Memories of Michael Kamen
When we talk about Michael Kamen I always think of somebody passionate, somebody who loved music, and loved what he did, and impressed passion in every work. And I think that musical passion is the link that joins us in this tribute for someone who has filled holes in our hearts, someone whom we are deeply grateful for his musical legacy and whom we want to reciprocate in some way.
Only in this way can be understood the beautiful and touching words from all those involved in this tribute, on the tenth anniversary of his death, a way to never forget one of the best composers that this industry has given, which is becoming less cinema and more business … the opposite of Michael Kamen, a craftsman who put passion ahead of everything.
And I think such tribute also responds to an ongoing personal obsession: to preserve good music, music from people like Michael Kamen, Jerry Goldsmith, Maurice Jarre, Jerry Fielding, and like so many good composers passed away.
I don’t think Kamen will never be forgotten, nor my contribution will serve to prevent that possibility, but my two cents is there, set on a vast vault of musical talent, where the soundtrack we can hear when the door opens is Besides You from What Dreams May Come, or the overture from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, that moves us to face all kinds of adventures in life, or the beautiful love theme from father-son relationship in Frequency, that helps us to get closer to our beloved ones, or just to remind them.And now, without further delay, let’s begin this tribute, but not before some few fair acknowledgments:Enrique Moreno and Florent Groult, thanks for all photographic material provided for use in the special selflessly.Pablo Ortiz de Urbina for selflessly introduce this special to the Kamen Family, an honor that we hope have reciprocated with all the love that emanates from this tribute.Gorka Oteiza and Oscar Salazar, without you this would not have been possible, thanks to your hard work on translations.All those who could not take part in the special, despite having tried names like Blake Nelly, Robert Elhia, Paco de Lucía, Dan Goldwasser, Claudio Fuiano, Jose M. Benítez, John Burlingame, Julie Kirgo o Lukas Kendall and many more.And especially to those who are here, participating and shaping this tribute. Without you, it would not have been possible.
With your permission, we dedicate the result of this collective effort to Michael, for making us dream … We miss you! KAMEN FOREVER!
You can find here our original Spanish version of this article: RECORDANDO A MICHAEL KAMEN
|Christopher Lennertz (composer)
Michael Price (composer)
Pablo Ortiz (conductor & composer)
Penka D. Kouneva (composer)
Germán Barón (composer)
Mikael Carlsson (composer & producer)
David Doncel (from BSOSpirit & president of the Córdoba Festival)
|Jon Broxton (reviewer & president of IFMCA)
Randall D. Larson (reviewer & writer)
Gergely Hubai (reviewer & writer )
Frorent Groult (from UnderScores)
Ignacio Granda (from Scoresdecine)
David Martínez Balade (musical teacher & writer)
|Jorge Godoy (fan)
Enrique Moreno Escribano (fan)
Óscar Salazar (fan)
Alfonso Conde (fan)
Fernándo Ayuso from AsturScore
Carlos Mulas from AsturScore
Michael Kamen’s Legacy is one that transcends musical lines. I had the good fortune of working for Michael in his prime and am so grateful as he gave me my first opportunity as an orchestrator. I, like so many, was in awe of not only his writing, but his passion for life and for goodwill. It was at his memorial that I saw and heard so many of his most famous pieces played on screen and realized how vividly his personality was displayed in his music.
The romanticism of Robin Hood, the heart of Mr. Holland’s Opus, the clever wittiness of Lethal Weapon, and the solemn nobility of Band of Brothers. Every note and every melody sounds like Michael. It exudes pure joy and emotion. That is the true stamp of an artist: to be able to express yourself in unguarded detail with your art. Michael Kamen did just that. And more importantly, he left us not only his music to cherish, but left us the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, that carries on the support and nurturing of music education and will give the gift of music and the opportunity of young people to follow their hearts and dreams the way Michael did.
I’m so very lucky to have learned from him and miss him and his music dearly. The wonderful thing about music though, is that it will live on forever, and for that we are all so thankful.
All about Chris Lennertz en www.christopherlennertz.com
I worked, together with James Brett, side by side with Michael Kamen for 5 years, but his legacy didn’t end with his sad passing. Every time I sit down and hesitate over a melody, I can see Michael’s curly, crazy figure sitting at the piano, or the Kurzweil, putting all his considerable emotional force into every note he played.
And I know many other people that worked with him feel that way too. He was such a colourful, charismatic man, ultimately driven by a profound love of music.
The remarkable way in which he managed to engage so many millions of people with that love will mean he’ll still be with us for many years to come.
All about Michael Price en www.michaelpricemusic.com
Pablo Ortiz de Urbina
How life brings us back great memories in the most unexpected ways…
I have often joked with my family and friends telling them that in my life there have been many times when I felt like Forrest Gump, meeting some very important people in the world of music, politics, arts or diplomacy, or living some interesting experiences, the most unexpected and out of place. After all, for a kid from Pamplona, is not as normal as expected. As this is about film music, and also because it is one of the happiest moments in my life, stands out (always remember fondly) having played under the baton of legendary John Williams, when I was only 19 years old, with tears in my eyes, seeing one of my music idols in the rehearsal room, one who encouraged me to be in love with music. I could also talk about my conversation with the well known Randy Newman on his song for Toy Story, the concert with the son of Elmer Bernstein, meeting Alan Silvestri, my experiences in recording studios at Hollywood or my prized friendship with Spanish composer Oscar Navarro, who I am sure we will hear much in the coming years. All this, however, as incredible as unlikely, has no comparison with the gift that came from heaven this past year.
There I was, in London, studying a Master in Music Performance (French horn) and Conducting at the Royal College of Music. There I was, creating a film orchestra to enjoy the music that has given me the biggest amount of goose bumps in my life. With loads of enthusiasm, desire to work and to enjoy this music, I asked my colleagues at the college to enumerate their top 5 favourite film scores of all times. To my surprise, after analysing all of the results, amongst all of the possible candidates, 2 of those 5 had been composed by the same composer, the legendary Michael Kamen. I do not consider myself (and rightfully so) an expert on film music. I adore it, I really enjoy it and I am most passionate about it, but people like the team at AsturScore know a lot about this genre; they ensure that it does not get forgotten in soundtrack records and movies on DVD. In this case, however, the name sounded familiar, I had already heard it before. After reading the results once again, my memory was transported to my first years of teenager hood, more or less around 2002-2003. Back then, for more than a year, I completely feel in love with 4 minutes of music, which I listened over and over again until saturation, to then listen to it some more. Based on the duration of the music and on the years, you may have guessed that I am talking about the main titles to Band of Brothers. Back then, the name of Michael Kamen did not sound terribly familiar, I had only heard of composers such as Horner, Goldsmith, Silvestri, Williams and Hans Zimmer. How much good music I was missing out on! Also, in case you have not guessed which soundtrack by Michael had appeared on this top 5 list, it was the almighty Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.
With much energy, and the same amount of ignorance, I went to the library of the RCM to speak to the orchestral librarian and ask her if she could give us a hand retrieving some of these scores we wanted to perform. Forrest Gump or Pirates of the Caribbean were easy, and Joann Kane and other publishing companies rented them out to us (well, after paying their rental prices, which were not the cheapest). Other scores like the Magnificent Seven were a little more complicated, and we were fortunate to collaborate with the European FilmPhilharmonic, based on Berlin, and get them from them. To this day they have been great sponsors of our humble cause. It was however with Robin Hood and Band of Brothers that this story took a much unexpected turn. After many emails, long nights in front of the computer, and a lot of enthusiasm for this project and the music that I was aiming to find, I found myself in Michael Kamen´s house. There I was having coffee with Sandra Kamen, the same Sandra that Michael adored so much, next to the piano of a star of music (and I say music, not simply film music), as nervous as excited, with the same feeling everyone has when they know they are in the same place where, once upon a time, a genious lived. Incredible!
I would need more than four hours to explain everything that has happened since then. I have undergone a personal transformation in which I have become a fan of Michael Kamen; not only because of his music, rather his great human quality. My admiration for him extends beyond a temporary interest, and I feel very fortunate of having being able to organise the only tribute concert in the world to commemorate the tenth anniversary of his death, next to his family, his friends, and everyone who loves his music. Everyone is a testimony alive of how big this man was! The anecdote of the concert is having there his grandson, Jasper, who he never met, admiring his grandfather in the big screen of the concert hall and asking: is that man granpa? I wished someone had answered: “son, no matter how big you think he might have been, he would always be more proud of you; of Sandra, of Sasha and of Zoe!.
