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Behind The Scenes Of "Hollywood In Vienna" With It's Creator Sandra Tomek

There are many events that the film music community go through that are worthy of attention which include the Oscars, the Emmys and the Filmucite' Concerts in Ubeda, Spain for example. None are as worthy as the excellent "Hollywood In Vienna," which premiered in 2007 and was founded and created by Sandra Tomek. “Hollywood In Vienna” is still going strong year after year with many great guests including Oscar Winners James Horner and Howard Shore, along with Alan Silvestri and Bruce Broughton to name a few.

Creator Sandra Tomek Behind The Scenes Of "Hollywood In Vienna"
Creator Sandra Tomek Behind The Scenes Of "Hollywood In Vienna"
Courtesy of Getty Images

The concert, which is performed with acclaimed brilliance by the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, features two of the best in the business this year with Oscar-winner and songwriter, Randy Newman, and his cousin, and fellow Oscar nominee, David Newman, coming off the animated German version of "Tarzan." This year's concert will also hand out the Max Steiner Award, given to the composer chosen to perform at the gala each year which has included the late John Barry, Howard Shore, Lalo Schifrin, James Horner and Alan Silvestri. This year's winner is of course, Randy Newman. Another special part of “Hollywood In Vienna" is the support they show for the "Make A Wish Foundation," which grants the wishes of children here in the U.S. who have crippling or life threatening diseases.

For this very special interview, Sandra gleefully talks about this years' gala with Randy and David Newman, how she came to put together this unique event and how innovative the concert is after all of these years. So please sit back and read on about this wonderful event.

Please tell the readers about what inspired you become interested in film music.

ST: Film music was always a major part of my life – when I was a teenager, others would buy Pop Music CDs, and I would go for Film Music CDs. I have always been so fascinated how a soundtrack could transport emotions, that the film itself – without music – would not be able to. And when I listened to the soundtracks, I kind of relived the movie again, which I always thought was kind of "magic."

Let’s talk about your wonderful Hollywood In Vienna Music Gala. Can you please share with the readers what this special event is all about?

ST: Here's a General description: "Hollywood in Vienna" is a symphonic gala concert celebrating classic and current masterpieces of film music in the prestigious Wiener Konzerthaus (Vienna Concert Hall) in Vienna, capital of Austria. Within the course of each gala, the City of Vienna awards one of today’s leading film music composers with the "Max Steiner Award." The Viennese Max Steiner belongs to the most influential pioneers in the history of Hollywood movies and scored all-time classics like King Kong, Gone with the Wind and Casablanca. Along with other Viennese composers like Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who gained fame in Hollywood for scores as The Adventures of Robin Hood, they contributed to the evolvement of the typical "Hollywood Sound" with rich orchestrations and romantic melodies. With the "Hollywood in Vienna" gala celebration, film music returns back to its roots – to Vienna, the City of Music. Besides honoring the composers, Vienna welcomes all creative people who contribute to the wonderful world of film and hopes to offer a spectacular setting for a memorable night.

My personal note: it is always very special for Hollywood composers to be honored by the City of Vienna in the Vienna Concert Hall as they feel that their composition work is appreciated also in the city, where so many famous classical composers lived and worked. And actually, all of them said, that this experience is/was one of the greatest of their lives. To see those outstanding film composers being so overwhelmed and happy at our concerts is very special. Furthermore, we are successfully enchanting our audiences with the way we are working with music, visuals on the large screen behind the orchestra and light show -making it a very special evening for our audience. Several people from LA told us already "Hollywood can learn from you" - which is certainly a great compliment. Meanwhile, our gala concert is always sold out in a few hours, which tells us that we are obviously on the right track ;)

What inspired you to create such an inspired and prolific event such as this one?

ST: I was inspired by film music itself, but also by personalities in my circle of friends, like John Mauceri, founding director of the Hollywood Bowl orchestra, who told me a lot about the tight musical connection between Vienna and Hollywood. I then produced a TV documentary about Max Steiner and followed his path across the states, visiting many influential people of the world of film music. I saw the pictures of the Viennese Max Steiner and E.W. Korngold right next to the picture of the Warner Brothers in the WB Studios’ Music Department. I saw David Newman opening one of his concerts in the Hollywood Bowl with Steiner’s WB fanfare and "Casablanca", and Korngold’s Kings Row Fanfare. In 2006 I knew that I had to create an event in Vienna to celebrate this wonderful musical connection between Vienna and Hollywood.

How difficult is it to put together an event such as this, with many film music composers having busy schedules?

ST: Interestingly, inviting a composer to Vienna and finding dates is the easiest part. Everything else is quite challenging. Mainly, because you cannot just take some film music cues and play them with an orchestra. You have to create orchestral suites first, which combine the most appealing soundtrack themes of a movie and also make sense, musically. So, it takes a collaboration of the composer, the respective Hollywood studio music department, and our team of arrangers/orchestrators to set up such a suite. But often, it is not clear, where specific soundtrack cues are located. Sometimes they are even lost after a movie was produced. So it is quite often a meticulous kind of detective work to locate music material – or – like last year with James Horner’s Universal fanfare, which could not be found anywhere in Hollywood, we transcribed it from an audio file. But also to create 90 minutes of video content for the screen and negotiate with all Hollywood studios for the TV broadcast of clips is quite an effort. But we love what we do – and we love challenges ;)

Please tell us more about the wonderful venue (The Vienna Concert Hall) where the event takes place.

