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World Soundtrack Awards 2015 (Alan Silvestri)

October 26, 2015


Alan Silvestri, 2015, Silva Screen Records
10 tracks, 56:56

The World Soundtrack Awards in Gent, Belgium this year paid particular tribute to Alan Sivestri. The composer was a central guest at the festival, where his music was performed live in concert. To commemorate to occasion, the WSA in collaboration with Silva Screen Records have released this wonderful compilation album.

Review by Pete Simons

The Concert

The World Soundtrack Awards took place on Saturday 24th October this year. Its central guest was Alan Silvestri, whose “Back to the Future” is celebrating its 30th anniversary (you may have seen something about ‘back to the future day’ in the media…), whilst his latest film “The Walk” had its premiere at the start of the festival, with the music making its live debut during the closing concert.

The concertWSA2015_AlanSilvestri deviated slightly from the album, and programmed the following titles:

01. The Polar Express (“Suite”)
02. Forrest Gump (“Suite”)
03. Mousehunt (“Suite”)
04. The Quick and the Dead (“Main Theme”)
05. Back to the Future (“Suite”)
06. The Walk (“Suite”) – conducted by Alan Silvestri
07. Predator (“End Title”)
08. The Mummy Returns (“Main Title”)

Most of these were lengthy suites (as the track times on the album will give away), with “The Walk” effectively replacing “Cosmos”, “Cast Away” and “The Avengers”. The composer took to the stage himself to conduct “The Walk” in a calm, almost understated manner; as opposed to Dirk Brossé’s more flamboyant style of conducting.

The performance by the Brussels Philharmonic and the Flemmish Radio Choir was outstanding, as the CD will prove. They effortlessly worked their way through Silvestri’s often fast-paced, energetic compositions.

Of course, I would have liked to have heard more music from more films. In an ideal world, “The Abyss”, “Contact”, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, “Father of the Bride”, “Richie Rich”. “Judge Dredd” and certainly the elusive “Captain America March” would all make for great concert pieces. Alas, there wasn’t the time. With the selected titles, the WSA have highlighted Silvestri’s versatility, spanning several genres from comedy to western to drama and adventure.

The evening started with several awards, after all that’s why there’s an A in WSA. As far as I’m concerned, there were a few genuine surprises; and if I’m bluntly honest I have to admit that I don’t often agree with the WSA’s choices of winners. That said, it is the celebration of film music and its composers that is key to this event.

The ever jolly Patrick Doyle received a Lifetime Achievement Award. Dirk Brossé explained that the award was not simply about the number of years someone’s been active, but that it’s about legacy and the cultural footprint that a composer has left behind. It’s very noble, and Doyle is a worthy winner. And yet, I can’t help but feel that the reasons to award Doyle fall rather short when there’s an Alan Silvestri in the house – who has been working in the industry for longer, who’s done more movies and more blockbusters, whose collaboration with Robert Zemeckis has produced more films than Doyle’s partnership with Kenneth Brannagh, and whose cultural footprint far exceeds that of Doyle. The Scot is a magnificent composer, but there is little in his oeuvre that comes close to the acclaim and influence of “Back to the Future”, “Predator” or “Forrest Gump”. I know how this paragraph reads as opposed to how it sounds in my head, so take it with a pinch of salt.

Other winners included Michael Giacchino as Composer of the Year; whilst Antonio Sanchez was chosen as Discovery of the Year, with his “Birdman” also winning Best Film Score of the Year over the likes of “The Theory of Everything”, “Cinderella, “Interstellar” and “The Imitation Game”. Sanchez appeared very grateful, though couldn’t resist a slight snide comment when he thanked this academy for the recognition, putting a clear emphasis on ‘this’. The presenter joked that he hoped it would make up for not getting that Oscar. The Public Choice Award went to John Paesano’s “Maze Runner”, whilst “The Apology Song” from “The Book of Life” won Paul Williams and Gustavo Santaolalla the award for Best Original Song. Earlier, Peer Kleinschmidt won the SABAM Award for Most Original Composition by a Young Internation Composer (this was part of a composing competition that the WSA organises each year).

