, he said: “I also want to thank the World Soundtrack Academy. It’s very nice to be recognized by this Academy.” Later that night, he also won the ‘WSA Best Original Film Score of the Year’. Presenter Vanderveken reinforced the earlier sentiment: “Hope that makes up for not winning the Oscar”. Winning? Poor man didn’t even get nominated, for shame.

Other awards: -‘WSA Best Original Song Written Directly For A Film’ for ‘The Apology Song’ from ‘The Book of Life’ -Michael Giacchino was named ‘WSA Composer of the Year’ for ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’, ‘Inside Out’, ‘Jupiter Ascending’, ‘Jurassic World’ and ‘Tomorrowland’ (picked up by his sister Maria)

As stated before, Patrick Boyle was the recipient of the ‘WSA Lifetime Achievement Award’. “His music will be in our minds and in our hearts, yesterday, today, tomorrow and forever” according to maestro Brossé. In his acceptance speech, Boyle shared another great little story: “Irving Berlin lived to be 101. Steven Spielberg’s lawyer asked Irving Berlin’s lawyer if Spielberg could use a Berlin song for a film he was doing. Irving Berlin was 99 at that moment. Word came back from his lawyer that said: “Irving’s got plans for that song” (audience laughter) I think that sums it up. If you still got plans, then you’ll still be doing it. That’s the best advice I can give to the next generation.”

Brussels Philharmonic subsequently knocked it out of the park with their renditions of Doyle’s scores for ‘Henry V’, ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Carlito’s Way’. Especially the ‘Carlito’s Way’ music - set to the film’s intense subway and elevator scenes - was grand, emotional, incendiary and heart-poundingly intense. Doyle’s brilliant music and the Philharmonic’s terrific delivery make me want to see the movie now.

During the 15 minute break, I was granted the enormous honour of asking Mr. Silvestri two questions. Quite the thrill, for the man has scored many of my favourite movies and his music has guided me through all walks of life. I owe him an enormous amount of gratitude for the consistent excellence that has enriched my cultural life. I showed him my copy of the ‘Richie Rich’ soundtrack, and asked him my first question.

Julian: “‘Richie Rich’ is a movie that flopped, box office-wise, but your music was excellent. Doesn’t it bother you that some of your best music goes unnoticed by the major public?”

Alan Silvestri: “I don’t suppose you can think of it that way, or you would drive yourself mad. I get up in the morning, I work, and I learn on every film I do. Some of them are successful, some of them aren’t, but I’m learning enormous things. I’m having this amazing life, writing music for film. So, on so many levels, they’re never a flop for me. That’s really how I think you have to look at that. The movie could have done better, but you never know. There are worlds of reasons why things work and don’t work. I’m trying to do my best every time out, and I’m thrilled to hear that you enjoyed it. You’re one of the few people who saw the movie (laughs).”

Julian: “I love it. Your music for ‘Richie Rich’ is breezy and whimsical. It has a light-hearted feeling to it, and it’s very fun. I listen to the score during traffic and it relieves me.”

Alan Silvestri: “That’s a great idea! Just fantastic!”

Julian: “Final question. I heard that Christopher Lloyd based his ‘Back to the Future’ performance and movements on conductor Leopold Stokowski. He’s conducting the world as Doc Brown. Did he ever ask you any tips, because you’re a conductor as well?”

Alan Silvestri: “No, actually, I didn’t meet Chris until after the movie was shot. But I had never heard that story. It makes total sense.”

Julian: “Pointing, directing, giving cues, gestures, 1.21 jigowatts!”

Alan Silvestri: “Yeah, exactly. I learned something tonight!”

While Mr. Silvestri was talking to other members of the Belgian press, I saw his wife Sandra standing quietly in a corner. Even though I should have left her in peace, I noticed her warm aura and gentle features and went over to her. “I’m your husband’s biggest fan”, I told her, truthfully. She looked at me, smiled, and said: “That’s impossible. I am!” A genuinely funny answer, and a relieving one. I was still holding my copy of the ‘Richie Rich’ soundtrack in my mind, which she noticed. I repeated my earlier statement, and said: “This is my favourite Alan Silvestri soundtrack”. At that moment, a bell indicated the end of the intermission. I said my polite goodbyes, and saw Mr. and Mrs. Silvestri leave for their VIP seats. “’Richie Rich’ is his favourite soundtrack”, I heard her say. “I know”, Mr. Silvestri replied, “Isn’t that amazing?”

The second half of the World Soundtrack Award ceremony was entirely dedicated to the best-known Silvestri works: ‘Forrest Gump’, ‘Back to the Future’, ‘The Polar Express’, ‘Predator’ and more. A special treat for the audience was Mr. Silvestri taking over from maestro Brossé for the ‘The Walk’ fragment, his most recent collaboration with Robert Zemeckis. As ever, Brussels Philharmonic went above and beyond their call of duty and delivered in spades. I can’t stress enough what an absolute joy and privilege it was to hear the suite from ‘Back to the Future’, my favourite movie of all time as stated in this article’s introduction. Live, unabridged and oh so very awesome. I’ll cherish the memory.

The World Soundtrack Awards ceremony 2015 was an incredible trip through the visionary minds of today’s best composers. Wow. Just wow.

Julian De Backer, 1 November 2015