Ghent fest honors ‘A Single Man’ composer

Korzeniowski is Soundtrack Awards discovery

At the recently wrapped 37th Ghent Film Festival, the 10th annual World Soundtrack Awards on Oct. 23 provided a focus for the composing realm’s shared travails (both old and new) and marked something of a coming-out party for composer Abel Korzeniowski.

With his work on “A Single Man” landing him the fest’s Discovery Award for emerging talent, Korzeniowski gleaned insights from maestros he admires.

“(Ghent) is important for a young composer so that we don’t feel like we’re operating in a vacuum,” he says. “You can see that all of these masters went through the same struggles.”

Korzeniowski was also nominated for score of the year and won the audience award — meaning he claimed as many WSA kudos this year as one of his heroes, Alexandre Desplat.

The long road to success is underscored by the fact that Desplat logged more than 70 screen credits before gaining widespread attention with his Golden Globe- and BAFTA-nominated score for “Girl With a Pearl Earring.”

Korzeniowski follows in the footsteps of past Discovery honorees Gustavo Santaolalla and Michael Giacchino, both of whom went on to win Oscars. The Polish-born composer, who now resides in Los Angeles, learned that his fan base includes some of the maestros he most admires, including Gabriel Yared and Angelo Badalamenti, with whom he spent quality time in Ghent.

The realm of film scoring is often among the toughest nuts in the film world to crack, with so much of the work funneling toward either a small coterie of big-name composers, or else toward whoever can work most quickly and cheaply. Hence the spotlight on young talent forms an important element of the fest’s advocacy for the form.

Camaraderie and mutual support among a growing number of film scorers and aficionados — the WSAs attracted an audience of 2,400 this year, up from 1,000 in 2009 — is a key byproduct of Ghent’s music focus, and it comes at a crucial time. Scoring has long been marginalized by the industry and by music scholars, and is increasingly endangered as a recorded art form. The fest’s seminars and performances make it a key platform for spotlighting both achievements and further challenges.

Ghent’s film program boasted docs on composers Alex North, Michael Nyman and Georges Delerue. “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy music by Howard Shore — also in attendance at Ghent — is the subject of an exhaustive new Carpentier book by Doug Adams, while Scarecrow Press has published a series of “Film Score Guides.”

Additionally, a growing number of college courses, both graduate and post-graduate, are devoted to the study of film music, a recent shift that runs counter to a longstanding academic bias against the form.

John Barry’s lush, sexy scores from James Bond and beyond were the subject of a tribute at Ghent, and provided a contemporary relevant primer on how memorable melodies can work for a movie without putting too much of an accent on sentimentality. Stephen Warbeck (“Shakespeare in Love”) also conducted an all-day seminar on the art and craft of film music, even as he and others like Elliot Goldenthal seemed to be enjoying Ghent’s Belgian brew pubs with the energy of the students who followed their every move.

And while the bulk of the fest focused on the act of scoring itself, key challenges on the retail side were on several people’s minds.

Soundtracks as physical recordings might have few greater champions than Ghent attendee Robert Townson — VP at Varese Sarabande Records, one of the last label outposts dedicated to such work — who averages a jaw-dropping 60 albums a year as a producer. But the mission he began in the mid-’80s is not getting any easier. The record biz has declined precipitously and soundtracks rely more on gradual sales than the kind of volume typical of a pop chart topper.

“It does take years to really tell the tale,” says Townson, who adds that Varese Sarabande acts as a “serious curator” dedicated to preserving contemporary film music as well as archiving classics. “There are still scores that have never been released before by the likes of Jerry Goldsmith. Varese has enough of a back catalog to help us through the continually struggling days of more modern times.”

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