The first half of the concert included music from Lifetime Achievement Award winner Doyle, who had two lively pieces from “Cinderella” performed, as well as “Nom Nobis” from “Henry V” and the full 10-minute “Grand Central” from “Carlito’s Way” synced to picture. It was a master-class in film scoring. Last year’s Discovery of the Year Daniel Pemberton also had three wonderful pieces performed from “The Counsellor”, “Steve Jobs” and “The Awakening”.

If I may share a personal anecdote, which just sums up my luck I guess, I was sat in front of two slightly older gentlemen who could not refrain from commenting on the music. And they did so really rather loudly. Thankfully, it was mostly in between cues and during the intermission… mostly. They were Dutch, clearly northerners. I got the impression they play in an orchestra themselves, possibly being flautists. And boy… did they love the woodwinds throughout the evening. Doyle’s “Carriage Chase” from “Cinderella” had them absolutely ecstatic! “Oh, the flutes they are magnificent. Just great. So beautiful. Really. Just Great. Awww. Magnificent. Dee-dee-dum, dee-dee-dum. What’s that? A high G, then a D? Then another G? Dee-dee-dum, dee-dee-dum. Just great. Beautiful. These players are professionals. Yeah, they really know their stuff. Oh, and the composers! Masterful. Simply masterful. Dee-dee-dum, dee-dee-dum. Awesome. Really.”

And this went on and on… and on and on. Just going round in circles, adding noting new. They even commented when the orchestra was tuning, heck, even as they walked onto stage! “Oh, trumpets. Oh, horns are here.” Of course they are! And did you notice how the timpani played different notes? Christ, Sherlock. What do you think those four timpanis were for? I could’ve sworn I’d landed in the middle of a comedy routine. Of course, the composers and the orchestra deserved every bit of praise that night. But come on… just stick to clapping, okay? Although, try not to clap as loud as the guy next to me, please. My ears are still ringing from his applause.

The Meet and the Greet

Earlier that day, just a mile or two up the road in the beautiful Kinepolis cinema, a “meet and greet” took place with composers Alan Silvestri, Patrick Doyle and last year’s Discovery Daniel Pemberton. Conductor and composer Dirk Brossé also took part. Patrick Duynslaegher hosted a panel discussion, which prompted several hilarious stories. Doyle talked about his friend Stanley Meyers and how Stanley had been left heart-broken after being fired from “Soapdish”, not realising that Silvestri ended up scoring that film. It left Silvestri blushing, trying to hide under his black leather jacket. Doyle also spoke of director Brian Da Palma and how little direction he gives to composers. Doyle mused “he told me to go away [and write the music] and come back later”. Silvestri retorted “I’m envious. He told me to go away, and then told me to go away again”, referring to his rejection from “Mission: Impossible”.

BoWSA_MeetTheComposersth dismissed the notion of any significant changes in film music, when an audience member asked about their thoughts on the ostinati and ‘horns of doom’ that dominated current movies. Doyle explained that there is nothing new in film scoring these days, and that ostinati have been around since Bach’s time. Only the emphasis on certain techniques may vary over time. He mentioned that “it’s all music” and that they, as composers, have to pick their projects. Doyle noted he picks those projects where he feels he can have fun. He insinuated he frequently declines projects because he feels he wouldn’t enjoy the process. Silvestri added that they are writing music today, for today’s audiences and today’s sensibilities. Brossé did admit that modern directors seem scared of melodies and that even three notes can be too much for some. When asked to describe Silvestri’s and Doyle’s musical styles, Brossé complimented the composers on their orchestral writing, saying that just reading the score feels like coming home (he was referring to his background in classical music).

Things got a little awkward when a member of the audience asked whether he could do an internship with any of the present composers. Doyle jokingly called him “a cheeky bastard… you got the job!” The Scot went on to give a, surprisingly, sensible answer saying you need to have a good, basic understanding of music, harmonies, counterpoint, etcetera. Silvestri smirked “the only thing I would add to that is: no”. Pemberton explained he does everything himself so doesn’t need an assistant. “Besides”, he said, “why would you want to clean up someone else’s mess? Make your own mess. It’s more fun and you learn much more.”

