Úbeda Film Music Festival Highlights 2011

I was honored this summer to take part in the 7th International Film Music Festival in Úbeda, Spain and to accept the Jerry Goldsmith Award for Best Television Score for my work on “Human Target.”  The journey was an incredible experience for me, both as a film score composer and film score geek.  An event like this presents a rare opportunity to escape the studio, see the world and get to know fellow soundtrack fans and fellow composers.  I tried to capture the spirit of this adventure in my poorly-filmed travelogue, “A Bear in Spain.” Enjoy…

CHAPTER 1 – Málaga

My story begins not in Spain, but in the LAX airport at 6:00 am.  I brought my scores with me, to study on the plane, but forgot colored pencils to mark them with.  Minutes before boarding the plane, I managed to find a Spiderman activity book in the gift shop!  Thanks to this stroke of luck, I had markers with me to prepare my scores during the long, 18 hour flight.  Plus a sweet coloring book!  🙂

Raya and I arrived in Málaga fairly exhausted from the trip.  But, we were stunned to be greeted by sights such as this, the towering cathedral.

We sat down in the square for a cup of coffee after our long journey and were suddenly overwhelmed by hundreds of people, a marching brass band and a huge procession walking out of the church.

It turned out that morning was a special holiday.  Although, it felt a bit like the concert organizers prepared it as a special parade to honor our arrival.  Either way, it was certainly impressive.

We spent a lot of time hanging out with the organizers of the festival, who were all big nerds just like me.  In fact, it appeared that the unofficial uniform for people working the event were Marvel or DC superhero logos, Simpsons shirts or various other genre-related clothing.  They even gave me an especially appropriate geeky comic book t-shirt, so I fit right in.

(Photo: Juan Ramon Hernandez Almagro)

Each evening was filled with socializing, long lunches, late dinners and fabulous local beers and ciders.  I could have stayed for months just hanging out.  But, I came to make music, so that’s what a good chunk of my time was dedicated to.  Most of my mornings and afternoons in Málaga were spent in long rehearsals with the various ensembles I would be working with.

In addition to performing with the large symphony orchestra, I was also leading a chamber orchestra in a recital concert of my music.

(Photo: Raya Yarbrough)

I was grateful to have a lot of rehearsal time with this intimate group, so I could get to know each of them personally.  And the time was needed to work some bugs out of my arrangements.  For example, I worked with the French Horn player, Lorena Fernández, so that she could play a part in “The Walking Dead – The Mercy of The Living” that was originally improvised by a guitarist.

(Photo: Beth Krakower)

Another fun challenge was working with the talented pianist Juan Ramón.  Not only would he need to cover the piano parts, but he would need to play specifically prepared samples for “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.”  I brought a little USB keyboard, audio interface and laptop with me that allowed us a taste of the custom metallic-percussion sounds that made that score so unique.  Juan was a real sport, juggling these technical and musical issues.

(Photo: Raya Yarbrough. L-R: Sergio Martínez, Lorena Fernández,Marian Martínez, Julián Godínez, Juan Ramón Veredas, Jose Espadas, Bear McCreary, Gorka Espasa, Miguel Ángel Sánchez, Manuel Moreno, Juan Carlos Fernández-Baca, Sabrina Rui)

The chamber musicians made me feel very welcome, and I enjoyed getting to know them.  By our last rehearsal, we were ironing out small musical details that I would normally reserve for studio recording sessions.  They were truly a passionate group.

I had less time to spend with the larger symphonic ensemble.  But, I was still struck with how well they played.  In particular, it seemed that the “Human Target” and “The Cape” suites were energizing and fun to play.  During the rowdy “Carnival of Crime” music from “The Cape,” I saw many people in the orchestra dancing in their seats as we rehearsed.

Despite the heavy rehearsal schedule, Raya and I had a chance to duck out and explore the city.  When we saw the view from the top of our hotel, we knew we had some exploring to do!

Our first stop was the Picasso Museum, which was awesome.  I’d never seen any… Picassos (Picassi?  What is the right terms for them?)… in person before.  Truly inspiring.

We spent an afternoon braving the heat to walk through an old Muslim fortress that sits atop a hill in the center of the city.  It was hard to imagine how the remarkable sprawling castle could have been built by hand.

I couldn’t help but notice these little signs scattered throughout the castle.  As best as I can tell, this sign means “DANCING IS ALLOWED HERE.”  Because that little dude is clearly having the time of his life, doing a funky little two-step on the stairs.

There was no shortage of stuff to do in Málaga.  The guys showed us a great time, and took us to all the best restaurants and bars.

(PHOTO: Beth Krakower. L-R: Agustin Perez Almagro, David Sáiz Bonastre, David Doncel Barthe, Bear McCreary, Raya Yarbrough, Sergio Rivas Ortiz, Juan Ramón Hernández Almagro, Óscar Rivas Ortiz)

But Málaga was just the beginning of our journey.


