Vienna might be synonymous with Mozart and Strauss, but Sandra Tomek, founder and director of Hollywood in Vienna, perceives equally strong ties to such movie maestros as Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who established themselves in the Austrian capital before blossoming as key pioneers of the Hollywood film score tradition.
So when Randy Newman receives the Max Steiner Award at the dual Sept. 24-25 event taking place at the city’s storied Vienna Concert Hall, with cousin and fellow film composer David Newman conducting, Tomek views the honor as both a link to the past and a celebration of the present.
“Alfred Newman, David’s father, was a colleague of Max Steiner,” Tomek explains. “And also the Newman family came from Eastern Europe (Russia, to be exact). So there are a lot of ties which are really interesting.”
The award is determined by an international committee of 20 people who hail from the film and music realms, as well as members of the Cultural Department of the City of Vienna.
The series began in 2009, when John Barry, best-known for his robust James Bond music, received the inaugural award, named after the man who scored such movies as “King Kong,” “Gone With the Wind” and “Casablanca.” (Alan Silvestri, Howard Shore and James Horner have been subsequently honored.)
Although Barry’s wife had fallen ill, preventing him from attending, Bond franchise producer Barbara Broccoli and composer David Arnold, who inherited the Bond music baton from Barry, accepted the award on his behalf. The evening included plenty of Barry’s exhilarating work with Nicholas Dodd. who orchestrated and conducted all the Bond soundtracks dating back to 1997, conducting the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra.
The Newmans, who have never performed together, will also be working with that same orchestra, a 110-musician ensemble that will be supplemented by a 60-person choir. Few musical canvases get much bigger.
“The stage is really packed,” informs Tomek. “For a lot of soundtracks you really need additional instruments. We had a bagpipe, for example, last year for James Horner’s music for ‘Braveheart’ and ‘Titanic.’”
Newman’s Oscar-winning work on “Toy Story 3” and “Monsters, Inc.” will be part of this year’s program, as well as the music from such live-action fare as “The Natural,” “Ragtime,” “Seabiscuit” and “Avalon,” with Newman’s characteristic wry vocals as part of the package.
So far the 1,800-capacity hall has been sold out for all of these occasions, precipitating second shows and allowing the organizers to take the best of both performances for broadcast via radio and television.
And this year, the event’s popularity has spawned a touring production called “Hollywood in Concert,” appearing in such European destinations as Zurich and Berlin, and future iterations planned for Asia, South America and the U.S.
With festivals devoted to film music now annually taking place in Belgium, Spain and Poland, in a strange way, Hollywood in Vienna might take the lead in introducing Americans to an indigenous art form they appear to take for granted, not unlike that much-neglected art form, jazz.
“In Europe those composers are celebrated like pop stars, and (fans) can attribute composers to certain movies,” explains Tomek. “And my understanding is in that the United States, for some reason, most people don’t know who these people are. Why it’s that way I don’t know, but it is a bit surprising to me.”