Film music seems to get a lot more respect at film festivals in Europe than in the U.S.
Take Belgium’s Film Festival Gent, which ran Oct. 14-25, including a concert of Nino Rota’s movie music performed by the Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra, and culminating in the World Soundtrack Awards. Both affairs stood as testaments to the power of the film score as its own independent art form.
Although the Rota concert was mostly devoted to his music for Federico Fellini, it was the composer’s themes for Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” that tugged at the heartstrings. No matter how many times one had seen the gangster saga that defined all subsequent mob movies, the music — stirringly interpreted by the 80-piece Brussels Philharmonic — took on a life of its own.
But this European respect for film music extends beyond art; it boosts commerce as well.
Dirk Brosse, the perennial maestro of the WSA, who also conducted the Rota tribute, describes movie music as one of the Brussels Philharmonic’s core businesses. “When you look at the orchestras in this country and in many other countries — even the New York Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Amsterdam Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, one of the best orchestras in the world — they all program film music.”
And while Americans are no strangers to such material performed live, film festivals in the U.S. lag far behind those in Europe in terms of dedicated film-music programming.
Overseas fests devoted to movie composers have sprung up in Gent’s wake, including two in Spain (Tenerife, Cordoba), two in Poland (Krakow, Transatlantyk), one in Austria (Hollywood in Vienna) and one in France (Festival des musiques a l’image). In the U.S., only the two-year-old Middleburg Film Festival in Virginia features live film music, and hands out a distinguished composer award (won by Marco Beltrami this year, and Mark Isham in the inaugural fest).
“Composers are the royalty of film music, and film music is unquestionably an art,” says Robert Townson, VP of film music label Varese Sarabande, who has produced 1,300 soundtracks and 60 special-event concerts. “I suppose Europe has always had a great predilection for celebrating or lionizing great artists. And the number of (film music) festivals is indeed expanding across Europe.”
Townson cites the Krakow Film Music Festival, which just celebrated its seventh year, for its dramatic growth. “The audiences were massive,” he says of the most recent edition in September. “We brought in a combined crowd of more than 35,000 people.”
The prolific producer says what sparks the creation of a film music festival “is a single person with a dream and a passion for creating such an event. Then that person gathers a small team to tackle the overwhelming obstacles that stand in the way.”
And with recent concerts in the U.S. devoted to such composers as John Williams, Danny Elfman and the late Bernard Herrmann, Townson believes that “audiences all over the world, including Americans, are hungry for the kinds of film-music concerts we have been creating for the festivals.”
(Pictured: Flutist Sara Andon at the Krakow Film Music Festival.)