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TEN COMPOSERS ON THE RISE

CHRIS BACON

AGE:
 34
BIRTHPLACE: Provo, Utah
REPRESENTATION: Kraft-Engel
BACKGROUND: Additional composer for James Newton Howard scores
FAN FAVORITE: Source Code
TYPECAST IN: Animated films
TOP GROSSING FILMS: 
1. Gnomeo and Juliet--99 (U.S. gross in millions)
2. Source Code--54  
3. Space Chimps--30 
4. Alpha and Omega--25 

James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer are peers, friends, and collaborators (on Christopher Nolan's first two Batman movies). Zimmer is famous, among other things, for the impressive number of major composers whose careers began with his help (the way he himself had risen as a protégé of the late Stanley Myers), including such A-listers as John Powell and Harry Gregson-Williams, and Howard, who in the past had contributed themes to films scored by John Debney and John Frizzell early in their careers, has been a big help to the career of 34-year-old Chris Bacon (Bacon is sometimes billed with his middle initial P, amusing those who inevitably register his name as "Crispy Bacon."). Bacon provided additional music for such important Howard scores as King Kong and his Oscar-nominated Michael Clayton, and had his first major solo scoring assignment with the innocuous animated comedy Space Chimps. Just as many of Zimmer's protégés have continued the composer's mixture of orchestra and synthesizer, Bacon has overall followed Howard's warm, more traditionally orchestral approach, such as in his charming score for 2010's animated Alpha and Omega. He provided '70s style twang for the little-seen Love Ranch, from director Taylor Hackford (two of whose previous films had been scored by Howard), and this last year Bacon had his biggest hit to date, sharing the scoring credit with Howard, for the animated Gnomeo and Juliet, though much of the score was based on the songs of Elton John (who was the film's executive producer). Clint Mansell was originally announced to reunite with Moon director Duncan Jones for Jones' latest thoughtful sci-fi drama/thriller, Source Code, but a scheduling problem apparently kept Mansell from completing the assignment, so Bacon won the job. The end result was the first of Bacon's solo scores to get a full soundtrack release, and the New York Daily News critic gave it one of the highest compliments imaginable, comparing his exciting music to "the classic sci-fi scores of Jerry Goldsmith." Most recently he scored the cable movie Ricochet (no relation to the Denzel Washington vehicle), part of TNT's new mystery movie series.


LORNE BALFE

AGE: 35
BIRTHPLACE: Inverness, Scotland
REP: Gorfaine/Schwartz
1 GRAMMY
BACKGROUND: Composer for short films, TV; session musician; additional composer for Hans Zimmer/Remote Control
FAN FAVORITE: Megamind 
TYPECAST IN: Adventure
TOP GROSSING FILMS: 
1. Megamind--148 
2. The Dilemma--48 

Hans Zimmer has always been unusual in the amount of credit he gives to his musical collaborators, and he has been particularly generous in citing the contributions of Lorne Balfe. Zimmer's level of commercial success has been pretty consistent in the more than two decades since Rain Man, his breakthrough project, but he has had a particular creative resurgence in the last few years. Sherlock Holmes earned Zimmer his first Oscar nomination in the nine years since Gladiator, and the composer valued Balfe's contribution so greatly that he put their shared music producing credit on the CD's front cover, a rare gesture. Balfe held a similarly important role on 2010's Inception, which proved to be one of Zimmer's most talked-about scores and earned the composer his ninth Oscar nomination. Balfe shared the principal composer credit with Zimmer on two recent major releases -- the underrated animated superhero comedy Megamind, and Ron Howard's ambitious but unsuccessful comedy-drama The Dilemma.  Last year, Balfe  also contributed to Zimmer's scores for Rango and Kung Fu Panda 2, while earning another unusually prominent credit on the just-released Sherlock Holmes sequel, and film music fans interested in what the unadulterated Balfe sounds like can order the Varese import of his orchestral-choral score for the 13th century action adventure Ironclad (unless you already happened to catch the film in its blink-and-you'll-miss-it U.S. theatrical release). He also wrote the score for the recently aired anthology TV movie Five, about breast cancer.