On November 18th, surfing the web for articles on him, I found a website in which I truly felt the same passion for this man, for this legend. The podcast on AsturScore was just great, sublime, of an exquisite taste and incredible research. The written editorial about Michael left me speechless, as it did to Zoe, his daughter, as I was reading it to her the other day. I am truly grateful to AsturScore for this tribute. It is necessary, it is beautiful! I hope that this relationship I have started with AsturScore is just the beginning of something very special that honours the memory of this great composer and better person. I do not think that it is not a coincidence that this composer that meant so much to me in my years of teenage hood (through his music even if not yet through his character), has appeared again in my life in this precise moment. I learnt the other day that he, like me, did not believe in coincidences. He, like me, adored conducting like a child adores playing with train tracks (that was the comparison Sandra used to explain his love for conducting). For now, until next time, I want to give everyone at AsturScore my biggest CONGRATULATIONS from London on a really well done job! IT IS A TRUE HONOUR HAVING MET YOU!
Pablo Ortiz de Urbina is Main Conductor at the London City Orchestra, as well as Music Director at RCM Student’s Film Orchestra, french horn teacher and member of Cataleya Quintet www.cataleyaquintet.com
Penka D. Kouneva
On Michael Kamen (July 25, 2009):
I credit Michael Kamen and his score to Terry Gilliam’s «Brazil» as one of the most profound inspirations for my pursuit of a career in film scoring. I was so lucky to meet him in person during the 2001 Sundance Composers Lab where he was our Advisor.
On August 12 this year, on a chamber music concert VOICES OF HOLLYWOOD (part of the Beverly Hills Music Festival), my music will sound right next to Michael Kamen’s music. I feel so unspeakably inspired and honored … and have been reminiscing lately upon the significance of this serendipitous concert programming.
I’ve been a gigantic fan of Michael Kamen since 1981 when I got my very first double record of Pink Floyd’s THE WALL. Pink Floyd was my salvation during tough, lonely and repressed teenage years. My sister Bonnie and I were ardent Pink Floyd fans and listened to their music constantly. I purchased THE WALL record on the black market, paying something like 3 months’ worth of my snack allowances. (The «used» record, naturally, was skipping. My purchase – both illegal and defective – had to remain hidden from my parents, and to be buried deeply in the drawer.) While I couldn’t play the records themselves, I translated all lyrics from English to Bulgarian, studied every image, line, stroke and credit on the record sleeve. I found this name …… Michael Kamen … who had contributed the orchestral arrangements, including for the most cathartic songs: Comfortably Numb, The Trial, Hey You, Bring the Boys Back Home, and others.
«Kamen» in all Slavic languages means «stone» and is also a beautiful Bulgarian male name. (Later I found out that his ancestral name was Kaminsky and he came from Polish Jewish ancestry but because of the quota on Jewish students in the universities, his father or grandfather had to change the name to Kamen.)
In 1986, while still in Bulgaria, I watched Terry Gilliam’s «BRAZIL» (1985) and this film became THE illumination, the catalyst, the lightning and one of my top 3 most favorite films from my formative years. I so completely identified with BRAZIL, with its themes of repression, consumerism, bureaucracy, totalitarian dictatorship. After all, the possibility of someone knocking down your windows and arresting your family has been a reality for many generations in communist Bulgaria, and a distinct fear that haunted me all throughout my childhood. But then … the images of BRAZIL … the symbolism of the monoliths, the dwarfs … the layered meanings … the black sarcasm, the puny protagonist, the grotesque characters, the devastated landscapes and the billboards … A genius critique of a social system packaged as a black comedy-retro-futuristic sci-fi insane extravaganza.
«BRAZIL» … the soundtrack … it hit me as a lightning of cosmic proportion. Kamen’s arrangement of Geoff Muldaur’s fun escapist song BRAZIIIIL, all orchestral apparitions of it, the pivotal scene in the silo when Robert DeNiro’s character was gliding down to save the hapless protagonist from the torture chair accompanied by a most glorious fanfare of hope …. Arguably, «Brazil» was the strongest, most visceral and profound experience of filmmaking and scoring genius I felt at the time. Its impact upon me was earth-shaking.
I so deeply identified with Kamen: Juilliard-trained, he came from a classical background and then crossed over to popular music and film, ultimately building a spectacular composing style that fused tradition and avant-guard, classical and vernacular, stadium rock with most intimate solo tunes. He was my role model and shining star. I identified with him because – similarly to my home – he grew up in a cultured environment with regular «salons» (house concerts), played Bach chorales on his harpsichord, and his Oboe … and arranged for the iconic rock stars. During the 80’s, in my country there was still a schism between classical concert and rock music. One could not be doing both … one had to choose to be either a moldy academic, or a live-fast rock musician …. but Michael was doing it all, and I was determined to find ways to do it too.
In 2001, I had the fantastic privilege and honor to be selected as a Sundance Composers Lab fellow. Michael came towards the end of the first week. I was a star-struck fanboy with a fluttering heart. This was my singular moment of meeting my Childhood Star.
He always dressed in silk purple shirts, perfectly pressed. A tall imposing man, he walked with a cane. Despite the physical pain (keeping his MS a secret), he always had an infectious smile, and most intense, penetrating look. The first night at the bar I came out as his fan since my teen years, and spoke of the impact of «BRAZIL.» He humbly made the «namaste» gesture as I mentioned Terry Gilliam’s name. (I realized Terry Gilliam was a sore subject … at one time inseparable collaborators on many fantastic films, incl. BARON MUNCHAUSEN, they later parted ways.)
As an advisor, Michael was gracious and encouraging. Behind his charming smile were those piercing fiery eyes — probing, making sure you knew what you were getting into with film scoring. Funny and profound, playful and dead-serious, speaking about scoring simultaneously in intellectual and visceral ways…. a gigantic presence, a gigantic personality.
His anecdotes were to die for …. like this one: during cue playbacks, certain director was fussy and whiny, and Michael’s dog farted right in his face …
In the fall of 2003, Daniel and I saw together OPEN RANGE, a brooding Western, with a beautiful haunting score by MK. Later that fall, I wrote my Holiday Card to him the day before he passed away.
I’d be amiss if I don’t thank Sharon Farber for inviting me to submit a piece for this program on August 12. Thank you Sharon, my good friend ! And also I owe deepest gratitude to Peter Golub …. karmically we are on the same program, too. A great friend since my Sundance times, Peter recently plugged me in as orchestrator for Police’s Stewart Copeland on a rock-symphonic arena show called BEN HUR LIVE — a step towards my becoming an arranger for rock acts.
Michael Kamen, your legacy lives on. Thank you for being my shining star since I was 14. I am here today because you lit the torch and illuminated my way.
All about Penka Kouneva en www.penkakouneva.com
Michael Kamen was a unique personality within the community of film composers who have joined us for years. Optimistic personality, loved life, loved music, and loved his wife and daughters (to who always dedicated all his albums). I never knew him personally, but through his music, he always generated me this sensation of “joi de vivre”, that good feeling.
His death was very hard, too young, too fast. The maestro left us too soon – even if it sounds like a cliché – but in the case of a composer of his magnetism, his charisma and his characteristic style, I think it seems necessary to emphasize it again.
Thinking in his works, brings me back first to his collaborations with Pink Floyd («The Wall» Alan Parker’s film, with wonderful arrangements) and Metallica … Also I think his two saxophone concerts for guitar & orchestra and electrical guitar & orchestra are anthological (in that brave will to join two apparently distant worlds, classic and modern) where he offered two absolute masterpieces of contemporary composition.
Then there is the Kamen who composed film music: First of all, a style, a sound, and a personality that quickly found a place into the masters of 80s and 90s. Author of the music of several iconic movie titles from our adolescence and youth, being undeniably one of the greatest creators of action film music of those years (probably rivaling at the best projects with Jerry Goldsmith … and who was lucky enough to ally with Joel Silver) before the autopilot music just annihilated good film music.