CHAPTER 2 – Úbeda

A three hour bus ride through what appeared to be an endlesss ocean of olive trees took us to Úbeda, where the concerts and festival would actually take place.  I was immediately struck by the charm of the city.  Contrary to Málaga’s tourist-friendly modern atmosphere, Úbeda’s medieval roots are still very visibile.

My first official festival participation was at the composers workshop.  One of the things that makes the Úbeda festival special is an equal focus on fans and aspiring professionals. Awards are given out each year to young composers in various categories and they have the opportunity to work with the festival featured guests, such as Mark Isham, Bruno Coulais and more.

This retrospective, cut to my live performance of “Step Up 3D” and “Sarah Connor’s Theme,” gives you a good idea of what the experience was like.

(Video: FIMCCU)

I presented the students with whatever little tidbits of advice I could.  Then, they showed me clips they had scored as part of the workshop and I commented on them.  The work ranged from beginners to quite experienced writers, but it was all inspired.  And everyone had their own approach both creatively and technically, often times scoring the same scene in completely different ways than their peers.

(Photo: Pablo Laspra Ferrero)

I must confess the experience was a little odd for me.  It really only seems like yesterday when I was a student in Elmer Bernstein’s classes at USC, watching him go through the exact same process with the students there.  And suddenly I find myself on the other side of the desk, offering feedback and advice to aspiring composers!  When did this happen??

(Photo: Pablo Laspra Ferrero)

Still, I always enjoy seeing how other people make music and was hopefully able to offer a few words of wisdom to the group.

Late in the afternoon on my first day in Úbeda we arrived at “the hospital,” which would serve as the performance venue for my concerts.  Ok, it’s not a hospital anymore.  But, it still wasn’t at all what I imagined when I heard the words “the hospital.”

In America, this building would be called an opulent palace, with turrets and arched windows facing a gorgeous inner courtyard.  If this is the hospital, I wonder what the post office looks like??

The concert program that night was really long, because there was so much great music to get to.  We heard absolutely beautiful music by Christopher Lennertz, Blake Neely and last year’s young Jerry Goldsmith Award winner Marc Timón, whose score to a film called “The Witches” was really evocative.  And Mark Isham’s jazz set, playing with local trio Carles Cases, M.A. Cordero and LLuís Ribalta, was a highlight of the whole trip for me.  They played Isham originals and a few jazz standards and would have blown the roof off the place, if it weren’t already outdoors.

(Photo: Julio Rodriguez)

After a brief intermission and soundcheck, my concert began… just a minute before midnight!  (By this point, I had begun to adjust to the Spanish sense of time).  The chamber orchestra brought their professionalism and passion to a set virtually full of world-premiere arrangements:

Main Title from The Walking Dead
Days Gone Bye
The Mercy of the Living

Main Title from STEP UP 3D

Sarah Connor’s Theme
There’s a Storm Coming
The Hand of God

Nina’s Theme

Dreilide Thrace Sonata No. 1
Wander My Friends / Roslin and Adama
A Promise to Return

Theme from Caprica
Lacey and Zoe
A Tauron Sacrifice
The Differently Sentient

The “Sarah Connor” music was especially emotional for me, because I have always felt I still had more variations of her theme to explore.  I was so disappointed when that series was cancelled, and had never since returned to her music.  This concert was the first time it had ever been performed live and it made me remember what a wonderful experience that series was.  I got chills as soon as the first violinist started playing her memorable melody.

(Video: ayureadybcn)

Throughout soundcheck, I suspected that people were worried that I had turned the sampler keyboard up too loud.  But, I assured them it had to be that way.  And during this piece, I knew we made the right choice.  When Juan played those signature metallic percussion samples, they reverberated the walls and echoed into the night sky.  It was a really magical experience.

(Photo: Julio Rodriguez)

I’ve done several “Battlestar Galactica” concerts over the past few years, but the pieces on this concert were special because they were all drawn from the intimate, more emotional side of the music.  There were no taiko drums, duduks, bagpipes, electric instruments or vocals, and yet I feel we delivered an excellent representation of the emotional scope of the series.

(Photo: Julio Rodriguez)

My personal favorite “BSG” piece of the evening was “A Promise to Return.”  This hasn’t been performed live since the 2008 Roxy concerts.  Set against the various instruments, samples and textures heard throughout the evening, the stark contrast of strings alone provided a breath of fresh air to my set.

(Video: )

(Photo: Julio Rodriguez)

Other “Battlestar Galactica” pieces included my solo piano performance of “Dreilide Thrace Sonata No. 1,” as well as ensemble performances of “Passacaglia” and “Wander My Friends / Roslin and Adama.”