MARIO GRIGOROV

AGE: 48
BIRTHPLACE: Sophia, Bulgaria
REP: First Artists Management
BEST PICTURE NOMINEES: Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
RELATIONSHIPS:  Lee Daniels
BACKGROUND: Admitted to Sophia Conservatory in Bulgaria at age 5; studies at Vienna Conservatorium, New South Wales Conservatorium; protégé of Miles Goodman; recording artist (Rhymes with Orange, Paris to Cuba)
FAN FAVORITE: Precious
TYPECAST IN: Urban drama
TOP GROSSING FILMS: 
1. Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire--47 

Mario Grigorov had been scoring films for many years before the surprise hit Precious exposed his music to a wider audience, but the independent films and documentaries that filled his resume went largely unreleased in the U.S. Grigorov was born into music -- the child of a pianist and trumpeter, he was admitted to Bulgaria's Sophia Conservatory at the age of five. Grigorov had an unusually globe-spanning youth, as during his formative years he lived in Bulgaria, Iran, East Germany and Austria, learning five languages. Having continued his studies in Vienna and Australia, he came to the United States as a protégé of the late Miles Goodman, and in 1994 Warner Bros. released his jazz album Rhymes with Orange. His first feature scoring credit was on the 1989 Australian thriller Glass, but he got his first major U.S. exposure with Lee Daniels' off-beat 2006 noir Shadowboxer, starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Helen Mirren as assassins/lovers. The working relationship with Daniels, which also involved the Daniels-produced 2008 drama Tennessee, culminated in 2009's Oscar-winning Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. The film was ultimately musically dominated by songs rather than score, but Grigorov's brief, lilting score helped provide a feeling of hope to an often painfully bleak drama. Daniels is currently at work on a film version of Pete Dexter's novel The Paperboy, featuring Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman and John Cusack, and Grigorov has been announced as its composer for what may be his highest-profile assignment yet.

WHAT'S NEXT: The Paperboy


HERBERT GRONEMEYER

AGE: 51
BIRTHPLACE: Gottingen, Germany
BACKGROUND:  Theater pianist/composer, actor, recording artist
FAN FAVORITE: The American
TOP GROSSING FILMS: 
1. The American--35 

Gronemeyer began studying the piano at the age of eight, and started his musical career in the theater, serving not only as a pianist and composer but as an actor as well. His first score was for the 1978 German TV movie Uns reicht das nicht, in which he starred with his actress wife, Anna Henkel, though his most widely-seen acting role came with Wolfgang Peterson's 1982 multi-Oscar nominee, the submarine movie classic Das Boot (he received second billing for his role as Lt. Werner, just under star Jurgen Prochnow).  An even greater challenge for Gronemeyer came with the 1983 biopic Fruhlingssinfonie (released in the U.S. in 1986 as Spring Symphony), for which Gronemeyer not only wrote the film’s score but also played the leading role of composer Robert Schumann, opposite Nastassja Kinski as Clara. He put his acting and film composing career aside and became a popular recording artist in Europe through the '80s and '90s and into the new century, while receiving acclaim for his humanitarian work. In 1988, Gronemeyer began a working relationship with acclaimed photographer Anton Corbijn which led to the photographer directing several videos for the performer/composer and even publishing a book of his photos of Gronemeyer. Gronemeyer had a brief role in Corbijn's acclaimed directorial debut Control, the biopic of Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis, and when it came time for Corbijn to make his second feature, the romantic thriller The American, Gronemeyer signed on to compose his first film score in 22 years. The film was an intriguingly low-key mixture of Hollywood formula and European art-film style, and Gronemeyer’s appropriately subdued approach (the CD was only released in Europe) garnered impressive notices from critics.


ABEL KORZENIOWSKI

AGE: 39
BIRTHPLACE: Krakow, Poland
REP: Evolution Music Partners
BACKGROUND:  Music Academy in Krakow (under Penderecki), concert composer, European film scores
FAN FAVORITE: A Single Man
TOP GROSSING FILMS: 
1. A Single Man--9
2. Battle for Terra--1

Korzeniowski first came to wide notice in American films with his somber yet emotional score for the film version of Christopher Isherwood's A Single Man, which earned an Oscar nomination for star Colin Firth as well as a Golden Globe nomination (and a San Diego Film Critics Society award) for its composer, but it was far from his first work for the screen. A classically trained composer who also writes for the concert hall, Korzeniowski has been scoring features since the beginning of the new century, but most of his work has been for the cinema of his native Poland, but very few contemporary Polish features receive any kind of American exposure so his music had largely gone unnoticed in the States. His first feature to get a major American release was the ambitious animated science-fiction film Battle for Terra, and though the film didn't make much of an impression at the U.S box-office, his original and varied score heralded the arrival of a distinctive new voice in film scoring. His follow-up, A Single Man, did only modest business but was generally well-reviewed, and its Oscar-nominated performance by Colin Firth helped pave the way for Firth's winning role in The King's Speech. Single Man director Tom Ford was clearly influenced by filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai in his work, and Single Man's score had a boldly expressive quality similar to what Shigeru Umebayashi provided for some of Wong's films, and Umebayashi even received an "Additional Music" credit on Ford's film.  Korzeniowski's music for the Polish animated feature Copernicus' Star received a limited CD release, courtesy of La-La Land, and his latest high-profile English-language project is the ambitious but poorly reviewed W.E., directed by none other than Madonna (but not her feature directorial debut despite what early press indicated, as the company releasing W.E. apparently wants us to forget about her Filth and Wisdom). Despite the deserved critical drubbing the film received, Korzeniowski has received his second Golden Globe nomination for the film.


