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Soundtracks, orchestras and classical music

 
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Italy Xalira
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 08, 2013 2:06 pm   Post subject: Soundtracks, orchestras and classical music Reply with quote




When we think about soundtracks, the first thing we usually think about is the composer. But what about the singers, soloists and orchestras that actually record them and bring them to life?

There are orchestras, such as the LSO, that have an impressive back catalogue, worked with the best composers and left their mark with their signature strings and sound perfection. (for a list: http://lso.co.uk/lso-and-film-music)
There are even classical musicians who decided to become professional because they fell in love with the sound of the orchestra in a soundtrack (true story, read it here: http://www.classicfm.com/artists/london-symphony-orchestra/news/back-desk-interview-david-jackson/).

Prestigious orchestras are considering this as something more and more important in their work planning, and this goes together with videogame soundtracks getting more budget and more recognition. There are orchestras in London, such as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, that have a massive season of film music concerts. Basically, all orchestras in London (but Italy, too), have at least one film music concert per season, and they are very popular with people who wouldn't normally go to a classical concert. The "Live in concert" format is also growing fast, and as I write a May 2014 live music screening of J. J. Abrams's "Star Trek" is already sold out.

There is currently also a debate about labelling film music written in a "classical" style (such as John Williams's scores) as "classical music". I have a personal view on the topic but I would like to hear what do you think.

This is a fascinating topic for me, and I hope that other SSTers share the same interest in this and would like to discuss this. I personally believe that a film music concert performed by the orchestra that actually recorded the soundtrack has no equals. My only chance so far has to hear the BBC National Orchestra of Wales performing Doctor Who at the Proms this year.

I'd love to know how the situation in the US is, sometimes it looks like European orchestras are the ones doing most of the recording, and I don't know how popular film music concerts are in other countries ( http://www.moviesinconcert.nl is a great project for this).
I also believe that orchestras often don't get the right recognition when it comes to credits, and it's a pity.
The whole topic could also be broadened to all performers of film scores, such as singers, players etc, but this would maybe need a separate topic.
And there is of course the "choirs" topic: London Voices (freelance professionals) is behind the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy and many other films (http://www.london-voices.co.uk/soundtracks.php), Crouch End Festival Chorus (amateur choir!) is behind most of the Doctor Who soundtracks, and the list goes on...

I end this with a video of John Williams talking about his relationship with the LSO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1obMuhRgm0

This is recording footage from Star Wars - Attack of the clones, with JW conducting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1sgEie6cQ6A

And this is the Philharmonia Orchestra recording a Harry Potter videogame: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHhHOftZKBU

Looking forward to your thoughts! Smile
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 09, 2013 3:43 pm   Post subject: Reply with quote


wow, fascinating topic and it points to a discussion I often seem to end up in.
Of course there should be a clear definition of what exactly would be meant with 'classical'.
I, myself, consider the soundtracks as new classicals, based on the fact that the medium the old classics were made for (liturgia,royalties,ballets,opera etc) has changed into TV,movie and videogame and the music has evolved with it.

In those discussions the ever returning element of virtuosity is occuring. And true, a lot of the old classical music is composed just to bring out the greatness of an orchestra or soloïst. And for me there lays the difference.
But there are elas very stubborn people who still look to scores as minor pieces of music because of the purpose they are made for, but luckily their number is descending and I certainly do not agree with them, as you all do, I suppose.

I hope that with the juvenilation of the orchestras old-fashioned ways of thinking and 'discrimination'
will deminish. I will do the utmost as far as it is in my hands to keep the evolution going.
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Italy Xalira
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 30, 2013 8:21 am   Post subject: Reply with quote


As far as I know some orchestra players were quite surprised by the complexity of the language, once they had started studying some film scores... And audiences can sometimes be much more enthusiast and young than the ones they're used to.

My only fear is that with budget cuts (you probably know how bad the situation in the Netherlands is, and US as well) orchestras will start doing more and more of this repertoire, because it definitely sells better than their more complicated, traditional repertoire. It would be great if film music started to be taken seriously, with retrospectives etc, but it would be a disaster if it ended up cannibalising the rest Sad

This said, the BBC film music special that went on this month in the UK confirmed that this is a wonderful place to be for film music lovers Smile I would do with a little more courage on the repertoire, but let's see what happens in the next months...
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 04, 2013 1:11 pm   Post subject: Reply with quote


OK, I wasn't going to write anything because I'm afraid nobody will care and maybe it wouldn't win me any friends, but I keep thinking about this thread which brings up many thoughts I've had over the years that I've never written down. So I'm just going to write a big manifesto here just to get it out of my head. Smile

First off, yes, musicians should get more credit. There is a bit of a movement about this and it has been improving, but there's a long way to go. Credits are so massive today, which makes some people say, "why not credit the whole orchestra?" and others say, "but it's so long already!"