Kamen, with a specially true symphonic style that was sometimes mixed with rock roots that were never concealed (roots he never gave up), created unforgettable and emblematic scores for «Die Hard», the eighties «Highlander» (also working with the group Queen), the «Lethal Weapon» series (with friends, colleagues like David Sanborn and Eric Clapton), also also took part in that fun vehicle for Arnold Schwatzenegger that was » Last Action Hero» … or especially in a gem that I will never get tired of claiming: his splendid contributions to the James Bond saga with «License to Kill» (and it’s a pity he wasn’t called again and that the recording was one of the worst in the series) …
In the more extreme and muscular style of the maestro, I cannot fail to mention the tune of «Edge Of Darkness», music for the BBC series, that probably is one of the coolest, darn powerful and potent leitmotifs I’ve ever heard in my life (collaborating with the electric guitar of his friend Eric Clapton).
Then there are two fields that equally seduce me: The symphonic Kamen, with those total masterpieces such as «Brazil» (an incredible orchestration job and arrangements of the mythic Barroso theme), «The Adventures of Baron Münchausen» (for me the summit of his style), «Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves», his only collaboration with David Cronenberg in «The Dead Zone», his wonderful contribution to animation genre with «The Iron Giant», or his great farewell to cinema with a Western – with the memorable score and movie that is «Open Range», directed by undervalued Kevin Costner.
And no, I do not forget about the most intimate Kamen, with small delicate pieces of musical jewelry like «The Winter Guest», or a more romantic and passionate symphony in «What dreams may come», «Mr Holland’s Opus” or «Circle of Friends «… All of them showing the passion that he put on each project.
Definitely, as years go by, we miss his personality at times like the present. I always regret not having seen him during his concert in Valencia in the 90s (they did the concert during work days, and I could not get away) and I keep a couple of signed CDs as a treasure («Licence To Kill», «The Last Action Hero «) and also a vinyl (» Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves «) who kindly was given to him by some of my friends that were lucky enough to enjoy the concert.
I remember that my friend Jordi Rosell has a photo at home where he is hugging Kamen, and whenever I see that picture – besides some “healthy” envy – I feel how the image communicates that good feeling, that love to life and the music of the maestro. A feeling that every time I review one of his scores, or one of his compositions, comes back to me.
Germán Barón Borrás teaches Audiovisual Media. He composes music for shorts, is partner in organizing the Film Music Festival City of Ubeda, and is fan and crazy about soundtracks since he noticed them at an early age.
In the summer of 2011, I went to the Ubeda Film Music Festival to produce a concert featuring choral film music. The festival featured a tribute to the late Michael Kamen and some of the attending composers had been working with the legendary maestro during his final years in life. Christopher Lennertz and Blake Neely were there, performed his music and told very heart-warming stories about their time with Michael.
For the encore of my choral concert I had the idea to present a surprise gift to the audience: an a cappella version of Michael’s very beautiful theme for Band of Brothers. I had arranged myself the wordless composition, originally scored for big orchestra and choir, for the Coro Ziryab to perform.
There was a very emotional energy going on during this concert, which took place in a big church with beautiful acoustics, and a lot of people felt this piece was a highlight and a beautiful way to close the concert, and in fact the whole festival as this was its final event.
I have a very strong memory from this concert. Me and my girlfriend (now my wife) sat a few rows behind Blake Neely and his wife, Beth. When the choir had been singing this arrangement of the Band of Brothers theme for a little while, I couldn’t help notice that Blake bowed his head, whispered something to Beth, then shook his head… and I was petrified! At the time I did not know Blake personally, and I feared maybe he hated the arrangement.
After the final chord of the piece, Blake turned around to catch my eyes and I could barely look at him. But what those friendly blue eyes conveyed was something else. The piece had moved Blake to tears and this tribute to his great mentor was obviously reflecting the spirit of Michael in a very moving way.
I am not telling this story to prove my own success, but to try and illustrate what a huge impact Michael Kamen and his music had on the people he worked with, and of course also his audience. Following the Ubeda concert, I secured the rights to release Michael’s final score, Back to Gaya, on CD on my MovieScore Media label. Working on the album sequencing and mastering with the input from Michael’s colleagues, including Blake Neely, Ilan Eshkeri, Steve McLaughlin and Chris Brooks, it became even more clear to me that the devotion, love and respect industry people, and especially members of his team, felt for Michael Kamen was unmistakable.
I never met Michael myself, but during my days as a film music journalist it happened now and then that I corresponded with him via email or over the phone. He was one of those generous persons who would make you feel like you had known him for decades. He would always answer any questions without all the political bullshit that sometimes seem to permeate film composer interviews these days. He cared deeply about his music. If for some reason the film was not right for him, at least late in his career, he would leave it to someone else to score. When he left scoring duties on Tomb Raider in 2001, he wrote a note to me: “As good as Tomb Raider might be and as good looking as Angelina Jolie is, I’m much better suited to involve myself with projects that I am deeply emotionally involved in like Band of Brothers”. And when it turned out he wouldn’t be scoring Renny Harlin’s Exorcist movie, he just said: “There are disappointments in the world but I suspect that the change of composers for Exorcist actually has nothing to do with me. It’s the director’s prerogative and I will busy myself making music without a deadline.”
This passion for music above all is perhaps something that we sometimes miss in the world of film music today. The industry has good reasons to reward composers who always put the film in the first place, second, third place and their own passion for music somewhere much lower on the list. And I am sure any film composer out there would say that the film always comes first. I am sure that’s what Michael said too – but at what cost? Michael Kamen certainly wrote amazing scores that served the movies in the best possible way but in my book the true, unmasked emotional impact of his music always came from Michael’s heart more than the film’s narrative. It had a quality that spells out honesty.
I think it had to do with his passion for music – and life.
All about Mikael Carlsson en mikaelcarlsson.com
Michael Kamen was one of the greatest. He still is. Well, his legacy. His music. His albums keep getting released thanks to different film music specialized labels, which makes his huge catalog of good film scores come really alive.
But of course, like most great composers, artists, creatives, they eventually have to leave us as a fact of life; one misses that last score composed for that movie we can all see in theaters. One thing we can still enjoy with giants such as John Williams or Ennio Morricone (and make it for many years).
The demise of Michael Kamen represented an irritating loss for art in general and for the world of music in particular. You already know that he was devoted not only to composing for films. He was a wondrous arranger and his relation to the world of Rock has given us enthusiasts of this genre more than joy.
Bryan Adams has not been the same without him. His albums are now boring and no one knew better than Kamen how to draw those attributes for melodic rock song the Canadian has.
Metallica, and I beg the pardon of this group fan boys, as they are a very aggressive bunch (I hope not to lose a leg because of this), keep having the same sound in all their songs, except when Kamen got involved and gave us that brutal live performance S&M was, with Morricone’s “The Ecstasy of Gold”, as an introduction, sounding even better than the original (and I beg the pardon of Morricone’s fan boys too).
His Concerto for Saxophone with David Sanborn is a refinement typical of him. His Guitar Concerto, which had him joining forces with Tomoasu Hotei, a delicacy that opened the doors of the Asian market. Kamen was not only film music, but thanks to film music we loved him.
I dare say he passed away in his prime. Although my favorite of his soundtracks is “Highlander”, I think his roundest scores move among “Open Range”, “What Dreams May Come”, “Band of Brothers” or, above all, “The Iron Giant”.
I have not in my list neither “Against the Ropes” nor “Back to Gaya”, which are very disappointing scores considering his artistic background and which obviously coincided with his last farewell, so he was not professionally involved at his fullest.
As Director of a Festival such as the one in Córdoba, and being a selfish producer, one may only make a fuss, knowing Michael was a perfect guest for our Festival.
I never met him, although we exchanged some other e-mail. Someone accessible, with good manners I would like to see in some other artists with less than a tenth of his professional career.
Kamen was great as a professional and a giant as an artist. Thanks to mutual friends I know that his success was due not only to his talent, but also to a huge amount of work and a boundless dedication.
A clear message for future generations: talent is not enough. One must work a lot and be a clear thinker.
Charged at the time with having a similar tonality in his scores, above all in action ones, one thinks about it now, in these times of shameless cloning, -where personality is lost against the encouragement of a unified work system based on the style of one guy, who I personally love, but it is becoming exhausting due to over-exploitation –and smiles knowing that Kamen was unique, with his intense personality shining in all his scores.
Michael Kamen achieved that those of us who did never met him were able to truly know him thanks to his music. He was not a reiterative composer. He was a composer with a prodigious, bright and intense personality. And his music was equally prodigious, bright and personal.
And a person of those characteristics, independently of being an artist, when passing away, leaves an unfathomable void.
And even more if you are Michael Kamen.
David Doncel is currently President of the International Film Music Festival of Córdoba (formerly Úbeda) and PlayFest, in addition to writing for veteran spanish web BSOSpirit, and co-founder of Leitmotif Music.