TRENT REZNOR

AGE: 45
BIRTHPLACE:  Mercer, Pennsylvania
REP: WME
1 OSCAR
BEST PICTURE NOMINEES:
The Social Network
RELATIONSHIPS: David Fincher
BACKGROUND: childhood studies in piano, tuba, saxophone; Allegheny College (computer engineering); recording engineer; founder and principal member of Nine Inch Nails; record producer
TOP GROSSING FILMS: 
1. The Social Network--96 
2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo--76 (as of 1/8/12)

Over a decade before his Oscar-winning debut score, Trent Reznor's music had made a strong impact in contemporary American cinema. Having learned to play the piano, tenor saxophone and tuba during his youth, the adult Reznor used his job as a recording engineer at a studio to record his own compositions, forming the group (consisting largely of himself, with additional musicians added for concert appearances) Nine Inch Nails. Nine Inch Nails proved to be one of the most acclaimed bands of the 1990s, and Reznor made his mark in film music of the era by producing the soundtrack album to Oliver Stone's controversial hit Natural Born Killers (though before he made his mark in the music world, he'd made an onscreen appearance as a member of the fictional band "The Problems" in Paul Schrader's 1987 rock drama Light of Day). He made an equally strong cinematic impression with the remixed version of his song "Closer," which played over the groundbreaking opening title sequence for David Fincher's Seven. Reznor nearly made his film scoring debut for the thriller One Hour Photo directed by Mark Romanek -- like Fincher, one of the most acclaimed music video directors of the era -- but Romanek ended up using a score by Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek (Reznor reportedly reworked his unused One Hour Photo music for his album Still). Reznor finally made his film scoring debut with a David Fincher film, 2010's acclaimed docudrama The Social Network (in collaboration with Atticus Ross, who had worked with Nine Inch Nails on some of their later albums and concert appearances). Reznor and Ross’s mixture of simple, emotional material with up-to-the-moment musical sounds fit perfectly with the film's characters and subject matter, earning rave reviews and, most impressively, earning the team an Original Score Oscar, a rare achievement for feature scoring newcomers and an even rarer one for such youth-themed, non-orchestral music. Reznor can pretty much write his own ticket as a film composer for now, and his latest project, reteaming with Ross, is Fincher's just released American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, whose soundtrack release is a whopping three-disc set.


ATTICUS ROSS

AGE: 41
BIRTHPLACE: England
REP: CAA
1 OSCAR
BEST PICTURE NOMINEES:
The Social Network
RELATIONSHIPS: David Fincher, The Hughes Brothers
BACKGROUND:   
FAN FAVORITE:
 The Social Network
TOP GROSSING FILMS: 
1. The Social Network--96 
2. The Book of Eli--94 
3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo--76 (as of 1/8/12)

His Oscar-winning partnership with Trent Reznor on The Social Network may have helped put Atticus Ross on the map, but Ross was actually the first of the team to venture successfully into film scoring. Over the years Ross has worked as a programmer and producer with a variety of bands, including collaborations with Barry Adamson, whose own film music includes the score to the 1991 noir Delusion and contributions to Lost Highway. Over the last decade Ross has worked with Reznor on four Nine Inch Nails albums as well as on other projects, and had his first major scoring assignment in 2004 with the short-lived American version of the British mystery series Touching Evil, starring Jeffrey Donovan and Vera Farmiga, which Ross scored in collaboration with his wife Claudia Sarne and his brother Leopold Ross. Touching Evil was produced by feature directors Allen & Albert Hughes (Menace 2 Society, Dead Presidents), and Ross worked with Albert Hughes again on the director's segment of the romantic anthology film New York, I Love You. The Hughes Brothers returned to feature directing for the first time since From Hell with 2010's post-apocalyptic action hit The Book of Eli, and the offbeat electronic score by Ross (collaborating again with his wife and brother) received strong reviews. Despite its success, it had nowhere near the impact of his second feature project -- The Social Network, a collaboration with Reznor that was a boxoffice hit, earned rave reviews (both for the film and its music), and, most importantly earned the composer an Original Score Oscar after his very first year of scoring features. The team's assignment to score the remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, one of the most anticipated films of the holiday season, makes it clear that neither composer is likely to be a flash in the pan.