Things got even weirder when another audience member latched onto the apprenticeship question, asking who Stanley Meyer’s apprentice was. The panel was clearly confused by the relevance of the question, tried to steer away from it with the aforementioned anecdote about Meyers and “Soapdish”, yet the audience member wouldn’t let it lie. The panel ultimately gave in saying it was Hans Zimmer, and explaining it was a whole different situation… and then swiftly moved on to the next question, which was aimed at Doyle and asked why he abandoned all of Williams’ themes when he scored “Harry Potter”? Doyle kind of talked around the answer, but mentioned he considers each project very carefully and assesses what his role is going to be. Can he bring his own ideas or is he merely going to be an orchestrator? He also joked that his kids forced him into accepting the job, just so they could go to school and say “guess what my dad is doing? Only Harry ****ing Potter!”

Doyle and Silvestri both talked about director collaborations, especially those with Brannagh and Zemeckis respectively. However it was a story of Doyle working with Brian da Palma that got everybody laughing. “He started reading the score. Not listening. Reading! I was shitting myself”, told Doyle. “If you’re working for someone like that, you had better up your game”. Silvestri talked of Bob Zemeckis and how he changed his live “artistically and financially”. He talked about how clever Zemeckis really is, how every little detail in the film works towards conveying a message and that the music is very much part of that. He talked about “The Walk” and explained how he avoidrf the actual ‘walk’ sequence of film. “I was scoring every other scene, just to avoid the actual walk. But what you hear during the walk, needs to be reflected earlier in the film. Bob told me… you gotta go on the wire”. He explained it was a difficult sequence to score. “This is the action piece of this movie, yet we’re hundreds of feet up in the air with only the sound of wind and occasional dialogue”.

However, Daniel Pemberton was seemingly not allowed to talk about long-standing working relationships, as he clearly can’t have any yet, if moderator Duynslaegher is to be believed. He, rather patronisingly, put his hand on Pemberton’s arm and said “we’ll ask you this question in a few years’ time”. I’d like to think it was all in good jest, but from the audience’s point-of-view Duynslaegher’s moderation came across as clumsy and sometimes awkward. It seemed like Pemberton was being treated like a fifth wheel, yet when you hear his music for “Steve Jobs” and “The Awakening” it becomes abundantly clear that he is a tremendously versatile and talented composer.

The Album

So let’s focus on the album, which is available through Silva Screen Records. Recorded with nearly 90 members of the Brussels Philharmonic and a 24-piece Flemish Radio Choir. On paper, that doesn’t read like a big choir, but wait until your hear them! They’ve got a good set of lungs between them! In a surprise move, the producers turned to crowd-funding to raise monies towards the recording. It’s a little sad to think that this was deemed necessary, and even sadder to see that only seventy-two people backed the project, raising only a third of its target. Luckily the recording went ahead anyway. Personally, I do hope that people will pick up a copy retrospectively, because it really is a cracking little compilation, with nice shiny packaging and liner notes from various contributors.

The CD opens with “The Polar Express”, which never ever fails to put a smile on my face. The performance here is assured and vibrant, which the choir sitting prominently in the mix.  It’s a faithful rendition of the original version, though the “Spirit of the Season” section is slowed down a little. It’s not quite too slow, but I can’t help trying to spur on my CD player to pick it up a little.

The Oscar-nominated (should’ve been a winner) “Forrest Gump” is represented through a nine-minute suite that follows the original suite. It’s performed flawlessly, with the choir lending the “The Crimson Gump”-section an epic character.

I’m so happy to see that “Mousehunt” (should’ve been another Oscar-winner) made it onto the compilation. It’s such a playful piece, so colourfully orchestrated; and Brossé and his orchestra do it great justice. Kudos to the bassoonists here! Similarly, it’s great to see “The Quick and the Dead” in the line-up. Again, it’s a wonderful, but perhaps slightly overlooked, score. The performance here is spot-on with a particularly big sound coming from the brass section.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, of course “Back to the Future” is present (pun intended). It receives a confident performance, with the brass section giving it their all. However, I do have an issue with this cue. The structure is confusing and tiresome. It opens with the classic fanfare, which really should lead into the main theme. However, after a crescendo the music drops and we’re being whisked away to the wild west. Fine. But then when you’re expecting “Clara’s Theme”, the suite jumps to another part of the trilogy. We’re then left with three minutes of repetitions of the main theme, feeling like it could end at any moment but just keeps on going. Don’t get me wrong, it’s one hell of a work-out for the orchestra and they manage it brilliantly… but, unless you really cannot get enough of that theme, it is a poorly structured and overly pompous suite.