Film and game music concerts are growing in popularity in the USA as well. For the 4 years I've been in Utah, the Utah Symphony has done a few such events every season, though always in their Entertainment and Family programs as opposed to in the "classical" Masterworks series. This summer, they did 'Bond and Beyond' and in the coming year are doing 'Magical Music of Harry Potter' and 'Pixar in Concert.' In the past few years I have gone to Video Games Live and two John Williams concerts. The latest JW concert with the symphony's primary pops conductor and as a two-night regular weekend event was fantastic, but I have to say that the other two, one-night only concerts with guest and junior conductors, were the worst performances I've seen by this very fine orchestra. This brings up one problem I see with these sorts of concerts - give a great "classical" orchestra new material they're not familiar with and just one night of their lives without their normal leadership, and you're not going to get the best concert, and it may not be remembered fondly by some of the musicians and audience. I for one am a season subscriber, but will NOT be going to the Harry Potter or Pixar concerts this year for that reason.

AND NOW...

On the larger question of "Is film music the new classical music?"

The question is too simple. Not all classical music is the same in form or context. Film music is similar in form and function to SOME types of classical music. The great Bernard Herrmann (who despite his obvious film music genius always wanted to be a great conductor rather than a film music composer) famously said that all contemporary composers should do at least some work in film as it is the popular medium of today, just as opera was in Mozart's day, but this doesn't meant that film is therefore the highest art of classical music. I can break it down into three categories.

1) Film music is most like opera, operetta, theatrical incidental music, or ballet music. It exists to accompany a story that has visual and sound elements. This does not mean that going to a concert of film music is just like going to the opera or ballet, because in the case of the opera or ballet, you are seeing and hearing the music in the context it was made for, as part of the story and stage show. A concert of film music on its own is removing the music from its intended context and just giving you a fraction of the experience that it was made for. Going to the opera is actually most like going to the movie theatre! For that is where you hear the music as intended, with the story and larger production. Concerts of film music done live with the film also of course provide that experience in an exciting way that doesn't really have a counterpart in the past before recorded music existed. Did people ever do operas with player pianos? Smile

But, I do have to say that film music is getting more and more simplistic, in large part due to sound design getting more and more involved. In some cases it's obvious - when there's going to be racing car engines, gunfire and explosions dominating the sound, you're not going to waste your time making elaborate music which will not be heard. Hence, incredible swashbuckling music of yore has given way to pounding percussion and simplistic orchestration. Opera composers did not have this problem. Smile For the most part, music dominated and was the primary sound you were there to hear. This is why, at least for me, I can't ever imagine an action cue from Transformers being anywhere near as interesting as a concert piece as an excerpt from a Mozart or Wagner opera would be. There's just less there to keep me interested if it's out of context of the film.

There are exceptions of pieces that stand on their own, like the Rite of Spring, but for the most part, operas, incidental music and ballets are rarely if ever performed by orchestras simply as music, without the stage production. Most "classical" composers hated the idea of their music being performed out of context. Wagner HATED that people loved the 'Ride of the Valkyries' and wanted to perform it separately from the opera as a concert piece, and only agreed to it later in life. I recently saw a concert of a suite from Strauss' 'Der Rosenklavier' which he begrudgingly wrote decades after the opera.

2) Some composers like Stravinsky however happily made suites from his operas and ballets so that there were separate concert versions available. Operas, stage plays and ballets had overtures, grand opening pieces which were the composers' opportunity to just write music to introduce the themes but weren't accompanying any action on stage. This is a lot like Main or End Titles of films. The Star Wars Main Title is certainly the overture to the film. Of course, in the old days, films had overtures, too. Famous overtures and suites are very commonly played by all orchestras.

So, a concert of film music removed from the films can be seen to be just like a concert of "classical" overtures and suites. It would however be rare for an orchestra to play a concert of ONLY overtures and suites, without a symphony or concerto, but anything's possible.

3) OK, in point 1, I agree that a concert of film music done live with the film is in a way analogous to going to an opera or ballet. In point 2, I give you that a concert of film music without the film is analogous to a "classical" concert of overtures and suites. Point 3 is the way in which film music is NOT the new classical music.

For some "classical" composers, opera was their main medium and their highest art. In general, however, highly developed music for its own sake was regarded as the highest art, most notably in the form of the symphony. These were the great achievements of the day. Music unbound. Pure art, intellect and emotion. It is an entirely different process, product and mindset from music for film.