I’m sure lots of people will, quite rightly, write about what a great composer Michael Kamen was, and will wax lyrical about his music, but I want to take a few minutes to reminisce about what a great man he was.
Michael Kamen was the first film music composer I ever met in person. Back in 1998, when I was young and naïve and knew nothing about protocol, I had rather over-enthusiastically called his home office to ask if I could interview him – and, shockingly, he said yes. In the company of my good friend James Southall, himself an outstanding writer and film music critic, I turned up at his Georgian house in the Notting Hill district of London, armed with a small tape recorder and a list of questions which he had no doubt been asked a thousand times before, but which I was going to ask again anyway because I didn’t know any better. Michael answered the door himself, and led us inside.
Michael’s house was a celebration of art. Beautiful marble and tile floors, antique furniture and artwork, books about music and painting and architecture piled everywhere, a visual celebration of everything that’s good about the creative instinct. There was a beautiful and obviously very expensive electric guitar lying on a rug on the floor in his study which I had to step around; Michael said nonchalantly, “Oh, yeah, that’s Eric Clapton’s, he was round here last night working with me on Lethal Weapon 4”. I was incredibly nervous, but Michael welcomed me into his home like an old friend, put me at ease with his sense of humor and his wit, and never once treated me like the young know-nothing wannabe film music journalist that I was. He answered each question James and I put to him thoughtfully, replying at length and in detail, giving us is his insight without hesitation. He posed for photos, gave us a tour of his office, and even gave us an impromptu performance on the priceless harpsichord he kept in the corner of his living room. It was wonderful, and typical of who Michael was as a person.
I met Michael several times over the next few years. He came up to my home city of Sheffield to take part in a film and music festival that I co-organized, where I interviewed him on-stage and introduced a screening of his own favorite film/score combination, BRAZIL. I had dinner with him that night, and he was as charming and accommodating as ever. I was able to attend the UK premiere of his Millennium symphony, “THE NEW MOON IN THE OLD MOON’S ARMS”, at the Royal Academy of Music in London in 2001, and he was an effusive host.
When Michael died in November of 2003, just weeks after announcing he had multiple sclerosis, film music lost one of its true masters. In the years leading up to his death, he had arguably been in the most stunning creative period of his career; not only did he write his wonderful Millennium Symphony, but he completed the pioneering heavy metal fusion album “S&M” with Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, as well as a handful of truly excellent scores, ranging from WHAT DREAMS MAY COME and THE IRON GIANT to BAND OF BROTHERS and OPEN RANGE. While he was rightly lauded for his work scoring popular action movies in the DIE HARD and LETHAL WEAPON franchises, Kamen’s true heart could be found in these more intimate, lyrical, personal works, all of which spoke profoundly of his personality, his warmth, and his generosity.
In addition to the enduring popularity of his music, Michael’s legacy also continues through the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, which was launched following his work on the movie of the same name. The Foundation aims to provide opportunities for children from under-privileged communities, giving them access to musical instruments and be taught music in schools which would otherwise be unable to afford the programs. His habitual dedication in his CD liner notes – “It’s all for Sandra, Sasha and Zoe” – gives some indication of his love for his family, which stands firmly alongside his commitment to helping those in need.
Michael Kamen was a truly great film composer, and his death robbed us of years of potentially wonderful music, but it is for his qualities as a human being that he is equally – if not more – missed.
Jon Broxton is president of International Film Music Critics Association (IFMCA) the largest international association that brings together members of all kinds of media. All about Jon in IFMCA.
Randall D. Larson
The death of Michael Kamen at the young age of 55 on Nov. 18, 2003, ended a diverse career in popular music, depriving new films in nearly every genre of cinema of a unique musical voice and personality.
I never had the opportunity to interview Michael Kamen myself, but I edited a few Q&A sessions by others for Soundtrack magazine. When I was researching his score for the 2000 time-travel thriller FREQUENCY for a book of mine, listening to his audio commentary on the film’s DVD release was a marvelous revelation: it was such a personable and candid conversation that I felt like I was sitting in his studio engaged with rapt attention as he spoke enthusiastically and casually to me about his experiences scoring that film, coming up with the right kind of music for its various dramatic twists and turns. Hearing him speak really personalized the tragedy of his early death to me, and grief over his passing became quite palpable as I listened.
His music has been a wonderful part of my growth as an aficionado of the music of cinema – and even before that, with his work with Mark Snow as founders of The New York Rock and Roll Ensemble in 1966, one of the first American “crossover” bands to popularize orchestral rock and roll. In a similar kind of “Double Life” that Miklós Rózsa had spoken about, Kamen kept a foot in two worlds – popular music and film music – for most of his professional life, providing orchestral arrangements for Pink Floyd’s album, The Wall, which brought him permanently to England, where he gained additional commissions to compose ballet scores and film music. Later he would work with Eric Clapton and Metallica, fusing their rock and metal music to complementary orchestral partnerships.
One of his first scores was for VENOM (1981), a story about a deadly snake loose in a London estate; it was followed shortly by David Cronenberg’s THE DEAD ZONE (1983), where he replaced the director’s usual composer, Howard Shore, who had apparently been ousted by the DeLaurentiis company against Cronenberg’s will. Being very keen on science fiction and horror film music, I was quite taken with these scores, but it was his music for Terry Gilliam’s BRAZIL (1985) that really knocked my retro-future socks off. Kamen was asked to base much of that score on Ary Boroso’s 1930s pop tune, “Brazil,” a song that he had much distaste for at the time. But he found its beauty when he heard an original Brazilian recording of the tune, as opposed to the schmaltzy, sudsy American pop iterations he’d grown up hearing, and he went on to develop a compelling score that fit Gilliam’s enigmatic and disconsolate vision of a bureaucratic future. From its quietly humorous moments to its broad, epic fantasy, Kamen focused his music almost entirely on the character – and fantasies – of protagonist Frank Lowry. When Gilliam came back to ask Kamen to score THE ADVENTURES OF MUNCHAUSEN in 1988, the composer was only too happy to sign up. 1991’s THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD for Kevin Reynolds also contrasted a lavish heroic/adventure theme for the titular bowman with a beautifully intricate love theme for Robin and Miriam, as he would in Stephen Herek’s 1993 version of THE THREE MUSKETEERS.
From Gilliam & Robin Hood to Riggs & Murtaugh, John McClane, and James Bond, Kamen from the late 1980s to the late ‘90s proved a formidable composer for action films, translating his pop music savvy into muscular, aggressive orchestral scores that rocked and rolled with symphonic excitement. Kamen was the first composer to step into the musical shoes of James Bond when 007’s usual composer John Barry fell ill after scoring THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS; In LICENSE TO KILL (1989) Kamen was able to invest own style into the James Bond musical milieu without departing too far from the signature sound developed by Barry. He went on to score the next two DIE HARD movies (1990, 1995), all four LETHAL WEAPON films (1987-1998), demonstrated in each a knack for meaningful action writing. He explored the worlds of science fiction in Paul W. S. Anderson’s dark thriller EVENT HORIZON (1997), keeping the audience on edge with a disturbing mix of orchestra and techno, and wrote a poignant romantic score for WHAT DREAMS MAY COME (1998), a film based on Richard Matheson’s metaphysical 1978 fantasy novel about a man who dies and goes to “heaven” only to descend into hell in order to rescue his wife (Kamen replaced a score compose by Ennio Morricone that had been deemed overly emotional by the filmmakers).
Hearkening back to his early days in New York City, Kamen took his main theme from a song called “Beside You” that he had co-written with Mark Snow in the 1970s they were both in the New York Rock Ensemble; it’s lovely lyricism was set in severe contrast to his brutal sonic interpretation of hell, contrasting its vague wasteland with the continually yearning romantic motif that drives the protagonist.
Kamen composed a sparkling and superbly melodramatic score for Disney’s lavish live action version of 101 DALMATIANS (1996) and similarly charismatic music for Brad Bird’s animated science fiction feature THE IRON GIANT (1999). Bird had temped THE IRON GIANT with a collection of Bernard Herrmann science fiction music from the ‘50s, prompting Kamen to seek out the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in Prague to record the score in order to give it an authentic old fashioned eastern European flavor. Working with Tom Hanks’ company resulted in two of Kamen’s finest efforts – two episodes of the World War II miniseries BAND OF BROTHERS and three of the Apollo space program miniseries FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON, both scores that echoed with intimate pride of brotherhood, achievement, and tragedy.
