Coming Wednesday we will attend the Krakow Film Music Festival (FMF) again. It’s the biggest Film Music Festival in Europe and since we attended last autumn for the first time, we are super excited to be back sooner than expected. It’s one fantastic festival and we are really glad to introduce you to some of its insights, as we were able to interview Agata Grabowiecka, the head of the programme planning department, and a major part of the FMF for many years now.
I would like to introduce the article with a quote which shows how important the festival is, which will happen now for the 8th time already, and how quickly the festival has become a major leader of visionary ideas in the world of film music. Many of you will have heard about the Pirates of the Caribbean live concerts – but what you probably didn’t know was; apparently it was the amazing organisers of the FMF in Krakow who came up with the idea first:
Pirates of the Caribbean was our idea and when we went to Disney they were hesitant, but we convinced them that it was a good idea. Now [the concert series] is touring all over the world.
The reason why I speak so highly of everyone involved in this festival, is simply because it’s just an outstanding event and it’s really hard not to speak about it in the best way possible.
But back to Agata. She is not only the head of the programme planning department but also the manager of the entire festival. She is involved in the programming process with Robert Piaskowski, the Artistic Director of the festival, she coordinates the concerts, she represents the Festival, she meets the composers, she invites the industry to Krakow. Long story short, in her words: “I make the great visions of Robert happen and turn them into reality.”
Agata told us it was the first edition of the festival that she first attended as a spectator and instantly wanted to become a part of it. She has always been a big fan of Film Music and always thought that this genre had been underappreciated for too long (just like we do actually!). When she saw back then that someone showcased this kind of music, just like the new classical music, she thought to herself “this is brilliant, this has such a huge potential.” And as you can tell, she was pretty much right about it!
A festival for everyone
Over the years the festival tried to showcase more and more of the broad diversity of film music and didn’t only present the better known symphonic music, but also its elements of rock, jazz and electronic. The Festival itself is divided into the main concerts (reaching from a Video Games Show to Shakespeare in Concert and an International TV Series Gala to Star Trek Live in Concert) as well as Alter FMF (which is about unknown titles, and alternative genres of film and media music) and FMF4kids (to serve even the youngest audience and to awaken their interest in orchestras). Last year the festival broke its own record and sold more than 30,000 tickets. With five days in total, the festival will be one day longer than ever before and eventually the organisers will try to get it to one entire week.
Another great thing about the festival is that the tickets are really affordable. Having lived most of my life in Western Europe, I know that these kind of concerts would easily cost around 60 Euro, in Krakow you can see Star Trek live in concert this year and meet plenty of Hollywood composers and musicians at the same time, for less than 7 Euro per concert. This is only possible because the city council as well as the festival’s sponsors who invest a lot to make this possible.
We have a mission that we nurture of making the music and the concerts more accessible to families, people that are socially excluded and to those who usually don’t go to concerts because they cannot afford it. It’s very expensive to pay the whole orchestra and we usually have huge orchestras with over 100 musicians on stage. Also the licenses from the studios and the footage clips are very expensive. The festival has always put high-technology first, so that we always have the best possible sound system and huge screens etc. and it all costs, but we still want to achieve as low ticket prices as possible to enable people to come to the concert as an entire family. Especially since we have noticed that very often this is the first contact for kids with an orchestra because nowadays the youth doesn’t go so eagerly to the Philharmonic Hall to hear classical music, but they would be willing to hear the music from their favourite movies such as ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’ Very often it turns out this is the first time they see the violins and the percussions and they really want to play the instruments. This is why we care so deeply about this educational aspect too. These concerts would never happen without the big support from the city council and our CEO Izabela Helbin who trusts us and allows the festival to grow.
Supporting young talents
We are very proud of the programme which we’ve been building for the last years for young film music composers because there is not enough education in this field. This is why we bring Composers, Sound Engineers or Music Supervisors, especially from Hollywood, so that they show young composers how they work in the real industry. We’ve collaborated with Alvernia Studios, which was one of the most high-tech studios in Europe, and they provided their equipment so that young composers could see exactly how it works in the real life. Additionally, every year we have a mockup recording session which is a huge lesson for young composers. We prepare the FMF Master Classes with professor Daniel Carlin who is working at the University of Southern California, where composers like James Newton Howard have studied. We have all [of these big names] here in Krakow teaching our young composers that compete for the Young Talent FMF Award. The winning suite is performed at the main gala in front of the industry representatives and audience of thousands so it’s a great start and promotion for the young talent.
As it turns out, all the hard work even trickles down to the local musicians themselves:
Furthermore, we always take care to involve the best orchestras because our festival is also a way of promoting local orchestras, this is a very important aspect of the Krakow FMF. We hardly ever invite ensembles or orchestras from abroad. We want to present the local potential to the industry and the composers because we have a lot to offer as a region. The best example of it is Elliot Goldenthal who after his first visit here, decided that he wanted to record with our orchestras and his recent Othello Symphony has been recorded at Alvernia Studios.
