Women Win Big at Inaugural Society of Composers & Lyricists Awards

Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir continued her winning streak, claiming top honors for both her “Joker” and “Chernobyl” scores at Tuesday night’s inaugural awards of the Society of Composers & Lyricists at Los Angeles’ Skirball Cultural Center.

Her music for “Joker” was named outstanding original score for a studio film and her score for HBO’s “Chernobyl” was cited as outstanding original score for a television or streaming production. They followed her Golden Globe win Sunday night for “Joker” and BAFTA nomination earlier Tuesday. She won the Emmy in September for her score to the HBO miniseries “Chernobyl.”

Guðnadóttir is among the most talked-about newcomers in film music, first for her “Chernobyl” score (built largely on sounds she recorded while visiting the nuclear power plant where it was shot) and more recently her “Joker” music (her electro-acoustic cello providing the accompaniment for star Joaquin Phoenix’s on-screen dancing). She often collaborated with fellow Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson (on such films as “Sicario” and “Arrival”) before his death in 2018.

Aside from the standard thank-yous to her directors and producers, Guðnadóttir found it “most special to be invited so warmly into this tribe,” referring to the L.A. community of composers and songwriters.

Women claimed most of the honors, as composer Kathryn Bostic won outstanding original score for an independent film for her music for the documentary “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am,” and Cynthia Erivo won outstanding original song for visual media for “Stand Up” from the film “Harriet.” Actress-songwriter Erivo did not attend, but her co-writer Joshuah Brian Campbell was present and accepted on their behalf.

Gordy Haab and Stephen Barton won the SCL trophy for outstanding original score for interactive media for their music for the Electronic Arts game “Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.” Barton concluded their acceptance speech with a reference to the current Discovery Networks demand that composers give up all future royalties — “We’re never giving up our writers’ share!” — that brought cheers from the 300 music-makers in the audience.

A highlight of the evening was the SCL’s Spirit of Collaboration award, “presented to a composer and filmmaker with whom the composer has had an enduring and distinguished creative partnership, representing a significant body of work.” It went to composer Thomas Newman and director Sam Mendes, whose seven films over the past 20 years have included “American Beauty,” “Road to Perdition,” the James Bond films “Skyfall” and “Spectre” and the current Oscar favorite “1917.”

Newman accepted the award with a speech that was both funny and telling, illuminating the often complex creative process of composers and directors, especially on high-profile films. “Through it all, he’s been a remarkably fast learner with an exceptional ear, always a unique understanding of how noise and music affect drama and create immersive experiences,” Newman said of Mendes. “He never shies away from his strong and considered opinions, and sometimes laughs openly at my bad ideas,” Newman added to the laughter of the crowd. He shared an amusing anecdote about a particularly difficult night scene in “1917” that required him to write and rewrite a piece to Mendes’ exacting standards.

Three notable musical interludes enlivened the evening, beginning with composer Michael Abels conducting his “Anthem” from his nominated score for “Us” with a 30-voice choir. Later, violinist Philippe Quint wowed the crowd with a solo violin performance of John Corigliano’s “Red Violin Caprices” and singer Dannielle DeAndrea performed “Cry Me a River” with a band that included pianist Mike Lang and veteran saxophonist Gene Cipriano.

Arthur Hamilton, who wrote that song in 1955, was among the presenters. Others at the podium included Oscar winner Bill Conti (“The Right Stuff”); composers Charles Bernstein and Hannah Parrott; former SCL president Dan Foliart, and Universal film music president Mike Knobloch.

Current SCL president Ashley Irwin dedicated the evening to the late Ron Grant, a composer,  longtime SCL board member, and architect of the Emmy judging system for music, who died in 2016.

Nearly all the nominees attended, including composers Michael Giacchino (“Jojo Rabbit”), John Powell (“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”), Alan Silvestri (“Avengers: Endgame”), Jeff Beal (“The Biggest Little Farm”), Kris Bowers (“When They See Us”), Nicholas Britell (“Succession”), Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein (“Stranger Things”), Adam Taylor (“The Handmaid’s Tale”), Diane Warren (“Breakthrough”), Austin Wintory (“Erica”) and Neal Acree (“Rend”).

Edie Lehmann Boddicker conducted the choir in a rousing rendition of “The Circle of Life” from “The Lion King” to conclude the 90-minute program.

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