Then came that favorite of mine, Gregory Hoblits’ 2000 time-travel thriller FREQUENCY, in which a father and son communicate across time using a short-wave radio, with unexpected consequences. Kamen’s music plays down the science fictionesque concepts that set the stage for the story, and focused instead on the relationship between father and son, which is the crux of the piece. “It was a very curious film to do because it had bits of action in it, big scenes in a fire and a mad killer running through town… but it wasn’t an action movie,” Kamen said in his DVD commentary. “It certainly didn’t read as an action movie… It was integrated into a much deeper story about the two main characters reaching out to each other and actually changing each other’s future by responding and being able to communicate through time.”
Bryan Singer’s X-MEN (2000), one of the first big screen incarnations of Marvel super heroes, was Kamen’s next score. The success of Singer’s film led to a series of X-MEN films and prompted the reemergence of the super-hero film, which as we have seen has exploded in the last decade. Kamen’s orchestral score for X-MEN is a pulsating exercise for orchestra and synthesizer, as much a mutation of the acoustic and the electronic as the super-powered humanistic anomalies that are the film’s heroes.
Michael Kamen died as he was in the midst of scoring the German animated fantasy BACK TO GAYA; the score was completed by a team headed by Kamen’s long-time associates Steve McLaughlin (producer/recording engineer) and Christopher Brooks (producer/music editor) using Kamen’s unfinished sketches complemented by unused music from previous film projects and additional music composed by Ilan Eshkeri (now a prominent film composer in his own right) and Robert Elhai (Kamen’s lead orchestrator for many years). Thankfully, his score for this elusive animated film has been made available on an album by MovieScore Media, allowing his final work for cinema to be heard and regarded.
“Although Michael wasn’t there to actually tailor the music to the picture, you can hear his voice in every single bar, every nuance, every phrase of the score,” noted the album’s producer, Mikael Karlsson – his words are true of virtually everything Kamen wrote for cinema; his enthusiasm and gusto pours out in every piece of thundering battle music and every fragile, poignant soliloquy.
Ten years is a difficult anniversary to mark, but a worthwhile one to pause in our busy daily doings and pay our respects Michael Kamen the artist, the gentleman, the warm, enthusiastic human being. We miss him along with all those wonderful scores he would have written in his later years, but his music remains to speak in his place. It does so with a voice of passion, honesty, vigor, and sensitivity.
Randall D. Larson writes regularly in various media about soundtracks, most notably on BuySoundtrax (BSX). More about Randall in IFMCA where he is a member.
When one is asked to pay tribute to a film composer and his entire career, one is inclined to argue for his subject and tell his prospective audience why that composer merits special attention. Or to put it another way: what makes this composer stand out, what is that special thing that nobody does better than him? Allow me to answer these questions with the help of a brief rundown regarding some of my own personal favourites from Kamen’s oeuvre.
In Kamen’s case, I feel what made him stand out is the same thing that made him somewhat underappreciated in the eyes of the general public – namely his talent of collaborating with other artists, incorporating and adapting other people’s work by adding his own twist to it. Make no mistake, composers are usually a very proud bunch, so what Michael Kamen achieved during his 20+ years in the film business takes a special kind of talent, one that requires a lot of diplomatic skills and the sort of humble, self-sacrificing approach that’s so hard to come by in this incredibly competitive business.
The reason for this talent originates from the composer’s background in the London pop/rock scene. As an arranger and session player, Kamen worked with Pink Floyd and co-produced The Wall (1982) with the band by contributing to the orchestral sessions of the songs and the score. This work was already a good training ground for human communication as Pink Floyd was on the verge of breaking into pieces as Roger Waters left the band in 1985. But Kamen survived as he was one of the few people who could work with both Waters and Gilmour’s on-going Pink Floyd even though the musicians themselves weren’t in the best of speaking terms. Rock music is full of clashing egos and Kamen already showed he can navigate in the best possible direction in this business.
While working on The Wall, Kamen’s talents were discovered by percussionist Ray Cooper who was also an executive of Handmade Films (the film company of ex-Beatle George Harrison). Cooper thought Kamen would be ideal to score their next feature film – Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) whose complex production lead to about five different cuts of the movie. But the music was also problematic. During his first meeting with Gilliam, Kamen was baffled to learn that the main theme was already chosen for him: «Aquarela do Brasil» by Ary Barroso. In his own words, Kamen was shocked that this goofy song, which was the standard tune for «bar mitzvah conga lines», was selected for the film and he resented until he saw the film: «Aquarela do Brasil» was all over the place and couldn’t be removed from the plot.
Kamen made the best out of this situation and used the pre-selected song to his advantage; by carefully examining the main melody, he unearthed valuable thematic material after removing the layers of «Xavier Cugat». He used the original theme, he wrote his own variations and he adapted Barroso’s tune to virtually every scene in one way or another. Since the license for the song had to be paid per every used minute, the entire score was examined by musicologists who had to determine whether any given section of the music was the «Barroso song» or a «Kamen original». Even though every second of Brazil’s score was steeped in the original tune, the team of musicologists eventually determined that the score had more original score than song quotations – Kamen’s variations now counted as original music and Brazil triumphed as a result.
Let’s take a look at a lesser-known Kamen score for a similar example: Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa (1986) was another film where the title was inspired by a song and that song had to be featured in the score as well. Jordan’s movie takes place in the London underworld and tells the story of a delivery driver who is assigned to escort an exotic call-girl to her clients. The unlikely friendship is underscored by two Nat King Cole tunes: the titular «Mona Lisa» and the even more important «When I Fall in Love». While contributing to the soundtrack, Kamen was asked to incorporate elements of both songs into the score and we even get some wonderful instrumental/orchestral variations of the material. Originally released by EMI and recently issued on CD by Spanish specialty label Quartet Records, Mona Lisa is a really underappreciated testament to Kamen’s versatility as an arranger.
Kamen’s involvement in the Tobe Hooper horror Lifeforce (1985) was another thankless job for a composer as he was asked to make a film even scarier with his music. The original composer on this naked space vampire epic was Henry Mancini, who provided a lush, symphonic score and even composed an extended «space ballet» for a sequence where his music could be heard for 15 continuous minutes. This version worked well-enough in Europe, but the film was not only cut down for the US, but it was deemed that the music was too pretty for a horror and something scarier should be written. Kamen accepted the job, writing close to 20 minutes of creepy hybrid music for the scenes where the cuts were so great that the original music was unsalvageable as well. In this case, he didn’t have to adapt – he had to work around an existing work without stepping on anyone’s toes.
The composer’s magnum opus for Highlander(1986) both benefitted and suffered from the involvement of Queen, who contributed such classics to the soundtrack as «Princes of the Universe», «Gimme the Prize (Kurgan’s Theme)», «One Year of Love», «Don’t Lose Your Head», «Who Wants to Live Forever», and «A Kind of Magic». One of the rare artistic triumphs where the close collaboration between the score composer and a popular act resulted in a strong unity, there is an unforeseen dark side to this – namely that the score doesn’t have a proper release as of now. While the Queen songs were issued on a soundtrack, those songs were often not the versions heard in the film and it’s quite clear what Highlander fans seek the most: a CD that would incorporate the film versions of the Queen songs with Kamen’s score for the two are inseparable from each other, no matter what the legal powers might say to that…
And then there’s Kamen’s biggest shot an immortal theme song – his contributions to the 16th James Bond film Licence to Kill. The composer originally planned to have an instrumental main theme (akin to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) and even hired two valuable guitarists for the job: Eric Clapton (who had worked with the composer on Lethal Weapon amongst other things) and Vic Flick (the guitarist on the original «James Bond Theme»). The theme was written and there was even a music video shot as a video clip, but the producers eventually decided to go back to the basics and give «Goldfinger» a contemporary r ‘n’ b bent through Gladys Knight’s «Licence to Kill». Kamen’s main theme for the movie is still one of the most enduring urban legends of James Bond music history as it has never been released and its whereabouts are mysterious at the moment. The relatively late addition of «Licence to Kill» didn’t allow for establishing a strong connection between the song and the score and Kamen’s music unfortunately suffers from this change as a result. Just two years later, Kamen proved himself in this front with «Everything I Do, I Do It For You» – the Bryan Adams theme song for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was the kind of hit the Bond producers were looking for as well.