(Video: )

(Photo: Pablo Laspra Ferrero)

The last piece on the program that night was “The Differently Sentient” from the final episode of “Caprica.”  Since no album for this full series exists (yet), no one had ever heard this piece in its entirety before.

(Video: )

For the encore, I came out for another solo piano performance.  This time, playing my arrangement of “Prelude to War,” from the recently-released BSG Piano Music Book.  I was initially nervous about closing out the concert with solo piano, but judging by the audience reaction, I think they were thrilled.

(Photo: Tino Krist)

The following day was my composer conference.  This was essentially an informal QnA with fans and a chance to speak with them directly.  As I sat there, answering insightful fan questions, I realized that there was a beautiful grand piano sitting on the stage, calling to me.  I asked if it would be alright if I played something.  I was told in response that all composers had the chance to use the piano in their conferences, but that none had since Basil Poledouris five years ago.  Well, that was a streak I wanted to break.

(Photo: Julio Rodriguez)

Then, I had an even better idea!  Raya could jump on stage and we could perform some “Battlestar” music.  There was only one problem.  We hadn’t rehearsed anything!  I asked the audience if anyone there happened to have the CD booklet for my “Battlestar Galactica: The Plan / Razor” soundtrack.  Naturally… someone did.

(Photo: Phil Watkins)

I wanted to perform “Apocalypse,” but we needed to make sure that we still remembered the words to the Gayatri Mantra.  A quick glance at the booklet jogged our memories.

(Photo: Olivier Desbrosses)

So, with Raya having been plucked out of the audience without warning, away we went.

(Video: )

After performing “Apocalypse,” I wanted to play a second tune.  So, we decided to play one of her original songs, “Lord Knows I Would,” that was featured on her debut album and was actually heard several times on “Battlestar Galactica.”

(Photo: Tino Krist)

Towards the end of the song, she snuck in a vocal quotation of Stu Phillips’ classic “Theme from Battlestar Galactica,” which I picked up on and followed in the piano.  It was probably the bluesiest version of the old “BSG” score that has ever existed.  But it worked!

After the panel, I did some quick autographs and photos for fans outside.  One guy had even made a t-shirt out of my first album cover.  I just had to sign that one!

(Photo: Heriberto Navarro Arriola)

That night, I was fortunate to witness conductor Arturo Díez Boscovich conduct the symphony in a concert of film music by European film composers, in an outdoor plaza before a grand cathedral.  I’ve never seen anything like it!  It was also wonderful to see Gabriel Yared, Alberto Iglesias, Bruno Coulais and Philippe Sarde all at one event.  This does not happen often.

The following day I needed to prepare for the big symphony concert.  In the afternoon, there was a brief rehearsal where I had the chance to polish up the more difficult passages of my pieces.

(Photo: Julio Rodriguez)

(Photo: Julio Rodriguez)

(Photo: Julio Rodriguez)

(Photo: Julio Rodriguez)

That evening, while waiting in the lobby of the hotel to be taken to the concert, I sat anxiously.  Raya snapped this picture which is especially funny because it looks like I’m trying to blend in the couch, chameleon-style.

Before the big symphonic concert, we hung out a bit with everyone there, fans and composers alike.

Bruno Coulais and I posed for a quick photo op, which was fortunate.  We had done the film music festival in Tenerife together last summer and now, with Úbeda nearly over, we still hadn’t yet taken a picture together!

Bruno’s music from “Coraline” opened the concert, and was quirky, melodic and distinctly his own.

(Photo: Julio Rodriguez)

Even the venue itself became a part of the musical performance.  The entire square was filled to the brim with musicians and fans, and the sound of the brass and percussion reverberating off the walls was tremendous.  After “Coralaine,” we were treated to a stunning suite from Oscar Araujo’s score to “Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.”  Christopher Lennertz and Blake Neely conducted suites, including Chris’ shockingly beautiful score to “Vampires Suck” and Neely’s rousing title from “The Pacific.”  Arturo then conduced a suite of Mark Isham’s soaring orchestral pieces, including the plaintive “A River Runs Through It.”

(Photo: Tino Krist)

Neely and Lennertz then conducted a tribute to Michael Kamen, which was especially touching since both of them had worked with him at various points in his career.  Among the pieces they played was one of my favorite Kamen compositions ever: the training montage from “Highlander.”  When I was a kid, I never could have imagined that one day the score to “Highlander” would be performed in concert and then I would follow it.  It was too much to process, so I tried not to think about it when I was on stage.

(Photo: Ester Salguero Amaya)

After accepting the Goldsmith award for Best Television Score, I launched into the concert suite that I truly came to Spain to perform: “Human Target.”

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(Video: Phil Watkins)

There was something magical in the air that night, because I could feel the energy from both the musicians and the crowd.  The “Human Target” score is something that was a huge part of my creative life. When the show went a different creative direction, I suddenly had no further chances to develop those themes.  I feared that moment would be the end of my score’s life, but I realized at this performance, it was the beginning.