World premieres, world premieres, world premieres
Last year we had the pleasure of attending Elliot Goldenthal’s Grand Gothic Suite (which is not available online) and it was one of the big highlights of the festival – not only for us though:
Elliot is such an amazing person and we feel so privileged to know him. He has such a great attitude towards his music and the audience. Last year he presented a 20 minute piece called Grand Gothic Suite, which was actually a contemporary piece only inspired by the themes from Batman. It was for the first time in the history of the festival that the audience gave a standing ovation before the end of the concert. We’ve had standing ovations before, but at the end of the concerts, after the Grand Gothic Suite, everyone stood up, which was amazing. This is why we knew that people want more and this year he is going to write twice as much, which is a 40 minute piece from his collaborations with Julie Taymor on Shakespearean themes, we are going to have some excerpts from [existing parts, but in total it is] a brand new piece with a lot of orchestra, electronics and electric guitars. I guess it will be spectacular too. We all cannot wait for this premiere especially that Elliot has been awarded with the first ever Kilar Award this year.
Afterwards we got to talk about how one can turn venues, which are not made for classical concerts but can fit many people, into some kind of classical halls – which was a positively surprising experience for us last year.
We always take care to have the newest technology in our concerts, for example when we had the Matrix, the whole movie being screened with the music performed live, the sound system had been designed particularly for the venue we had. The concerts took place in the factory – still operating Tinning Plant and we wanted to have the best possible sound system there. So we got German Sound Engineers for designing it and we had surround system for The Matrix Live. At our festival we deeply care to make the composers’ dreams come true. They are also very much underappreciated in Hollywood, you know Film Music is just a small niche in the whole Film industry and here when they come to Krakow they can feel like celebrities. Krakow FMF has become a gathering of the industry with composers, agents, publicists, directors, producers and film music fans from all over the world – they all come here to celebrate film music together. Film Music composers hardly ever have the chance of hearing their music being performed live in front of such a huge audience because they usually make the music on computers or at the recording sessions in the studios when they record in sections.
We then got to talk about the International TV Series Gala which will feature exclusive suites from the composers of shows like ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘House of Cards’, ‘Vikings’ and ‘Downton Abbey’. As it turns out, the composers for TV Series are not used to standing in the foreground.
Writing music for live performances is something totally different than writing for a movie and composers do treat it as a challenge so they are very much involved every time they come here. For example, at this year’s TV Series Gala we were very surprised how enthusiastically all the composers reacted. Most of those invited decided to write new suites appreciating that their music will be performed live in front of thousands. The Krakow Arena has about 15,000 seats and it’s great fun for them.
We build very personal relationships with the composers we invite to Krakow. Most of them are very open and easy-going. Trevor Morris, for example, was so surprised when we invited him for the first time for the RMF Classic 10th anniversary gala and we said ‘Trevor, we would like you to prepare pieces from Borgias and Tudors’ and he said ‘Wow, that is a huge surprise because I also wrote some music for [big Hollywood feature films]’ and we replied ‘No, but we want to show your music for TV Series because we love the music and these are the themes that are recognizable’. [This year it will be] the first time that we are going to devote a whole concert to TV Series only. And these are going to be mostly world premieres because all the composers are so excited that they are coming here, that they are preparing new music for the show.
Also Ramin [Djawadi] is such an adorable person. We’ve met him in L.A. and we invited him to Krakow. [He is really busy at this time] but he really wanted to do it and he made a lot of efforts with his Agent Maria Machado, to plan his schedule in a way that allows him to come here for the concert and the rehearsals. It is something that gives him a lot of fun. I can see it because he is personally involved in everything and has prepared a huge suite; a compilation of themes from all the seasons, including the latest one and I’m sure it’s going to be the great and spectacular finale of the TV Series concert this year.
All the other composers are very much involved too and they all wanted to be on stage somehow. So some of them will be conducting, like Trevor Morris and Jeff Beal. Then we have Atli Örvarsson, who is going to perform the piano part, and so will John Lunn. What I cannot wait for is the performance of Daniel Licht, who has all these strange household items which he has turned into instruments. Because he’s flying from L.A, he cannot take all these ‘weapons’ and right now our production department is looking for a proper saw that he wanted to play on. So it’s going to be a lot of fun for the audience this time.
The union of film music festivals
We were curious about how the bigger film music festivals collaborate:
[Compared to the World Soundtrack Awards] we are a celebration of music only, so we can focus on music performances only. I think that all film music festivals in Europe are complementary to each other. For example, there is Fimucité on Tenerife which all the composers love visiting because they feel a little bit like they’re on vacation. It’s also a very nice gathering of the industry and we’ve built strong partnership with the festival and it’s director Diego Navarro. Since the very beginning, we really cared to build a union of festivals to support Film Music in general, to make some changes and to work on education. So we never treated others like competition. That’s why we’ve managed to build international links. We help each other to invite composers, to commission new works by these composers and to have co-productions. At the moment we are applying for the European grant called ‘Creative Europe’ together with Ghent and Aubagne festivals to build an international program on education for young film music composers.
At this point we could go on and on with interesting stories from the festival but you will hear so much more about it in the coming week, so I will stop at this point and hope to have given you a small glimpse into why everyone interested in music for media in general should visit the Krakow Film Music Festival at some point. Some tickets are still available but if you’re planning to attend next year, make sure to be quick because some events – like this year’s Video Game Show – can be sold out within hours.