FERNANDO VELAZQUEZ

AGE: 34
BIRTHPLACE:  Bilbao, Spain*
REP: Gorfaine/Schwartz*
RELATIONSHIPS: Juan Antonio Bayona
BACKGROUND:  Composition studies at Madrid and Paris conservatories; cellist for orchestras; composer for short films, European features
FAN FAVORITE: Devil
TYPECAST IN: Horror
TOP GROSSING FILMS: 
1. Devil--33
2. The Orphanage--7

Fernando Velazquez is one of the latest European composers to start achieving a toehold in American cinema, but unlike composers like Desplat and Iglesias, who made their mark with arthouse hits, Velazquez first became known through his horror scores. Velazquez's first film score were for short films, and one of them, the dark comedy 7:35 in the Morning, was nominated for the Live Action Short Film Oscar in 2004. His first feature with U.S. appeal was the 2006 suspense thriller BackWoods, starring Gary Oldman, Paddy Considine and Virginie Ledoyen, but it never received a theatrical release in this country. The first Velazquez-scored film to really make a splash in the U.S. was the horror film The Orphanage, Spain's surprising submission for the 2007 Foreign Language Film Oscar (not surprisingly, it went un-nominated). The film did only modest box-office in this country but was one of the most memorable and effective horror films of the last decade, aided by Velazquez's moving score. He returned to U.S. cinemas with a properly edgy score for the true-crime drama Savage Grace, but despite a memorable lead performance from Julianne Moore, the film was barely noticed. Counterintuitively enough, his biggest American hit has also been one of his worst reviewed films, the M. Night Shyamalan production Devil, but his unapologetically full-bodied orchestral score was one of the saving graces of this surprisingly enjoyable B-horror movie, and its recent limited CD release from Varese Sarabande was a welcome surprise. Velazquez is reuniting with Orphanage director Juan Antonio Bayona for the tsuami-drama The Impossible, starring Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts.

WHAT'S NEXT: The Impossible

*Just added information courtesy of the composer.


MICHAEL WANDMACHER

AGE: 43
BIRTHPLACE: Minneapolis, Minnesota
REP: First Artists Management
RELATIONSHIPS: Patrick Lussier, Jeff Wadlow 
FAN FAVORITE:
My Bloody Valentine 3D
TYPECAST IN: 3D movies; the most violent, gruesome, and/or trashiest movies imaginable
TOP GROSSING FILMS: 
1. My Bloody Valentine 3D--51 
2. Never Back Down--24 
3. Piranha--24 
4. Max Keeble's Big Move--17
5. The Legend of Drunken Master--11
6. Drive Angry 3D--10 
7. Cry_Wolf--10
8. Punisher: War Zone--7 
9. From Justin to Kelly--4

In a period when many of the most expensive, and most profitable films are adaptations of comic books (some directed by Oscar-nominated filmmakers), some might argue that there is no such thing a B-movie anymore, but Michael Wandmacher's career proves that genuine B-movies are alive and well and getting wide releases. His first film to get a major U.S. release was his re-scored version of Jackie Chan's The Legend of Drunken Master, which bizarrely got an R-rating in this country for Chan's typically amazing, comedically-tinged action sequences. This was followed by two big-studio obscurities, the Disney kids comedy Max Keeble's Big Move, and Fox's attempt at a modern beach musical with American Idol stars, the much-mocked From Justin to Kelly. The prep school thriller Cry_Wolf, which tried to make e-mailing scary, failed to recreate the success of Scream, but it did begin Wandmacher's working relationship with director Jeff Wadlow, with whom he reteamed for one of his highest grossing films, the Karate Kid-ish Never Back Down. The PG-13 Never Back Down was followed by one of the most extraordinarily violent action movies ever made, the destined-for-cult-classic-status sequel/reboot Punisher: War Zone. While Carlo Crivelli wrote an emotional orchestral score for the 2004 incarnation of The Punisher, Wandmacher scored the character in a more rock-ish, modern style, fittingly enough for the film's over-the-top mixture of dark humor and cartoonish violence. A genre film magazine writer once came up with the "Harry Essex Syndrome," after the screenwriter whose expertise in writing the 3D It Came from Outer Space made him the natural choice to write The Creature from the Black Lagoon, as if writing 3D movies took a very specific talent. Wandmacher seems to be the latest example of the Harry Essex Syndrome, as he has scored three of the latest incarnation of 3D horror films. Wandmacher scored one of the first of the new, digital 3D films, the lively remake of My Bloody Valentine, for editor-turned-director Patrick Lussier, and followed it up with a remake that managed to even top the gore content of Punisher: War Zone, Alexandre Aja's beyond-over-the-top 2010 Piranha 3D. In 2011 he continued his reign of 3D terror with Lussier's deliberately trashy 3D supernatural action movie Drive Angry, whose surprisingly poor box-office suggests that 3D isn't the surefire draw it seemed just a couple years ago, but next he returns to two dimensions with The Haunting in Georgia, a follow-up to the hit The Haunting in Connecticut.

