Anniversaries are often celebrated and whilst some may find it odd to celebrate the anniversary of a death, it's really a good opportunity to reflect on and most importantly celebrate the legacy of the person concerned.
Michael Kamen always deserves to be celebrated and remembered, thankfully this is the case with continued new releases of his music by the soundtrack labels (a very special one is on the horizon!) and better still, a recent concert of Kamen's music performed by a new generation of musicians. More about that later.
My love of film music whilst growing up featured the highly melodic and exciting musical punctuations provided by Michael Kamen quite regularly, being a child of the 80's. Similar to orchestrator and composer, James Seymour Brett (Walking with Dinosaurs, Batman LIVE & Lay the Favourite). He had the unique opportunity to work with Michael Kamen soon after graduating from the Royal Academy of Music and speaks with me about those special few years, with a particular focus on the seminal 'Band of Brothers'.
(featuring music from Michael Kamen's 'Open Range', 'Band of Brothers' and 'The Three Musketeers'. Plus James Seymour Brett's 'Walking with Dinosaurs'.)
As mentioned earlier, a celebratory concert organised by Michael Kamen's family was staged last Thursday night and played tribute to some of his music by a new generation of musicians. Mentoring and supporting the young was something Kamen was very passionate about, as paralelled in 'Mr Holland's Opus'. The Jerry Goldsmith Society's Dirk Wickenden attended said concert and gives us a window into what happened during this memorable night.
A Tribute to Michael Kamen
14th November 2013
The Royal College of Music Students’ Film Orchestra
Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall, Royal College of Music, London
Concert report by Dirk Wickenden
In January 2013, the Royal College of Music established their Students’ Film Orchestra. It is a student-led ensemble supported by the college and the Students’ Association, with the express task of giving students an opportunity to experience film music performance and also to enable composers there to have their work performed and recorded.
In remembrance of Michael Kamen’s passing ten years ago, the orchestra staged their tribute to him and what a fine representation of his musical legacy it was. The concert was mounted in support of The Mr Holland’s Opus Foundation, an organisation founded by Michael in 1996, with intent to keep music alive in American schools by donating instruments and giving students access to music education.
Guests in attendance (whom I met at the pre-concert reception and also sat in the balcony with) included Michael’s wife Sandra and other members of the extended Kamen family, including daughters Sasha, Zoe and four year old grandson Jasper – who was like a little Michael! Michael would have been very proud. Other guests included Annie Lennox and former RCM alumni Amy Dickson, a saxophonist (and recent Classical Brit award winner), as well as Michael’s producer Stephen McLaughlin and I am told Alan Rickman was in the audience.
Commencing the evening and returned to during various points in between the performances, were excerpts onscreen of Michael talking about his craft (although the lights should have been dimmed on stage more, so the footage could have been seen better).
Music director and conductor Pablo Urbina led the orchestra in the main title from 101 Dalmations, with clips from the film screened overhead – a rambunctious start indeed. This was followed by footage of Michael talking about his music for The Iron Giant and then the orchestra played The Storm from the film, accompanying the actual footage of the scene.
Following this was the three movement Saxophone Concerto (aka Concerto for Saxophone), which Amy Dickson introduced (her own recording of it will be available in the UK next year, on a CD entitled Catch me If You Can). This was of course written for David Sanborn and performed tonight by saxophonist former RCM alumni Chema Banuls. In her comments, Amy said that Michael was a very good vocalist and that came out in the music he had written for the alto sax, being very lyrical. Chema’s playing was with more of a classical tone, compared to David Sanborn’s edgy sound but opened up later on and projected very well through the hall. Chema and the orchestra threw themselves into the performance and it sent chills down the spine. Although the programme notes said the concert had only been performed twice before (maybe they meant recorded), I recall it was played by an RCM student back in 1996, during the British and American Film Music Festival but I do not know the saxophonist who performed it then.
During the interval, I chatted to Stephen McLaughlin about his work with Michael and then it was time for part two.
Although she had to fly off in the interval, the second half opened with footage of Annie Lennox accepting an award, which she had dedicated to Michael Kamen. Following this, was the main theme from Band of Brothers, with a small choir drafted in – a most inspiring piece.
Then came then a five part Brazil Orchestral Suite, covering the major beats of the score and various permutations of Ary Barroso’s Brazil. The percussion section laid their hands on a couple of manual typewriters for The Office part (shades of Leroy Anderson?)
Next up was footage of Michael speaking about his work on Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves (I recall that at one time, his initial desire was to write a period-sounding score for the film, using authentic instruments). Then came an astounding eight part Robin Hood Suite and this was Michael’s big Golden Age tribute, the powerful performance of the orchestra and lovely individual moments for harps, flute, Michael’s beloved oboe and a bravura performance from the brass section. This covered so many elements of the score and proves that multi-thematic, symphonic music still has a vital place in modern cinema – if only Hollywood producers and directors will see this.
Robin Hood is perhaps Michael’s best-known score for Joe Public and it was a fine end to the concert and there followed much applause and a standing ovation. There was not an encore – I had hoped for my very favourite An American Symphony from Mr Holland’s Opus or even Frequency – but this had been a free two hour concert, with donations encouraged for The Mr Holland’s Opus Foundation, the orchestra had more than earned their rest.
Michael Kamen (whom I met in 1996) will always be remembered as a fine musician, composer, husband and father and he is still very much missed but his music lives on in our hearts and minds. To quote Michael’s regularly repeated dedication in his albums, ‘It’s all for Sandra, Sasha and Zoe’ and I likewise dedicate this article to them.
Yes, I know what you're thinking. I would've loved to have been in the audience too. Thanks to Dirk for sharing the happenings of the night and for further Michael Kamen reading and listening I'd like to point you to these links:
A tribute podcast featuring many updates during this week:
Jim Lochner writes about the story behind Michael Kamen's final film score, 'Back to Gaya' (FSMO subscribers only):
Erik Woods and I showcase both Michael Kamen and James Seymour Brett's non-film music:
A great archive interview by Dan Goldwasser: