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Pope: Supporting player gets close-up on ‘Marilyn’

Eye on the Oscars: The Music - Conrad Pope

One of film music’s behind-the-scenes heroes finally emerges from the shadows with his score for “My Week With Marilyn.”

Conrad Pope is well known in L.A. music circles as one of the most experienced, versatile and dramatically astute orchestrators in town. He has worked with everyone from John Williams (“Memoirs of a Geisha”) to James Newton Howard (“Water for Elephants”) and Alexandre Desplat (the two-part “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”).

Pope has composed a handful of films, notably 2001’s “Pavilion of Women,” but he’s better known as the guy to call when you are a) in a jam; b) need an experienced arranger; or c) require a classy orchestral touch.

For “My Week With Marilyn,” Desplat wrote a theme for the film but insisted that the full score be handled by Pope, his friend and collaborator for the past four years.

The film is a fictionalized account of a young man’s involvement with Marilyn Monroe while she was shooting “The Prince and the Showgirl” in England with Laurence Olivier. Desplat’s theme, Pope says, is heard “when you see Marilyn at her most vulnerable. It is the mirror of her soul, and also a reflection of what we know to be her ultimate destiny. That theme captures her fragility, her insecurities.”

But that’s only about a fifth of the score. Overall, Pope says, “music had to make this cinematic. It had to have the energy of the 1950s, a kind of youthful vitality.”

So Pope added some big-band touches reminiscent of arranger Billy May. He was also responsible for the film’s emotional arc, as it becomes more about the people around Monroe and how she’s changed their lives.

The film was undergoing major changes when Pope came onboard in July. He worked for four weeks, often scoring scenes more than once, then orchestrating and conducting a 65-piece London orchestra.

Classical pianist Lang Lang played the solos and, Pope says, “brought extraordinary emotion to the music,” especially the touching Desplat theme.

Pope, who identifies himself as “a journeyman musician,” says he’s “somebody that shows up and does what needs to be done. I help a composer, or any score, be the best it can be.”

For “My Week With Marilyn,” he says, “you needed music that was genuine, of the movie, of the voice of the film; music that would set the scene.”

EYE ON THE OSCARS: THE MUSIC
Lyrics bring pix to life | Stars tune up plots | John goes Gaga over inanimate romance
SCORE CARD
From rising stars to Oscar winners, seven composers talk about the method to their musicality:
Henry Jackman | Alberto Iglesias | Dario Marianelli | Michael Giacchino | Abel Korzeniowski | Conrad Pope | Thomas Newman

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