Event Report: FMF - Film Music Festival in Krakow (25-28th of September 2014)
Film music used to be looked down on as inferior form of orchestral writing. Some concert composers tackled such projects with certain embarrassment and academics refused to acknowledge this new vehicle as a valid artform. In fact, they still do. Things are changing drastically, however. There are numerous concerts celebrating this overlooked aspect of filmmaking and they attract huge numbers of people. That's really important, because cinema would the only medium to connect them with more traditional forms of musical composition. One of such events is Poland’s FMF – Film Music Festival (Festiwal Muzyki Filmowej) in Krakow, which celebrated its 7th year last week. While not as widely publicised internationally as its Fimucite (Tenerife) or Ghent (Belgium) siblings, it is nevertheless one of the crucial gatherings of this kind most recent edition proves just that.
Organisers decided to give this celebration a mark of its own, something to distinguish it from other events. Each year, the programme would always include live to film projection performances of various productions. This trend started with The Lord of the Rings trilogy and continued with Pirates of the Carribean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Perfume: Story of a Murderer and The Matrix. This year, the audience were treated to two such concerts – Gladiator and Kon-Tiki. The very presence of latter Norwegian film is an example of another rule: diversity. It’s not all about Hollywood and Polish cinema but rich foreign repertoire as well. Some of those are very chamber-like, taking place in smaller venues. The programme of FMF’s seventh edition was comprised of four main concerts, several small accompanying events (labelled as alterFMF), separate orchestral performances for children, Q&A’s, as well as workshops for aspiring composers. Those are conducted by both Hollywood and local specialists and co-organised by the local Alvernia Studios (where Elliot Goldenthal recently recorded his Othello Symphony). There is also a composer’s competition – scoring a short film. These would be announced way in advance for candidates to submit their ideas to an international jury. The winning score is performed during the final gala evening as an opening piece. This time the task was to score a trailer for BioShock Infinite and the main prize went to young Jan Sanejko. Writing music for video games turned out to be one of the themes of festival’s latest edition - composer Gary Schyman conducted a panel devoted to that area of the business.
The main concerts were, obviously, at the very centre of everybody’s attention. Two of them took place in the now-iconic location of Tinning Plant ArcelorMittal Poland. It’s been used ever since the second edition and among its finest moments was the performance of Alien: A Biomechanical Symphony a few years ago. While heating of such a hall, especially at this time of the year, turns out to be an issue sometimes, there is no denying the uniqueness of this location. The first evening in that venue was devoted to Kon-Tiki. The Norwegian film, a massive production by Scandinavian standards, is largely unknown to larger public and it was a good opportunity to serve the audience something slightly different. The score itself, composed by Johan Söderqvist (known for Let The Right One In), was orchestrated for a moderate orchestra, large percussion, now-infamous duduk and several less common objects (like leaves, for example). The audience definitely liked the film and its curiously subtle and unobstrusive musical accompaniment. In many ways very different from Hollywood practices, even if the instrumentation seems similar.
During the second day, FMF moved to Krakow Arena – a brand new sport venue. This is where a James Bond-themed concert took place. It was, more specifically, devoted to songs from all the films. The order of the programme and content were decided by listeners of RMF Classic radio station through a summer long competition. The final selection was performed by Krakow Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Fimucite’s director (and Krakow’s audience sweetheart) Diego Navarro. A group of Spanish and Polish singers performed all the pieces and results definitely met expectations and standards and occasionally even surpassed them. In between the vocal parts, orchestral suites from such franchise entries as Moonraker and The Living Daylights were played, along with a couple of pieces from David Arnold’s scores. The rendition of ‘Ice Bandits’ (from The World Is Not Enough) was so good without its electronica overlays that one has to wonder why composer even bothered to use them in the first place – live percussion seemed both more effective and appropriate.
Another concert, suitably taking place in this sport arena, was Saturday’s Gladiator: Live In Concert. Ludwig Wicki, known to audiences all around the world for his The Lord of the Rings conducting duties, led Sinfonietta Cravovia and Pro Musica Mundi choir. Lisa Gerrard had to pull out at the very last minute due to health issues. Fortunately, the ever-wonderful and versatile Kaitlyn Lusk took over and, at times, it was quite easy to forget the original vocalist wasn’t there. Hans Zimmer attended the performance as well but wouldn’t stay till the end, most certainly because of really strained schedule that day. The concert offered an alternate take on his music, due to the lack of massive synthesised elements and substantially increased presence of chorus. One could argue it probably works better in such form. Everything would have been perfect if not for acoustics of Krakow Arena that ruined the experience to some extent – considerable echo diminished the impact that both score and film’s sound mix should have (especially during quiet dialogue scenes).
The grand final gala took place yet again in tinning plant hall on the final day of FMF. It was devoted to 100th anniversary of ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers). All the invited composers attended it – Dario Marianelli, Hans Zimmer, Patrick Doyle, Elliot Goldenthal and Gary Schyman, as well as numerous representatives from the organisation itself. Gustavo Santaolalla, one of first announced guests, wouldn't arrive but left a video message and a short selection from Brokeback Mountain was played during this concert. The eclectic programme for the evening could possibly create quite a disjointed experience but, in the end, this unorthodox mix worked rather well.