WHAT'S NEXT: The Haunting in Georgia


NATHAN WANG

AGE:
Unavilable
BIRTHPLACE: Unavailable
REP: Soundtrack Music Associates
RELATIONSHIPS: Andy Fickman
FAN FAVORITE: The Lost Children of Berlin
BACKGROUND: Child music prodigy, USC, Oxford University, theater and video game composer
TYPECAST IN: Comedy
TOP GROSSING FILMS: 
1. The Game Plan--90 
2. She's the Man--33
3. You Again--25
4. The Final Season--1  

Nathan Wang has had a schizophrenic career as a film composer, balancing the kind of projects which give a composer prestige but little public attention with the kind of wide-release movies that bring a composer all-too-little respect. Wang got an early start in the world of music, beginning his studies at the age of four and studying music theory and composition at USC at age nine. He has written a wide variety of music for the theater, including many productions at L.A.'s EastWest Players, the country's longest-running Asian-American theater company. He worked with Hans Zimmer on the Oscar-winning documentary feature The Last Days, serving as orchestrator and composer of additional music, and his other documentary scores include The Lost Children of Berlin and The World According to Sesame Street. However, his highest profile projects have been the lowest-common-denominator comedies of director Andy Fickman, including She's the Man, The Game Plan and You Again. For Wang's sake, one can only hope that he starts receiving more prestigious assignments – or at least that Fickman starts making better movies. Lately Wang has been working steadily in smaller features, TV movies and episodic TV (including the cheerleader series Hellcats), and one of his latest projects is the film version of the hit stage comedy Jewtopia.

WHAT'S NEXT: Jewtopia


Because I hope to start the 2012 top forty countdown some time in the next couple months -- honest, that's my plan, despite that fact that it took me most of 2011 to finish just this one column --  I will wait until then to post the updated the "Where Are They Now" columns that usually end the series.

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Comments (6):Log in or register to post your own comments
Michael Wandmacher did From Justin to Kelly? Horror composer even then...

No Ilan Eshkeri? And another composer that deserves a mention is Pasquele Catalano (who did a beautiful score for Barney's Version, which received a general release early last year).

Good grief - I actually went to high school with Chris Bacon! He was a pretty good pianist/saxophone player - his Dad was amazing on the piano/organ - but he was also kind of a goof-off in Marching Band and I really didn't see him as one that would go into music.

Fast forward 15 years and I had *no* idea that he was *this* good. I've seen his name in the aforementioned movies but there was no way that I was going to put two and two together until I saw his hometown ("Provo, UT") in this article.

Well done, Chris! :)

"...starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Helen Mirren as assassins/lovers"

Now there's a combination to pique the interest.

"...starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Helen Mirren as assassins/lovers"

Now there's a combination to pique the interest.


I neglected to mention that they also have an adopted mother/son relationship in the film. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a doctor who works for the mob, and his nurse is also his lover, played by Mo'Nique. Fascinating film, but not one where you'd think "The director's next film will be a Best Picture nominee."

By the way, I included Ilan Eshkeri in a previous Ten Composers On The Rise column, but I can't remember the year offhand.

And if Hellcats can be mentioned in Nathan Wang's piece, doesn't the (deservedly, unlike Hellcats) shortlived Night Stalker merit bringing up with Wandmacher (he scored all 10 episodes and wrote the theme heard in the pilot before some little-known tunesmith called Philip Glass did the one for the series)?

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