Howard Shore at the IFFR 2020

Oscar-winning composer Howard Shore recently visited the Netherlands during the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), in collaboration with BUMA in Motion, where I had the honor of interviewing him. The main reason for his visit was the screening of the cult movie Crash from 1996, for which he wrote the music. During his stay, there was also the opportunity for a select group of composers to meet him during a private master class, and a public masterclass accessible to the general audience in a much larger room. I was not able to join the private master class session, since it was held in such a small setting, but I did attend  the two other events, of which you can read my experiences here. 

Crash with Live Score by Rotterdam Philharmonic 

If you think about the music from Howard Shore, many people, including me, think about his superb music for Lord of the Rings, but he has written so much more. He has had a long time collaboration with director David Cronenberg, for example, writing the music for his movies. As mentioned in my interview during the Venice Film Festival, IFFR director Bero Beyer and British producer Jeremy Thomas came up with the idea to do a live screening of Crash, where the music is performed by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. During the interview he also explained in detail the importance of three harps, six electric guitars and all kinds of metal percussion for this score. When I saw the stage you could indeed see all the metallic percussion items, the six chairs for the six guitar players and the three harps, making me very intrigued about what to expect from the music.

© Jan de Groen / IFFR

The evening started with Bero Beyer introducing a video from Cronenberg, in which the director informed the audience that they were in for a treat. Afterwards Howard Shore came on stage under huge applause from the audience. After a brief conversation with Beyer they both left the stage. Beyer went to the back, but Shore walked through the aisle and took a seat at the control center with the music sheets in front of him. It is something I had not seen before at a concert, where the composer is present as the main guest, since they are part of the audience enjoying the concert most of the time. Apparently, in addition to orchestrating and conducting his own music, Shore likes to be in control during concerts as well.

I had not seen the movie before, and when I read the plot I was quite puzzled about the fact that the movie is about being sexually aroused from car accidents. My confusion did not disappear while watching the movie. There is a lot of sexual content, and the story is extremely weird. I do think the music was quite complementary to the images. The six guitars all played their own notes, but together they sounded like they were all one instrument. They were supported by the three harps, the percussionists and three woodwind musicians, conducted perfectly by Mike Schäperclaus.

More than hour into the movie, it was time for the string section of the Rotterdam Philharmonic to take their seats in the back. They did not have to play a lot, but at two key moments in the movie you could hear the emotional side of Shore in their play, which was in stark contrast to the other music.

© Jan de Groen /IFFR

Seeing this movie was quite an experience, and the same goes for the music. I can not say that I was enjoying the music and the visuals immensely. I prefer more thematic and melodic film music, but nevertheless I was intrigued the entire time. I had the impression that I was experiencing a once in a lifetime concert and the performance was very well done. It takes a lot of discipline to keep all the notes perfectly timed for this kind of music. The concert also showed the diversity in film music. Not only did they do a screening of a movie with a lesser known soundtrack, but the music is also not that easy to listen to. If I am honest, this was a bold move that paid off marvelously. I got the feeling that a lot of people in the audience came for the movie, with the live performance as an extra, but I hope that this concert has ignited something in them so they will pay more attention to the music in a movie.

Concert Information

Where: De Doelen, Rotterdam – The Netherlands
When: January 31, 2020
Orchestra: Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Mike Schäperclaus
Special guest: Howard Shore

Public Master Class

The day after the concert there was a master class with Howard Shore, at least for those who had bought tickets for this specific event. Many fans were interested, and the venue, which is able to hold around 500 people, sold out rather quickly. After a quick introduction from Bero Beyer, it was time for the host Kaleem Aftab to introduce Howard Shore as the main guest. 

During the Q and A Shore answered standard questions, like how his career started, and he mentioned a couple of things that we had discussed during our interview, but in addition he also talked about new interesting things, such as how he got to work on Lord of the Rings. I did not know that Peter Jackson used his music – especially the violin pieces from Crash – as temp music for Lord of the Rings, which started their collaboration. One of the other amusing things that were mentioned during the session was that Howard Shore was also responsible for The Blues Brothers name, since the idea originated from Dan Aykroyd’s performances at Saturday Night Live, where Howard Shore was working for at the time.

The big thing I learned from the meeting was how Howard Shore comes up with the music. He draws inspiration from the forest he and his wife live in. Most of the foundation for his music comes from things like that, but also books, if the movie is based on one, the script or a one-time visit to the set, while the movie is being shot. He also likes to try new things for each assignment. For Lord of the Rings, it was the first time he really had to work with leitmotivs and themes, since the story is huge and complicated, especially for people who have not read the books, and the music was there to help tell the story. 

There was also a question about winning an Oscar. According to Shore, he has applied for around 15 scores but had always been ignored. Being invited was already a treat and he did not expect to win one for Fellowship of the Ring. For his second Oscar, which he won for Return of the King, he was working backstage during the event because he was producing “Into the West,” which Annie Lennox performed that night.

For the last ten to fifteen minutes the audience was allowed to ask questions. With some of the attendees you could hear the tension and excitement in their voices, for being able to ask someone, they admire a lot, a question. One of the questions was how Shore demos his music to directors. Because Shore does not really use technology for composing, he plays samples on the piano or makes recordings of a couple of musicians playing the music.

Another person asked the composer about musical influences. His answer was surprisingly not the classical composers that many composers mention as theirs. He informed the audience that he likes music from Takemitsu and Penderecki, but is also a fan of live performances, including jazz improvisations. One of the last questions was about his feelings on temp music in movies, to which he answered jokingly that he could not hate temp music since it gave him the Lord of the Rings assignment, but he also said that he does not face that problem a lot, since the directors he works with most of the time, do not use temp music.

After the meeting, Howard Shore was kind enough to place himself behind a table for those who wanted to have something signed or take a photograph with him. The line was quite long, but Howard Shore took his time with each fan and gave them a fantastic experience. I would like to thank the organization for inviting such an amazing guest for film music fans. Most of the time high profile film music guests do not go to the Netherlands, but the IFFR in collaboration with BUMA in Motion was able to make that happen with Howard Shore, and I am looking forward to whom they will invite for the next edition.


Here are other pictures I have taken during the two events.

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