Three-time Oscar winner Howard Shore for NCH visit
Lord of the film scores
Remembering his three Oscar wins for the Lord of the Rings scores is not enough to make Howard Shore demonstrate too much excitement, though talking about them elicits a long chuckle and the admission that, "Yes, it's certainly a joyous moment, and each win was entirely unexpected – even the third time, I had no idea they would say my name again." Modest and understated to the last, Howard is also quite the one-man music factory.
Over the past 35 years, the Canadian composer has written scores for more than 80 films. "I like music," he says. "It's an important part of my life. I write every day."
He is certainly prolific. He is working on a new opera, writing solo pieces commissioned by different artists, writing a song cycle and composing scores for films. And that's just for a Saturday. Howard is also coming to Dublin on Saturday, April 26, to introduce a concert of his music performed by the RTé Concert Orchestra in the National Concert Hall (www.nch.ie).
He grew up in Canada but now lives in New York. He started playing music young – interestingly enough the clarinet, rather than the piano, was his first instrument.
"I studied woodwind when I was young, clarinet and flute," he says. "Then I studied the piano and the cello. I'm a constant student of music. Writing for orchestra, you are always looking at scores and all the instruments. But I probably have a special relationship with the wind section."
Howard is probably used to making most of his points musically, rather than through speech, and there is a spareness to his interview technique – he offers what is required without unnecessary elaboration. He doesn't have the need to make you want to like him, which means you probably will.
"I started writing harmony and counterpoint exercises when I was nine," Howard says. "I kept a pencil going and never stopped. Of course, I didn't have access to symphony orchestras to rehearse when I was 10 and in fifth grade. So I wrote for small groups, brass trios and small bands."
Howard's career started on documentary films for CBC in Canada, before writing for radio and TV, then progressing to films in the 1970s and developing a friendship and working relationship with the film-maker David Cronenberg.
"That's when I got to write for bigger numbers of instruments," he says. "I had a 21-piece string orchestra for The Brood, and The Fly had the whole thing. That established a relationship with the London Philharmonic that continues to this day and led to the Lord of the Rings trilogy being performed by them."
Howard is no stranger to live performance either. At the end of the '60s, he was a member of a jazz band called Lighthouse and then became music director for Saturday Night Live for five years and appeared in a number of sketches. Howard even suggested the name for The Blues Brothers to Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. "The television work all came out of childhood friendship with Lorne (Michaels, who created and produced this long-running show). I always enjoyed Saturday Night Live, the energy of it."
Over the years, Howard has developed strong working relationships with certain directors, most notably David Cronenberg, as well as Martin Scorsese and Peter Jackson.
Does he just click better with these three? "Yes!" he laughs. "David and I have worked on something like 15 films together. I met Martin in New York in the '80s, a brilliant man, and we have worked on I think six films together. And I only met Peter in 2000 when he was already well into filming the trilogy and we're now filming our sixth film with the third part of The Hobbit."
His job can be quite a disconnected process. When he was writing the score for part one of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, for example, the first time he heard the music all together was after the film had been finished.
How did he create the soundtrack to JRR Tolkien's world in pieces? "I read a lot and I read as much as I could that Tolkien had written, and I had Peter Jackson's screenplay and the beautiful imagery Peter had created.
"I write intuitively away from the film and then flesh it out and orchestrate it when I see the final imagery and conduct the musicians myself to have a true feel for it," he said.
1 If you have never seen a Fred and Ginger film before, or have never had the pleasure of seeing one on the big screen, you are in for a treat when Film Fatale presents Swing Time tonight in the Sugar Club (sugarclub.com). Screening will be followed by the Film Fatale Vintage Dance Party, so be sure to wear your dancing shoes and best swing dance dress.
2 A fundraising gala concert will take place for Evening Echo reporter Deirdre O'Reilly in Cork's City Hall on Easter Sunday, April 20 (facebook.com/friends of deirdreoreilly). The mother of two (43) suffered a massive stroke in December and needs intensive rehabilitation. The impressive line-up for the gala includes Cara O'Sullivan, Mary Hegarty, Evelyn Grant, Karen Underwood and the Cork Garda Male Voice Choir.
3 Next Friday will see the world premiere of Spirestone, a new choral work by Mary Coll and composer Fiona Linnane, in the University of Limerick Concert Hall (uch.ie). Spirestone was written specifically about Limerick and is described by Coll as "a hymn to a troubled but wonderful city". It will be performed by Limerick's excellent Choral Union which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.