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James Newton Howard Stays Busy With ‘Nutcracker,’ ‘Red Sparrow’ and ‘Grindelwald’ Scores

Two of eight-time Oscar nominee James Newton Howard’s three 2018 scores involved ballet and led to collaborations with high-profile artists from the concert world. Former L.A. Philharmonic music director Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Howard’s ballet music for “Red Sparrow,” while current Phil director Gustavo Dudamel conducted his score for “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms,” with acclaimed artist Lang Lang at the piano.

Red Sparrow,” the thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence as a Russian ballerina-turned-spy, demanded an opening 12-minute ballet that was “distinctly Russian sounding,” with harmonies and melodic gestures reminiscent of 20th-century Soviet composers. Howard is no stranger to classical writing, having recently recorded a violin concerto and he is currently writing a cello concerto to debut next year.

He was on Disney’s “Nutcracker” for two years. “The trick with ‘Nutcracker’ was figure out how much, and where, we could the Tchaikovsky – using as much as we possibly could and still support the storytelling.” Howard utilized “the sound and the style” of the ballet and, as he points out, practically everyone “who writes romantic, orchestral music is influenced by Tchaikovsky.”

Continuing in the fantasy realm, Howard’s latest, and biggest, score (over two hours of music, 90-piece orchestra and 40-voice choir) is “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” although more than 90 percent of the sequel score is original and not based on themes in the first film. “There are thrilling moments, dark moments, funny moments, enchanting moments, but we really wanted the audience to feel, because it’s an emotional piece,” he says.

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