Apart from pop music, Kamen also found himself well-versed in the world of classical music as well. His incorporation of Beethoven’s «Ode to Joy» in Die Hard and the inclusion of Sibelius’ «Finlandia» in Die Hard 2 are among the greatest and most inspired reinterpretations of classical music in a contemporary setting. But here’s a fun fact: prior to Kamen’s Die Hard, the most significant cinematic appearance of «Ode to Joy» was in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange where this (and other) Beethoven works were used for the character of Alex. It’s a lesser known fact that another motive of Kubrick’s movie (“Singin’ in the Rain”) was also adapted for the Die Hard soundtrack, but all of its major appearances were cut out from the score and thus the musical quote was lost to the ages. This always struck me as an odd choice… There are two very clear musical references to A Clockwork Orange in Die Hard – perhaps Hans and his fellows were the Droogs of a new era?
These are just some of the highlights that come to my mind when I think about Michael Kamen’s career, but there are much more which I’m sure others will talk about gladly. The point I was trying to make is that Michael Kamen had an incredible talent in working around music penned by others and he was incredibly diplomatic when it came to these less-than-ideal situations. Nowadays composing is rightfully perceived as teamwork instead of an individual achievement and these (and other) Kamen soundtracks should prove that Kamen was not only an incredible leader, but also a selfless team player who was a great collaborator even if he didn’t pick his teammates. Whether it’s the case of a pre-selected theme song (Brazil), writing around the works of a living legend (Lifeforce), taking a bow for commercial reasons (Licence to Kill) or invoking the greatest of classical compositions to an iconoclastic effect (Die Hard) – Michael Kamen delivered exactly what the producers were expecting.
Needless to say, few filmmakers left his studio unsatisfied…
Gergely Hubai was born in 1984 in Veszprém. He graduated from the ELTE University in American Studies and History with teacher qualification in 2008. He is currently studying in the doctoral program of ELTE’s American Studies. His research looks at the relationship between artistic integrity and the Hollywood film industry through the analysis of rejected film scores. His writings and interviews on film music have been published on www.filmzene.net and other places. He regularly publishes interviews, CD resequences and film music restoration videos at the Daily Film Music Blog. He wrote the book Torn Music, about rejected works.
Why I can say that Michael changed my life?
We all can say that a piece of music left its mark on us. But for a non-professional musician like me, to say the same thing about a composer in person could sound a little bit pretentious. However, to say the truth, I must admit that I can’t help thinking that Michael Kamen himself had indirectly a true influence in my life.
I had the opportunity – or should I say the chance – to meet the great Michael twice, both times in Lunéville, a lovely town of East of France. In March 1999 he was the main guest in Les Cinéphonies, a little film music festival courageously organized by the local school of music. With a friend we decided to make specially the round trip only to attend the great musical evening, 700 kilometers in a slow little car which seemed to be moved only by our enthusiasm ! Even imperfect the concert was of course emotionally unforgettable – I even think I still have a old tape of it somewhere – and we had the pleasure to meet briefly the composer backstage to share some words and ask him for a signature. Believe it or not, on this very special evening, my first film music concert ever, my first encounter with a composer ever, I was not only intimidated but, for some reason, absolutely… voiceless ! I was unable to articulate a word nor even spell my own name, to such an extent that my friend did it for me ! With a warm smile Michael signed me a cover, adding the mention « Vox humana » to make it unique. And before it was time to come back to home, we helped him to carry his conducting scores and put them into a car. What a strong memory ! But the second one will be even stronger.
Two years later, in February 2001, Michael was back in Lunéville for a new edition of the same festival among other guests like Vladimir Cosma. This time the event was long-time awaited by all the little French film music community and, for me in particular, the whole experience with Michael was unexpectedly complete. The last day of the festival, with some friends we didn’t miss any opportunities which came to us : to attend the rehearsals with the orchestra, to have a interview (at this time I wrote for a fanzine called Colonne Sonore) and of course to attend another wonderful concert where Michael notably conducted himself for the first time his tone poem, The New Moon in the Old Moon’s Arms.
After the concert we were again lucky enough to join the final dinner party with the organization staff. At one time, Michael and his wife Sandra were neglected for a while, isolated at the end of the long table. Michael seemed a little tired (at this time we didn’t know he was already ill) but it was now or never : I approached them and pulled a piece of newspaper from my pocket. They welcomed me as usual with a great smile and took a look with curiosity at the photo I had in my hand. I explained to them that it came from a new episode of the TV serie Columbo called Murder with too many notes where a Hollywood film composer murders his orchestrator (and ghost writer). They both laughed when they saw the picture of the so-called composer who strangely looks like Michael, and explained to me that they know the existence of this episode but never saw it until now (I later learned that it was broadcasted in France as far back as May 2000 and not in other countries yet at this time). Sandra told me that Billy Connolly, who played the composer, was in fact one of their intimate friends. They were delighted to see this picture and thanked me for that. I will never forget the sparkling eyes of both Sandra and Michael.
Of course this unique moment is still one of my favorites memories but this particular evening was even more important for me : that was here, at this table, with Michael and Sandra sitting at the end of it, that I definitely sealed a new and strong friendship with another film music aficionado, Olivier Desbrosses. So when we finally decided seven years later to launch together our own webzine, UnderScores, and when it was time for me to write the first lines, the very first editorial, I had no other natural choice but to place our new baby under the spiritual aura of Michael Kamen.
Now, ten years after his death, there is no doubt that his music is considerably missing. But for those who had the chance to meet him personally, even briefly, believe me, we miss the man himself.
It’s all for you, Michael.
Florent Groult is co-founder and adjoint redactor of the well known french magazine UnderScores. More about Florent in that web and in IFMCA where he is a member.
When a composer of big talent as Michael Kamen dies early (at 55 years old), something breaks in the hearts of fans of good music, in special when you think in every work that could not see the light. His legacy is one of the most remarkable of cinema due to his chameleon-like ability which has become in his own style and personality.
This New Yorker was in contact with music from an early age, a constant characteristic along his life. First as a high school student in The High School of Music and Art of Nueva York, and later, in the prestigious Julliard School where he specialized in the oboe. His first works were focused in classic compositions for ballets, but soon he began to relate with pop and rock music, highlighting in his career famous collaborations with groups or artists like Pink Floyd, Bryan Ferry, David Bowie, Metallica and Sting.
Hollywood knocked on his door when he was 27 years old, through the irregular film The Next Man (El Árabe, 1976), with Sean Connery, a starting point to a brilliant career of unstoppable rise in which he participated in about a hundred films, TV series and documentaries.
In the 70’s, he only wrote three films for the big screen, with little repercussion, but in the 80’s, the situation took a drastic turn, specially when David Cronenberg appeared in his way to compose the music for his movie, The Dead Zone (La Zona Muerta, 1983), where Kamen took inspiration of the Second Movement of Symphony number 2 of Jean Sibelius (as well as his symphony Finland for the later film Die Harder 2) to write a score full of intense melancholy and lyrical romanticism.
Two years later he had his second big opportunity, thanks to the director Terry Gilliam and his Brazil (1985). This time, we find with the definitive statement of the charismatic and impressive style of Kamen, full of unmistakable tonalities, wandering between eh classicism more energetic and the riskier experimentalism, running away of any typecasting. Both artist worked three years later in the more risky and crazy cinematographic adventures of the end of the century: The adventures of Baron Munchausen (Las aventuras del Barón Munchausen, 1988). This eccentric proposal was a golden opportunity for the new yorker composer who squeezed perfectly the circus component of the plot, offering us a recital full of epic and majestic moments.
Although previous work supossed a real critical and professional accolade, it was Highlander (Los Inmortales, 1986) the score which opened him the gates of Hollywood, a collaboration with the British group Queen, and directed by Russell Mulcahy who jointed with exit the romantic with the fantastic and adventures (not as its sequels). Symphony and Rock twinned with great empathy, a melodic assembly where highlighted the poetic moments over the merely melodramatic.
Following in the prolific 80s, we found two key works in the camp of action movies soundtracks: Lethal Weapon (Arma Letal, 1987) and Die Hard (La Jungla de Cristal, 1988). Both scores are a sample of his unique talent to highlight the most dynamic moments of any film. Kamen creates two openly symphonic works, full of inspired moments, and as a character, they form a perfect symbiosis with both films.
