SOH: How indebted are artists like John Williams to classical and Romantic composers?
NB: Hugely. In many ways. That's why so many composers have been derided, but at the same time, that's sort of their genius.
The 1920s, 1930s, was really the Golden Age of Film Scoring. And that's because all the composers there were dudes straight out of the Viennese schools. Guys from Germany and Austria and France who basically wrote Operas and were peers of Stravinsky and these guys. They came to America and they were the ones writing all this music. Look at Gone with the Wind, Max Steiner. And Erich Wolfgang Korngold. All these great European composers who have written fantastic classical music that is performed in concerts by the classical orchestras just as is.
And from there, then you get people like Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Herman who might have played piano for these guys when they were boys. And then all of a sudden, that European sound of Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky has permeated one generation through and then onto Williams.
SOH: It's funny how that's paralleled by the films themselves. A film like Star Wars being so deeply indebted to classic Japanese films from the 50s and earlier.
NB: Totally. Kurosawa's. And even Westerns. And mythology. It's history reinventing itself through literature and art over and over again. And even the great filmmakers today are probably reinterpreting Star Wars, which in itself has reinterpreted something else.
SOH: Do you think live scores are a fad? How much longevity does the idea have?
NB: Excellent question. And it's the question everyone is asking, and to be honest, it's a real fear. One of the reasons is, when you look at contemporary films, you wonder what's going to replace the great films from the 70s, 80s and 90s that we look at now. One of the problems is that contemporary film music is more and more going 'digital'. It's very minimalist. It might use a lot of synthesizers and samplers and basically 'fake' instruments in some ways.
Look at a film like The Social Network. It had a great score by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor. An orchestra just simply couldn't perform that live. Even the music of Hans Zimmer, another great big genius of the film music world. A lot of his scores are multilayered with orchestras with 50 cellos being recorded three times and layered up to sound like hundreds of cellos. We're really limited by what's available that fits the symphony orchestra mould. And that's going to run out eventually. It really is.
We can't start pulling out every B-grade film - and that's starting to happen. Sure there are nostalgic films from our childhood or films that have cult followings, but that doesn’t always mean the scores are great.
SOH: How much room do you think there is for developing the concept? The Opera House for example has had various rescorings of classic films in recent years.
NB: To develop the concept you probably need to look at more obscure older things. When you think of Fritz Lang's Metropolis from the 1920s — it’s had like 200 or 300 rescores throughout time. Everyone's tried something with it, and that's interesting.
The next thing that might come forward are all the Marvel films. The big problem there is that, I just don't think the music is as memorable and it suffers a bit from this contemporary style of writing, where a lot of it is electronic synthesizers and less organic symphony orchestra stuff. More of a hybrid and that could be quite tricky to put together.
One thing we haven't talked about is video game shows. I worked on one last year for a game called Metal Gear. Again, it's more of a niche thing, because you're targeting people who are fans of the game and the music. Game music has come leaps and bounds since Mario Brothers. *Hums Mario theme* Now you're getting 80-piece full symphonic scores with choirs to rival any contemporary Hollywood blockbuster. And you reach people - the gaming community is huge.
SOH: I saw on Twitter that the creator of Metal Gear came to your Star Wars concerts in Japan.
NB: Hideo Kojima! I saw that as well. But I didn't meet him unfortunately. He came to all three!
SOH: Are you excited to revisit the Opera House?
NB: My very first professional gig and first film gig were both in the Opera House. It really has a special place in my heart, especially for these types of films. The Concert Hall is a great room. It's not too big. It's not a big arena with 6000 people where you can get a bit lost. Especially with these film shows, you want a certain amount of intimacy, a sense of comradery with the audience.
Many people say that seeing these film things is like seeing the film for the first time again, especially when you're there with people who are like-minded and are really enjoying the novelty of seeing it with a live orchestra. That alone is enough to create a real buzz, where you can 'geek out' together, so to speak, and enjoy the music together.
Nicholas Buc conducts the Sydney Symphony Orchestra for their 2019 performances of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi in Concert and Star Wars: The Force Awakens in Concert. You can hear more film music analysis from Nicholas on his podcast Art of the Score.