(Photo: Phil Watkins)

The entire trip, I kept hearing strains of “Human Target” being whistled by fans.  People kept asking me about it.  The Úbeda Festival really made me feel that my “Human Target” music has a new life of its own, which is a very good feeling.

(Photo: Phil Watkins)

After the “Human Target” suite, the room erupted in applause.  I probably should have ended with that suite, but I honestly had no idea it would receive such thunderous applause.  Next, I conducted two pieces from “The Cape” – the Main Theme and “The Carnival of Crime.”  Those were followed by the main title to “Dark Void.”

Thus ended the official concert program, but naturally, we had a bit more left.  First up, Chris Lennertz conducted Poledouris’ rousing main title to “Conan the Destroyer.”  Then, I returned and led the symphony and choir in two of the larger pieces from “Battlestar Galactica:” “Diaspora Oratorio” and “The Shape of Things to Come.”

(Video: )

I knew there were some serious “BSG” fans in the audience when they erupted into applause at the opening notes of “The Shape of Things to Come.”  So Say We All!

After the encores, all the composers took to the stage for a long round of applause. It was a really wonderful moment, and an honor for me to share the stage with these incredibly talented musicians.

(Photo: Tino Krist.  L-R: Blake Neely, Oscar Araujo, Chris Lennertz, Mark Isham, Bear McCreary & Bruno Coulais)

Backstage, after the concert, I finally had a chance to introduce myself to my awesome Jerry Goldsmith award.

(Photo: Raya Yarbrough)

The next day, our last in Úbeda, began with a CD signing.  If you watched my travelogue, you saw that I was pretty damn impressed with the location.  🙂

(Photo: Dan Goldwasser.  L-R: Bear McCreary, Blake Neely, Mark Isham, Chris Lennertz)

The signing was my only opportunity to speak with Philippe Sarde, whose music I greatly admire.  Though we spoke only briefly, it was still an inspiring moment for me.

(Photo: Olivier Desbrosses.  L-R: Bruno Coulais, Bear McCreary, Philippe Sarde)

In the palatial green room behind the signing, I struggled to find an appropriate way to thank David Doncel for organizing this remarkable festival.  The best I could come up with was to let him be the first person on Earth to hear the soundtrack for my next feature film, which was not even finished yet.  So, I pulled out my laptop and cued up the mixes in progress that I had been working on all week.

This score is so top secret that my involvement in this movie hasn’t even been announced yet.  But, the music is so ridiculously awesome that I knew David would love it..  And I was right.  Just look at that face!  His review was that it was the best score I’ve ever written.  One day soon, you too will have the chance to re-create this experience.  🙂

(Photo: Marta Laspra)

After the signing, we went to a big lunch where we got to interact with fans on a more casual level.  This was my favorite part of the festival, because it was so informal and we could all relax.


CHAPTER 3 – Madrid

The next day was my last in Spain for this trip.  We left Úbeda and made the four-hour trip by bus to Madrid.  Along the way, Blake Neely and I picked up a bag of Ruffles potato chips that were, to our utter disbelief, ham-flavored.  I don’t know why this was so shockingly hilarious to us, but it was.  Those of you who live in Spain must see this every day, but to us it was a new phenomenon.  What was even more disturbing was to glance at the ingredients list, to see that the ham flavoring actually resulted from… well, you don’t want to know.

Raya and I only had a few hours to catch the sights in Madrid, so we briefly parted with our Spanish hosts and left to explore the city.  A few hours later, I got a text from the guys who found something special in a local store.

(L-R: Óscar Rivas Ortiz, David Doncel Barthe, Agustin Perez Almagro, Sergio Rivas Ortiz)

We found that Madrid was as regal and urban as Úbeda was rural and charming.

We wandered the palace and the impressive cathedral.  My favorite part was the armory.  With all the suits of armor and weapons in there, I was disappointed they weren’t piping heavy metal music in to help set the mood.

The next time I’m in Spain I think I should do a concert in here, using that pipe organ.  Wow!

Raya was pretty impressed with the majesty of the cathedral.  For another perspective on our trip, check out Raya’s own blog entries at her website:

PT.1: A Strange Road
PT.2: El Joker Es Mi Otro Esposo
PT.3: Last Morning in  Málaga
PT 4: First Night in Úbeda, Andalucía
PT.5: Gods in Squares
PT.6: My Love, My Cataclysm
PT.7: Hasta Luego

As we were leaving, the sun radiated a heavenly glow from behind the clouds.  It was a spectacular sight.

(Photo: Ann Roever)

Our final evening in Spain was spent at a great little restaurant, dining together and looking back on a very successful week of music and merriment.  My experiences at the Úbeda Film Music Festival this year are ones that I will never forget.