After more or less fortunate scores, as Suspect (Sospechoso , 1987) and Licence to Kill (Licencia para Matar, 1989), Kamen reach the 90s with a background definitely settled within the industry , but , in a way, somewhat typecast by producers in genre films, such is the case of continuations of Lethal Weapon or Die Hard , or productions more or less successful as Hudson Hawk (El Gran Halcón, 1991) , The Last Boy Scout (El Último Boy Scout, 1991) and Last Action Hero (El Último Gran Héroe, 1993). Anyway, Kamen always tried to leave the typecasting accepting works away from the action genre; as well, they stood on merit passionate his compositions for Shining Through (Resplandor en la Oscuridad, 1992), the strongly romantic Don Juan DeMarco (1994), the classicist of Mr. Holland’s Opus (Profesor Holland, 1995), the funny 101 Dalmatians (101 Dalmatians, 1996) or , especially, the overwhelming What dreams may come (Más Allá de los Sueños, 1998), one of the most important soundtracks not only in his career but the entire decade.
His last stage as a composer, before his untimely death in 2003 at the early age of 53 years, was characterized by the creations full of subtlety and restraint where we found two melodic scores of incredible beauty: the television miniseries Band of Brothers (Hermanos de Sangre, 2001) and Open Range (2003). In the first case, he fled from the emphatic component to opt for a melodic line apparently slight but, in the background, it hides a refined sense of the tragic.
In the second case, Kamen avoids traditional canons referred to the «American» style of renowned authors such as Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland or Jerome Moross, forming a composition of beautiful melodies which explore the splendor of the large spaces ( in clear reference to the title of the film ). In addition, Open Range is a kind of posthumous requiem, it was one of his last compositions, and that character printed to the score an even more melancholy and intimate.
Michael Kamen has been and will be, one of the most iconic film music composers. Undoubtedly, his premature goodbye has made all the fans a feeling of deep distress, a grief that in the background intensifies our passion for unparalleled author who always remain alive thanks to his immortal art.
Ignacio Granda is author of Scoresdecine y Parejasdecine: Músico y director, two spanish websites about soundtracks.
David Martínez Balade
I’ve been 20 minutes at the computer with Michael’s music as a background (Movement II The prayer Part 1, New moon in the old moon’s arms) and I don’t know what to write. It’s not due to the lack of ideas, but the opposite. Speaking about Michael Kamen, means to me, that suddenly, a storm of thoughts and feelings come to my mind, and I listen to his music, and let myself go. Stop. I must stop them. I need to organize them. Kamen deserves this and much more. Let’s see, how I can guide this tribute to the master? Use your imagination. OK. What if I imagine a dialogue with him? What would I ask to Kamen and what would he ask me as a fan? Questions without answers, answers without questions. Or maybe not? This is only my humble tribute, made from love.
Somewhere in my imagination (and of course, the New Line logo and just after that with the Main titles of Robin Hood as background) ….
Michael Kamen: When did you start to get interested in my music?
Fan: With 10 years! My first memory of your music was at my cousin’s house. He was watching a rented movie from the video (blessed corners) in the living room with the door closed, and I was reading in another room. Suddenly, my cousin gets up and leaves the TV on and the door ajar. Soft notes begin to reach my ears, very quiet. They seem to be calling me. And I answer the call. I leave the reading, I am getting closer to the source. The music keeps calling. Suddenly, violins and trumpet. When I arrive I am staring at two guys with swords. The sequence continues but I do not hear what happens. I have been «abducted» by the music, so I do not care how do those two guys with swords finish. I have already imagined my ending. And that’s what interests me about your music. Your easiness to connect with the viewer’s imagination.
M. K.: Good! No big deal. I just did my job.
Fan: (I could not avoid it, Highlander’s Training Montage as background). Right! But there are ways and ways to connect through music with people. And you had a very special one. The simple fact of working with people as disparate as Pavarotti or Metallica makes very clear the respect and admiration they had on you, for how easy you made difficult things.
MK: Did you like more my score works or my songs?.
(As background The weapon from Lethal Weapon)
Fan: Aside from the aforementioned Pavarotti and Metallica, you worked with Eric Clapton, David Sanborn, Bryan Adams, Sting, Bon Jovi and many other artists. You had a great skill that I have not seen on any contemporary composer. The ability to create great movie songs. Currently I know of no other composer who can do it as you did. Like other great composers, you left your mark so deep in the music fans in general, without them even knowing who you were. They were only guided by the singer’s name. They don’t know what they’re missing.
(All for one, from The three musketeers)
MK: Ahh …. life is full of music. Don’t you think?
Fan: And full of musical stories. We all surely have some special moment with a musical theme of you. I just mentioned an example above. We owe you a great tribute. The one you got in Úbeda, should be only an appetizer, and I had a great time there. You left so soon, I still think we can’t believe it. You had so much life in your music, that is like a friend you always know you have, but you never see him, and years go by, and when you least expect it, you decide to see him with a smile on your face, showing that despite the time, that friend will always be with you. That’s what I get with your music, with you.
(John is found, Die Hard as background)
Every November is special for me as a fan of film music. This month, but in different years, two of my heroes died. Basil Poledouris and Michael Kamen. Their music is always with me but during this month, their presence is special, and I go where their melodies go. Those talks that I have with their music, make my values revive again, with Basil, courage to face life as his «Conan». Kamen is my «Ramirez», my mentor, the one that gives me energy for life, the «James Dalton» to maintain my composure, the «Martin Higgs» with his crazy acts, the «John McClane» with the desire to survive and I hope that one day, it will be my «Albert Lewis» to guide me. And no, I’m not forgetting, because it will always be «Glenn Holland» that inspires me in my classes.
(An American symphony from Mr. Holland’s opus)
David Martínez «marbala» is a teacher and author of “La educación primaria a través de la música de cine” (Primary education through film music). He’s confessed admirer of Michael Kamen, fan of culture and defends film music for education as a basic resource.
Where did I hear this melody which I hummed when I hadn’t MP4? It was pure symphonic, as it should be in the great majority of the actual films. I Tried to remember it, but I failed all the time, until I remembered certain melodies from my old VHS tapes, with films like The Mummy, Men In Black, Babe and 101 Dalmatians, all them with exceptional works of composers like Jerry Goldsmith, Danny Elfman, Nigel Westlake y Michael Kamen.
It was the moment to download them, many of them difficult to find in the web. I had to wait around a year to find a final surprise; something had uploaded 100 Dalmatians (I had heard few about Kamen, I only knew his works for The Iron Giant and Die Hard), and that was the mysterious melody, an exceptional work which improved the movie. I listened to it without interruption, a great and underrated score; I was investigating about Kamen, and I discovered the great The Iron Giant. They were two kids movies where Kamen transmitted perfectly the nostalgia and magic of these films (the Main Titles of 101 Dalmatians were used in the intro of the Oscar of 2004, one of the best intro).
Then, Mr Holland’s Opus or The Three Musketeers remarked and highlighted to Kamen as a composer with an unique style, something that it’s lost in Hollywood.
A boring afternoon, I put on the tv Die Hard to listen the famous music of Michael Kamen; I hoped to find something similar to Poledouris or Goldsmith style, but I found something very different and tremendous; an action score full of musical references, with an excellent and original instrumentation, a dynamic and rhythmic score. But when I listened to the score of Die Harder (Die Hard 2), the surprise was higher, one of the best action scores which I have listened (next to Total Recall, First Blood I & II and Robocop), where Kamen shines as a great and prolific composer.
But many times I discovered these composers later, so I won’t be able to enjoy new works of them. Kamen left us in 2003, and a year later, Goldsmith and Bernstein, the worst years for the music in cinema.
Jorge Godoy: Born in Chile, my family thought that TV would be my end as a person: full of Martians, mummies, vampires, mystery programs, etc… From a very young age I rented horror VHSs, and I fell down fascinated with the quality of yesteryear cinema, so I became a true video store mouse. Luckily I usually knew what to choose, in order to inspire me and stimulate my imagination to write stories, create short films and movies and create my own VHS covers. In short, they were all wrong.
Jerry Goldsmith has been one of my biggest inspirations for composing and writing, which led me to discover the BSO Spirit website, where I met a great new friend, and then I started reading his reviews on Goldsmith and then share the same tastes and opinions on music and cinema.
Enrique Moreno Escribano
The eighteenth of November of 2013 marks ten years since the untimely death of one of the greatest composers of film music in twentieth century: Michael Kamen. This author of rhythms and melodies, in which he placed body and soul, was only fifty five at the time of passing away. There are two movies that aroused my interest in Michael Kamen’s music.