The soft strings and oboe of the “Cast Away” suite are very welcome after the brass-heavy “Back to the Future” suite. “Cast Away” was quite a brave little score in its day. The isn’t much music to begin with, and what little there is, isn’t much in itself. What I mean is that it’s a very sparse piece for soft strings, a few piano accents and oboe, which ends up playing solo a lot of the time. It’s nice to see some love for this simple, but very pretty score.

A solemn trumpet opens the “Predator” suite. It’s quite surprising and a little daunting to see this on the playlist. I have never heard a proper rendition of this score, without someone messing up that odd metered rhythm… until now; though it sounds a little weird hearing a real piano playing the part of the fake piano. The Brussel Philharmonic really kick ass with this one.

The surprising highlight of the album is “Cosmos”. And I say surprising, because I wasn’t a big fan of the original, digital releases. When this album was being recorded, I believe nine tracks were set in stone, but it was put to the audience to choose a tenth. “Cosmos” won and I felt a little disappointed (with “Contact” being one of the alternative choices). Yet, this 7-minute suite is simply astonishing. It’s beautiful, it’s gentle and it’s epic. Remember the digital release sounded a little bit flat and tinny? Well, not here. It’s a magnificent, truly soaring recording and probably the key reason why you should spend your hard-earned bucks on this album.

A two-minute presentation of the main theme is all that represents “The Avengers”. It’s a powerful piece for a popular movie, though from a fan point-of-view I could think of numerous titles I would’ve preferred to have seen in its place. That said, it sure does show off (once more) the force of the orchestra’s brass section.

The album concludes with a suite from “The Mummy Returns”, which seems to follow the original end titles. Some of you probably would’ve wanted to hear “My First Bus Ride”, but I have always preferred the “End Title” suite, with its soaring string lines, ethnic percussion and some seriously evil brass and choir parts. Simply put, Brossé and his posse absolutely nail this cue.

Is it any good?

As said, it’s a cracking little album with powerful brass and choral performances. The emphasis on brass can feel a little overpowering at times, but luckily there is plenty of breathing space in the form of “Forrest Gump”, “Cast Away”, “Mousehunt” and “Cosmos”. The album really shows off the composer’s versatility as well as the orchestra’s stamina! They never miss a beat, and they never miss a note. A surprising low-point, for me at least, is the “Back to the Future” suite. There is no faulting the performance, but the suite is poorly structured. An equally surprising highlight however is “Cosmos”, which was previously only available digitally (and suffered from poor sound quality). I wish we could have had a few more tracks! Still, these are ten of Silvestri’s best and most memorable compositions, performed absolutely brilliantly by the Brussels Philharmonic and the Flemish Radio Choir, conducted by Dirk Brossé.

Rating [4/5]


01. The Polar Express (“Suite”) (6.03)
02. Forrst Gump (“Suite”) (8.53)
03. Mousehunt (“Suite”) (5.35)
04. The Quick and the Dead (“Main Theme”) (3.36)
05. Back to the Future (“Suite”) (5.40)
06. Cast Away (“End Credits”) (3.53)
07. Predator (“End Credits”) (3.48)
08. Cosmos (“Suite”) (8.42)
09. The Avengers (“The Avengers”) (2.03)
10. The Mummy Returns (“The Mummy Returns”) (6.46)


Physically and digitally. See the Silva Screen Records website for more information.

One Comment
  1. Sander Neyt permalink

    Great review of the concert and cd. I have also attend the concert (It would be ridicolous if I didn’t go, because I live in Ghent…) and I follow every word of your review! Keep on writing!

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