I reflected a lot on this after the Utah Symphony John Williams concert earlier this year. It was great performances of great music, but why did it feel so completely different to their concert I had been to a week or two before?

A) It was a lot of short pieces, with no big, long showpiece. Normally, a concert would have, for example, a symphony, a concerto, and a couple shorter pieces. A film music concert like this has just a bunch of short pieces, which makes it feel more like a pop concert than a classical concert.

B) It mostly main title pieces, which if you think about it, introduce themes for movies, but don't really develop them much. A classical symphonic movement in brief goes [A theme - B theme - long development section - A theme - B theme]. One film music example - the Raiders March, basically goes [A theme - B theme - A theme - B theme - C theme (Marion's theme, which starts small then builds) - A theme - B theme]. It keeps getting bigger all the time, but it never really has the development a symphony has, which is where things get intricate and interesting. So again, that makes a film music concert more like a pop music concert. You hear these quick bursts of your favorite familiar themes, but never get the satisfaction of deeper musical development.

On that point, in this concert, they made a point of doing one particular piece that was NOT just a familiar theme - the buildup to the assassination in JFK. It was really interesting, because it was indeed development! Fragments of themes building up to a climax in really interesting ways. It was the least known, and least "easy listening" piece of the night, and I was surprised to think, "wow, this is the most like going to a regular night at the symphony."

All that said, do I think there should be film music concerts? Heck yeah! Do I love film music? Heck yeah! But for me as someone educated in "classical music" and who loves MAKING film music, I definitely see the difference between the two in form and function. I hope this little manifesto of mine helps someone out there understand some of the differences and some of why not all orchestras or classical music fans are embracing film music the way film music fans do.
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 04, 2013 5:12 pm   Post subject: Reply with quote


Mr. Graves, my hat's off to you. What a wonderfully written, articulate, and easy-to-follow "manifesto!"

Quote:
In general, however, highly developed music for its own sake was regarded as the highest art, most notably in the form of the symphony. ... Music unbound. Pure art, intellect and emotion.


It sounds a lot like poetry. I've never cared for poetry, and I don't think I have much patience for pure symphonic art.

The thing is, I love stories. Film music and musical theater are, unsurprisingly, what I listen to most. I believe there can be a lot of development of themes and such in those arenas, though as I write this off the cuff nothing occurs to me. (Perhaps what I talked about in my review of Little Shop of Horrors counts). I hope this doesn't make me a rube or a simpleton. But "pure" art, aside from my hatred of that four-letter-word, just doesn't do it for me.
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 05, 2013 2:25 pm   Post subject: Reply with quote


Ha. You won't find me at any poetry readings, either.

Just to clarify, "pure art" in music isn't necessarily without dramatic arc or spunk. Smile One of my favorite things I read in all of music school was a letter from a youngish Mozart to his father about the premiere of one of his symphonies. He was positively giddy about the fact that he had written a really dramatic and surprising sequence that had exactly the effect on the audience that he intended, causing an audible stir and applause. He loved his craft and loved using it to entertain.

On the other hand, other composers are indeed intellectual snobs whose music bores me to tears. I'm a happy symphony subscriber but definitely could do without several pieces I hear each season. My favorites are those who really aimed to use the most of their craft to entertain, enlighten, etc. There's got to be a spark.
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 06, 2013 3:50 am   Post subject: Reply with quote


Fascinating topic, some random thought from my side

One remark by RandinGraves got me thinking:
Quote:
But for me as someone educated in "classical music" and who loves MAKING film music, I definitely see the difference between the two in form and function.


I'm not educated in (classical) music at all, I'm not even playing any instruments or sing. Maybe that's also why I don't have any affinity with classical musical: I don't hear or understand the symphonic art of it. But I love film music!

In my view, film score has the purpose of enhancing the emotions that belong to a scene in the movie. Playing film score without the actual context can still bring over those emotions or (if I have seen the movie) relive the movie scene.

On the other hand, if we talk about 'film scores' it's about the music that we think is very good. The repetoire of John Williams or Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings comes to mind. But there are many scores that never make it to anyone's list. Who ever listened to the score of the movie 'Fire down below'? Although I've seen the movie (more than once), I never thought about looking up the score. In that perspective, film scores are more like pop music: some make it tox the top, others don't. Funny thing is, is that the rating of the movie does not necessarily rate the film score. 'King Arthur' comes to mind as the only reason I liked this movie was because of Hans Zimmer's music.