I remember that the first one I saw with music by him was “Highlander”, and before the show I had read somewhere “music by Michel Kamen and Queen” and thought… “Let’s see how this results”. I left the theater excited, if I loved the movie, the music written by Kamen, together with Queen’s songs on screen, gave a unique perspective to a movie not affected by time. Curious enough, the album including Queen’s songs was a hit at that time, as expected, but Kamen’s music is still waiting, as of today, an official and complete release. Fortunately for fans, there are several good quality non-official releases that cover for it.
That was 1986, but in 1988 I saw another movie with music by Kamen, “Die Hard”, one classic which finally rounded my admiration as well as that of many others for this composer’s music. It is a feast of action themes combined with melodies ranging from Beethoven to Christmas time. This soundtrack was a kind of “Holy Grail” for fans for quite a long time. In this case, a “non-official” reissue was released and, later on, there have been another two official releases, the last one with two CDs. The film was a such a box-office hit that the franchise is still on twenty five years later, though Kamen only composed the first three installments; but we do not really know if he would have keep moving with the franchise.
Features such as “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”, the “Lethal Weapon” franchise (where he cooperated with Eric Clapton and David Sanborn, for the latter he would write the fantastic Concerto for Saxophone), “Brazil”, “Last Action Hero”, “Jack”, “The Dead Zone” and many others, showcase the versatility of a musician who began learning oboe in his home city, New York.
To his role as film composer, we need to add the ones as ballet composer, concert composer (for several “instruments and orchestra”), arranger and conductor of albums for rock and pop bands. His contribution to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”, conducting the orchestra, and later live performance in the legendary concert after the fall of Berlin Wall, is a highlight in his career as conductor. Michael Kamen was always related to the Rock world since his beginnings. His collaboration with Metallica in 2000 on “S&M”, conducting the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, is a real delight for both fans of heavy or of classical orchestra. An album one hundred percent recommendable and equally enjoyable on DVD and that marked the starting point for several heavy and rock bands to launch concerts of their repertoire with a symphony orchestra.
Luckily for myself and many other film music fans, Tuesday the fifteenth of October of 1996 we had the pleasure of attending Michael Kamen’s live concert for the Congreso de Música de Cine de la Mostra de Valencia, conducting the Orchestra of the City of Valencia and having James Knight, Alto Saxophone, and José Luis Ruiz del Puerto, guitar, performing as soloists. A unique show that day, and those previous ones, when we were able to attend to the conference that Kamen himself delivered during the Convention, displaying a very moving human side. One of the kindest persons, who said never No when we took pictures with him or asked to sign CDs and, though he already was one of the greatest, did not behaved as a selfish star.
Unfortunately, his untimely death seven years afterwards left a void among fans who consider Michael Kamen as one of the key composers in any ground he played on. But we still have his music, his conducting, his arrangements, his collaborations, so he is just an immortal “highlander”.
My name is Enrique Moreno Escribano, I’m from Valencia and my «geek» love in film music began when I was 13 and I went to the cinema to see «Jaws». I left the theater finding a new hobby that continues today, 38 years after, and has taken me to travel through Spain and part of Europe attending to concerts and meeting lovely people.
The word craftsman is much underrated today. There was even a time when it was a synonym for artist. In any case, one may summarize by saying that a craftsman is someone who knows his trade and performs it with dexterity. And Michael Kamen knew his stuff. He knew his craft because he had begun with small details, making arrangements for other musicians. He knew his craft, because he had a classical education and an inquisitive mind which had led him to blend it with popular music.
Furthermore, clear evidence that he did so with dexterity is his success in the musical world. A success which eventually compels one to emerge from the shadows and to do what one is really good at: music. And, to this extent, one no longer has a craft and devotes to art, as Michael did.
Of course I was not aware of all this the first time I consciously listened to his music in a movie theater. The notes were only part of the Bayeux Tapestry. And they were like a glove. Alas, I was aware of it while listening to the main theme of Band of Brothers the day of his untimely death. That is life. Since we leave the starting line until we reach the goal we learn many things. Living is also an art.
At this very moment, when it has been ten years since the maestro passed away, I cannot help thinking how many things we both have missed, purely and simply, because he is gone and I miss him.
Óscar Salazar was born in the Basque town of Barakaldo (Spain) a few years ago. Most of them has been attached to the screen, since he first discovered that a guy in pajamas could fly. Then came the music that accompanied the images and the books that inspired them. To date, none of these three things has left him. Between dreams, he studied Industrial Engineering and leads a parallel life where he works in a large multinational company. It is even possible that any of you met him in the real world.
There are composers that you have a special affection and sometimes you don’t know why. Michael Kamen is one of them. Maybe it was because of he touch me with his magic wand. My first discs were secondhand LP, “Suspect” and “The adventures of Baron Munchausen”, during my young years looking for bargain.
During some minutes, I’ve been stopped to gaze at pictures of the master. They pass on good feeling, energy, passion for the Music. Big eyebrows and plentiful long hair, he is one my biggest reasons of loving film music. It’s his fault that I can’t take out of my head one of the best action themes ever: “The battle” in “Die Hard”.
Special mention to his fantastic collaboration with Metallica, conducting the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. Thanks to that album, I was happily introduced in the heavy planet…and I don’t want to leave it!
Thanks Michael for making me happy with your music. Thanks for your rock vein, brilliantly merged with the symphonic arteries.
It’s all for Michael Kamen.
Alfonso Conde is best Known as “Tximbo” or just “Alf”. He opened his eyes for the first time in Bilbao (Spain). Stardate unknown, true melmakian past, bright smile child. He moved to Madrid, where he studied law, but what he really liked was history. One day he woke up humming some film tune and since then has not stopped: hundreds of CDs are accumulated in his quarters. He now plans to extend ambitions (and shelves), after furiously unleashed his rock vein.
Passionate about beer, never misses an opportunity to take a few wherever, whenever, with whomever.
Fernando Ayuso from AsturScore
For a long time, the domain of the orchestra has not been a virtue that has prevailed when composing film music. Ten years have passed since we lost one of the composers that made this something evident and naturally needed. Within the cheered group of composers that appeared in the 70s and 80s, which made a difference by their craftsmanship and good work in film music, there was Michael Kamen. Many of us, even considering new technologies used in music today, miss that kind of composers who filled their scores with shades and colors.
Two soundtracks are what allowed me to enter the world of Michael Kamen. The epic and romantic sound of Robin Hood, one of the most impressive themes in the history of cinema, and the great Spanish influence in the beautiful Don Juan DeMarco. They both opened the doors of a new musical universe to me. Having the opportunity to discover later the existence of action jewels as Die Hard, dramatic jewels as Mr. Holland’s Opus or epic jewels as Highlander, only strengthened a young kid’s hobby, that was beginning to understand that film music was much more then only Disney songs.
These facts increase the frustration that results in the loss of a composer who, unknowingly, constantly puts music to life of each of his fans. We lost him too early and therefore, that makes us infinitely sad, because of all the missing scores he still had to give. But there is always the written work, which allows us to remember him today, ten years later. So there is no better way than listen to Band of Brothers, for me his masterpiece, sit back, close your eyes, and enjoy an amazing suite, that makes a perfect epilogue to a very short film career, but a great one.
Carlos Mulas from AsturScore
Sometimes you meet people in your life whose mere presence conveys «something». Michael Kamen was definitely one of them, transmitting strength, distilling «life» in everything he did. I wish I would have met him sometime, but I’ve got the feeling that thanks to the powerful internet and the incredible amount of material and information about him, I can say that as a fact. His way of conducting, his smiles, his eyes when he met with fans, the causes he endorsed, his love for his closest people … his reputation, in short, of «good guy». Nobody earns that reputation among friends and strangers (in the world of music and beyond) without deserve it.
I know the great legacy of a musician is his work, but there are composers whose figure is as great as his music, and this is what I’ve always loved about Michael Kamen. The footprint he left among those who were so lucky to meet him alive, is as deep as his music has left us to all others. Such people are stuff of legend for those who, like me, have seen his star shine on and off high there, and that’s why we can not … I can not think about Michael without a smile coming out of my lips but also my heart shrinking.
From my bed, kneeling by a passing illness, I think death is a consequence of having lived, and may it be that, like him, those who have been giving life in so many ways, don’t disappear completely because they have helped to make ours a little better. Michael Kamen gave me a gift once without knowing it. In my mind It’s a gift that will always come him to life, and today more than ever I want to share.