Patrick Doyle presented pieces from three of his films: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (consisting of ‘To Think of a Story’, ’The Creation’ and ’The Wedding Night’), as well as selections from Thor and ‘Harry in Winter’ from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Philip Glass visited Krakow just a week before so the suite from The Hours was appropriately played as well. The virtuoso solos of pianist Leszek Mozdzer sent a tingle down one’s spine, especially during the seemingly improvised opening and closing portions. Dario Marianelli came to Krakow with his extended suite from Joe Wright's Anna Karenina, which covered the vast majority of score material. Of all the pieces, this one was the classiest in terms of refinement and orchestration.
In between bigger musical numbers, the audience were treated to several pieces from older scores by ASCAP legends – Elmer Bernstein’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Henry Mancini’s The Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Alex North’s love theme from Spartacus. Those were performed in new arrangements for flute and orchestra. The soloist Sara Andon did great justice to iconic music and enchanted audience with her impressive skill and stage presence.
Hans Zimmer finished off the evening with thundering 20-minute suite from Inception, comprised of such cues as 'Half Remembered Dream', 'Dream Is Collapsing', 'Waiting For A Train', 'Mombasa' and, of course, 'Time'. The composer played the piano parts himself and was aided by guitarist Aleksander Milwiw-Baron, cellist Tristan Schulze and singer Czarina Russell (whose parts included crucial Édith Piaf snippets). Synthesizers amplified the compositions greatly and the entire venue would literally shake from all this wall of sound. This selection from popular score was great way to finish the evening with a proper bang (although, the word 'bram' would perhaps suit it better).
However, as great as Zimmer segment was, the biggest applause of the evening was directed to the penultimate position on ASCAP gala programme: Elliot Goldenthal’s Grand Gothic Suite showcasing scores from Batman Forever and Batman & Robin (although the latter was represented only by ‘The Birth of Bane’). The dazzling and wild performance was augmented by extensive lightshow of Bat-symbols - amusingly recalling the excessive kitsch of Joel Schumacher’s films. The audience absolutely loved it. Goldenthal visited Krakow for a third year in a row and he’s very much liked by locals - the immediate standing ovation was a definite proof of that. The virtuoso The Beethoven Academy Orchestra (under the baton of Navarro) put some other, older orchestras to shame. The young players found themselves jumping from one style of writing to another, without missing a beat. Hopefully, FMF will utilise their talents more often from now on. There was only one drawback to gala concert – the female host Katarzyna Janowska looked unprepared and, quite frankly, completely out of touch with subject matter. An unfortunate misstep on organisers' part.
As usual, the festival offered fans plenty of accompanying events. The workshops and industry panels were great for young composers trying to get a break in big this medium. However, even mere mortals got something for themselves. Most of the invited guests attended at least one Q&A meeting – Söderqvist had his own panel, as did Zimmer and Marianelli. There was also a separate event for all the ASCAP guest composers and this was the one to go to - seeing Goldenthal, Doyle and Zimmer enjoying a banter was a joy to see. After all, they couldn't be any more different from each, musically. Patrick would recount his battle with leukaemia and how composing was the only thing that kept him going. Goldenthal was talking fondly about Frida and how he embraced the concept of non-orchestral music for this project. This composer also lauded the genius of his orchestrator Robert Elhai who could apparently work on a sketch while talking indecent things to his wife over the phone. All the guests agreed that writing music was the only thing they could do well in their lives, even in their darkest moments. Dario Marianelli, the youngest of this group, got into great detail about his career and body of work in the following separate session. Gracious and modest, he shared many anecdotes on the methods and approaches to various films. Many people would be surprised to learn he doesn't use pencil and paper so much these days to prepare sketches - computers replaced those tools a long time ago. Interesting, given how complete and detailed his arrangements usually are.
Zimmer panel drew the biggest crowds, as expected. The guest himself looked really overwhelmed and tired at times. However, his natural charisma and boisterous personality soon took over and composer started to talk at length about his early years – problems with staying at school, moving away from Frankfurt, first film experiences - all of that while revisiting various crucial projects along the way. Of particular note is the anecdote about one party where he saw Terrence Malick argue with none other than Werner Herzog about the superiority of one piece from The Lion King over another. While the composer was the single biggest name to grace FMF so far, he turned out to be rather elusive to fans, much to their disappointment. But then, rather gruelling plan for the day made it impossible for this musician to spend some time with people his music is directed to. Sadly.
In any case, Krakow’s FMF is constantly growing and becoming a spectacular celebration of music and film. The minor faults are being fixed with each edition and I'm sure next year is going to be even better. If there’s one important thing to adjust, it would to find time and arrange a separate signing sessions for fans. It’s getting increasingly difficult to collect signatures and pictures without having to resort to stalking techniques. Also, one could ponder on how the relatively chamber-like feel of early years is gone now and replaced by more mass audience product. However, this is a natural signs of development and it’s great that Krakow is able to organise a festival with such splendour. As of now, it’s one of the best. Eric Serra, Tan Dun, Joe Hisaishi, Tom Tykwer, Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek, Shigeru Umbeyashi, Benjamin Wallfisch, Howard Shore, Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, Wojciech Kilar, Bartosz Chajdecki, Masashi Hamauzu, Elliot Goldenthal, Don Davis, Alberto Iglesias, Ernst Reijseger, Valgeir Sigurðsson, Abel Korzeniowski, Trevor Morris, Michal Lorenc, Patrick Doyle, Gary Schyman, Dario Marianelli and Hans Zimmer. If this list of guests doesn't impress you, nothing ever will.
All photos (but two) by Wojciech Wandzel.