Game music (I'm typing this while Skyrim is playing on SST) is in my view something that has become more serious the past 5-10 years. I'm a real gamer, regularly spending over 20 hours a week gaming. What I've seen is that gaming has become a new source, next to movies, of telling complex stories. Sure, Mario had a story too (every good game has one), but the complexity and depth of stories like World of Warcraft, Mass Effect, the new Tomb Raider, Journey, Last of Us and upcoming Beyond: Two Souls is just stunning. Hell, I would even say that the quality of story-driven games in 2013 is better than the 2013 movie list. And that quality cannot be reached without being accompanied by amazing and emotional music.

I hate labeling, and especially trying to label film and game scores as 'classical' music, doesn't do it justice. If I had to label scores, I would say it is a separate style that has influences of other styles, like classical. But there are also plenty of other influences, like electronic and country.

That orchestra's are making a shift towards film and gaming score is not a bad thing in my opinion. I always have thought that the potential of orchestra's is being underused. I understand that the full potential of an orchestra lies in playing classical music, but it directed to an audience that can appreciate and understand the complexity and symphonic art of such music. And that audience group is not very big. I could start a very long discussion about whether we should subsidise orchestra's that play classical music only (but let's not do that), but in the end, I think that orchestra's need to wider their audience, especially reaching out to the more younger audience. Film and gaming scores are perfect means to do that.

Thanks for starting this topic Xalira!
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 07, 2013 2:21 am   Post subject: Reply with quote


Thanks for your point of view, Randin Graves. I would just like to add my 2 cents on this huge topic.

First, I've already assisted to opera without any decor or acting. There was just the orchestra and the singers playing the music. I usually go to see opera for the music, and not the mise en scene, but I don't think this way of playing make the music less enjoyable.

Second, I want to know your opinion about the Lord of the Ring symphony. Some composers think that their music can have a life without the screens and use it for special pieces. Are we still in soundtracks or in "classical"?

For me, seeing music on screen or hearing it live in a concert hall isn't the same at all. In France, soundtracks are often consider as "poor" music and isn't treated the way it should be, but I'm sure that the edge between "pure classical" and "soundtracks" is very thin
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 07, 2013 2:49 pm   Post subject: Reply with quote


masked_platypus wrote:
First, I've already assisted to opera without any decor or acting. There was just the orchestra and the singers playing the music. I usually go to see opera for the music, and not the mise en scene, but I don't think this way of playing make the music less enjoyable.


Yes, such concerts are certainly possible, though at least here, rare, especially among high level orchestras as opposed to student or community orchestras. But that is why I made the comparison between a Mozart opera and a Transformers score. I'm just going to make up some numbers here just for a rough illustration - let's say in a traditional opera, the music was 90% of the performance experience. Mix that of course with the fact that many in the audience are there to see a particular diva sing that music. But still, it is the performance of that music that is the experience. Compare that to MOST films of today, where the music could be said to be, I don't know, 25% of the experience along with visuals, sound effects, etc. Most music in most films today is much more in a support role than up front, especially compared to opera. Heck, I was shocked recently when I told someone I met that I do music for movies, and she had to stop and think about the fact that there even WAS music in movies. To most of the public, music is a very small part of the film experience, and most of the music is frankly made accordingly. So to pull music out of a film for concert performance is very different from pulling music out of an opera experience.

masked_platypus wrote:
Second, I want to know your opinion about the Lord of the Ring symphony. Some composers think that their music can have a life without the screens and use it for special pieces. Are we still in soundtracks or in "classical"?


Some film music certainly stands on its own better than other film music. Howard Shore's "Lord of the Rings Symphony" is exactly what I described in point 2 of my manifesto - an edited suite of pieces from the score, just as there are suites from operas, ballets, etc. He knows that playing the entirety of the Lord of the Rings scores wouldn't be a great concert experience, so he created one concert-length piece by editing together highlights in a way he feels flows well. Just as Strauss did with Der Rosenklavier and Stravinsky did with the Firebird. That's great.

The bottom line for me, though, is that everybody should be doing and going to see whatever they enjoy. Smile I'm not here to say anything is BETTER than anything else.

I mean, I lived with Australian Aboriginal People for 5 years and can listen to their esoteric ceremonial music just as well as I can listen to a classical symphony, because I'm educated in it, it has a context for me, and I enjoy. But I know it would be unlistenable nonsense for 99% of the people on the planet, so I'm not going to say that anybody else should listen to it.
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 16, 2013 6:28 am   Post subject: Reply with quote


Thanks again Randin for sharing your point of view on the topic - great stuff!

Variety has published an interesting article about the rise of film screenings with live music in the US: http://variety.com/2013/biz/news/score-one-for-movie-maestros-audiences-grow-for-film-music-concerts-1200827772/

By the way, I truly encourage you to go and see John Wilson and his orchestra - he really is fantastic in this repertoire.
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