As the emcee at Saturday night’s 14th annual World Soundtrack Awards — the culmination of Belgium’s Film Fest Ghent — announced, “this should be called the Alexandre Desplat Awards,” after the French maestro was named as winner of both composer of the year and creator of the year’s original film score (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”).
Desplat, with his 13 nominations and six wins since 2007, is apparently a clear favorite of the WSA committee that decides on such affairs, despite facing such stiff competition from Steven Price, who won the Oscar for “Gravity,” and Hans Zimmer (“12 Years a Slave”), who, along with his then-publicist, the late Ronni Chasen, helped bring worldwide recognition to Ghent as a showcase for film music.
The composer of the year award recognizes a talent’s body of work for the previous year, and the ever-prolific Desplat was recognized for no less than seven films, including “Budapest,” “Philomena,” “The Monuments Men” and “Venus in Fur.” And while he didn’t attend this year, he did thank those assembled at the vast Kuipke auditorium remotely from Paris, promising that he looks forward to returning to Ghent and being part of the competition “again and again.”
In a way, the Desplat triumph underscored Ghent’s affinity for the traditional orchestral score (beautifully demonstrated by the event’s house band of sorts, the world-class Brussels Philharmonic), the endangerment of which was a subject of one of the previous Thursday’s panels. Of course, symphonic scores as an endangered species has as much to do with economics as it does with changing tastes, with many filmmakers opting for music that leans toward sound design and certain ambient qualities versus memorable melodies, and demonstrated by the Motion Picture Academy’s validation of Price when he won his Oscar in March.
This predilection for acoustic instrumentation also appeared to have factored into the presentation of the film music of Cliff Martinez, the featured artist of the evening. The suggestion in both word and deed, although not directly expressed, was that Martinez — known for his synth-heavy scores for the likes of Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic,” “Contagion”) and Nicolas Winding Refn (“Drive,” “Only God Forgives”) — and conductor Dirk Brosse did not see eye to eye on which music to present during the evening, nor how it should be performed. The proviso, as announced prior to the performance, was “a blending of sounds” of Martinez’s work and that of the Brussels Philharmonic, with an emphasis on Martinez’s more symphonic-leaning works. The consensus among the cognoscenti after the show was that neither party was best served by the presentation, despite some inspired moments.
The music, too, of Lifetime Achievement Award winner Francis Lai was curiously curated. Known for his highly popular romantic themes in such films as “A Man and a Woman” and “Love Story,” Lai was clearly moved by all the adulation. But the inclusion of the syrupy main theme from the soft core 1977 movie “Bilitis” did not place the program, nor his legacy, in the most favorable light.
But these missteps did not take away from the evening’s highlights, which included an inspired rendition of Dan Romer’s “Once There Was a Hushpuppy” from “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Unlike Martinez, who started out as a drummer for such groups as the Red Hot Chili Peppers but did not join the orchestra on stage, Romer — last year’s Discovery of the Year winner — accompanied the 80-piece ensemble on accordion, and the result was as moving as anything on the program.
Other winners during the evening included Pharrell Williams, behind the original song written directly for a film,” with “Happy” (not present); Daniel Pemberton as Discovery of the Year for “The Counselor” and “Cuban Fury,” also beating out Mr. Price; Michelino Bisceglia (“Marina”) as the WSA Public Choice honoree; and Cyril Molesti, who took the Sabam Award for the most original composition by a young European composer.
Among those also present were Jef Neve, whose “In Flanders Fields” music was also performed by the orchestra, nominees Pemberton, Price, Gabriel Yared, Johann Johannsson and Robin Foster, as well as French composer Bruno Coulais, who presented Lai his career award.