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3 Oct 2014
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Is film music the new classical
by Rebecca Jones, Arts Correspondent

Tomorrow night, August 14, sees a first at the Proms -- the first time an entire concert has been dedicated to film music. It comes at a time when film scores, like Gladiator and Titanic, are topping the classical music chart. So is film music the "new" classical music?

Rachel Portman has been writing film music for more than twenty years. She's enjoyed considerable success with her scores for "Chocolat" and "The Cider House Rules". And she won an Oscar for her score for "Emma".

"That was purely classical," she says. "It is an orchestral piece, by which I mean that there is nothing in it that you wouldn't find in a symphony orchestra. It was influenced by my roots and my classical background." And she adds: "Film music is definitely opening up classical music to more people."

Rachel Portman is currently writing a children's opera for the English National Opera. She sees it as a logical extension of her film work.

"It gives me the chance to go much deeper into my writing, which is the direction I want to go in," she says.

And she is not alone. A growing number of film composers are moving out of the cinema and into the concert hall, in the same way classical composers like Shostakovich and Prokofiev made their way into film some sixty years ago.

But while modern composers may want to extend their range, today the movies are where the money is. Michael Kamen is best known for his work on "Die Hard" and "Lethal Weapon". The song he wrote for "Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves", "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You", which was sung by Bryan Adams, has sold more than a million copies. Yet even though he is classically trained, his symphony, "The New Moon in the Old Moon's Arms", vanished into relative obscurity. He thinks the record companies are to blame.

"They don't know how to sell classical music," he says. "They're failing the orchestras, they're failing the students, they're failing the people who love music."

With sales of classical performances falling, record companies are keen to promote film scores as classical music for the twenty first century.

"There's much new music which doesn't really sell mainly because there isn't any identifiable tune and is maybe a little bit too clever," says Bill Holland, who is head of classics at Universal Records. "If you've got the additional exposure or promotion via a film, of course it's going to be a much bigger seller."

And they don't come much bigger than Gladiator - the soundtrack has sold more than a million copies world-wide and has been one of the top five best-selling classical albums for fourteen months. It was written by Hans Zimmer, who also composed the music for Pearl Harbor, Hannibal and The Lion King. He says he understands the pressure the recording industry is facing - but ultimately he doesn't think film scores count as classical music.

"They're different things - they can co-exist, but they shouldn't be confused," he says. "You have your Mozarts and your Beethoven and your Hans Zimmer, I don't think that quite works. Just because occasionally I use an orchestra it doesn't make me classical."




Rachel Portman
Listen - Rebecca Jones's report
Nick Kamen
Hans Zimmer
Other Arts Stories


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