ST: It is a very beautiful historic venue and certainly adds an additional touch of glamour to our concert gala. Of course, it has a long musical history and many important composers like Richard Strauss, Arnold Schönberg and E.W. Korngold celebrated the world premieres of their compositions in this hall.

Let’s talk about the wonderful symphony that you’ve put together for these events. How was the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra chosen?

ST: The Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra is probably the most versatile orchestra in Austria – they are an opera orchestra (of the opera Theater an der Wien), but at the same time they play all kinds of concerts with classical music, modern experimental classical music, and jazz. They are open to everything. As film music has very different music styles, it was clear to me from the very beginning to engage this orchestra. And the choice was the right one. Our Hollywood composers adore the orchestra.

Your latest concert features the wonderful guest work of the great Oscar Winner Randy Newman and the very underrated Oscar nominee David Newman, who happen to be cousins to Hollywood’s greatest musical family. How did you get them to perform a concert?

ST: Yes, and their father, Alfred Newman, was again a close collaborator of Max Steiner, which shows again, how closely Vienna and Hollywood are connected musically. David Newman is not only a prolific composer, but also a highly regarded conductor of film music, president of the film music society and governor of the Oscar-academy. Thus, he really understands film music in every aspect. Also, he is a lovely person to work with and we are very happy that he is our conductor. Our "Hollywood in Vienna" committee decided that Randy Newman would be the ideal candidate to be honored in 2014. He certainly deserves the award with his outstanding versatile compositions – ranging from movie songs, to sweeping symphonic orchestral works and jazzy big-band tunes. How we got them to perform? I asked them and they said “yes”! Actually, every composer we asked to perform or to be honored in Vienna said “yes”, so far. Composers obviously feel quite flattered when Vienna “is calling” – and I think they also know by now, that the quality of our concerts guarantees that they will be happy with the outcome.

How did you feel when you were able to get both of them at the same time?

ST: I felt happy – not only for us in Vienna, but also for Randy and David, since they are performing the first time together on stage – and they are very excited about it.

From your point of view, what is it like to work with both Randy and David?

ST: It’s certainly an honor to work with such internationally renowned and versatile composers. Since several of their scores lacked parts, or were not written for a large orchestra or could not be located (I outlined the reasons above) there is, like always, quite a lot of work to. But we all, including David and Randy, are now very much looking forward to hear their music on stage, played by a 100 person symphony orchestra plus 14 jazz musicians and singers joining them, and Randy conducting "The Natural" and singing several of his great movie songs..

Which score from each of them is your personal favorite?

ST: It’s really hard to say, because there are so many with so many different styles and each music has its "special something". But I guess I am especially looking forward to Randy performing himself like "You’ve Got A Friend in Me" from "Toy Story" with the huge symphony orchestra accompanying him. I also love the subtle-moving themes to "Ragtime" and "Awakenings", or the swinging "Monsters Main Title" and David’s "War of the Roses", which he will perform, is also very special.

Please tell us about the Max Steiner Film Music Award that you present each year with past winners being Oscar Winner James Horner, Alan Silvestri, Howard Shore and the great Lalo Schifrin.

ST: At each "Hollywood in Vienna" concert gala the "Max Steiner Film Music Achievement Award" is presented by the City of Vienna to one of the world’s most renowned film music composers. The award is meant to be a symbol of recognition for exceptional achievements in the art of film music by the "City of Music", Vienna.

How do you determine who is worthy of winning the award. Can you please explain the process to the readers?

ST: We have a committee of various big players in the film music industry who suggest an awardee, who then needs to be approved by the respective representatives of the City of Vienna.

I’m happy to say that you also work for Make A Wish Foundation, which is a very special organization for helping kids with life threatening conditions have a personal wish or dream granted. How does your concert promote the organization?

ST: Yes, I think Make a Wish fits perfectly to such an event around the "dreamfactory" Hollywood, as it is also fulfilling dreams – for ill kids. We promote the organization via all our marketing channels. They present themselves also in the concert hall around the concerts and part of the ticket income goes to this wonderful organization.

In your years of producing the gala, what was your favorite event that you’ve held and why?

ST: They are all very special to me. Last year, was a big highlight, again, because we celebrated James Horner, who is the son of a Viennese emigrant, Harald Horner. James Horner told us that it was the first time that he actually listened to his music in a concert hall – and it was even in Vienna, where his family came from. So, this was very moving for him, and also for me, to see him being so happy. But it was also wonderful to see Alan Silvestri, Howard Shore, Lalo Schifrin, etc. all being so overwhelmed and glad with their honoring in Vienna.

Who is your favorite composer who attended and/or conducted at the event in the past?

ST: : I like them all. Since they are not used to being in the spotlight like actors or directors, they are all very humble people and very special.

Please tell the readers about your future upcoming projects.

ST: Since there was so much international interest, my company now offers, besides the annual »Hollywood in Vienna« gala, film music production packages with several film music highlights including visuals (www.bofm.at) to promoters, concerts hall and orchestras around the globe. The next upcoming projects are productions in Europe – like a film music tour in May 2015 in Germany and Switzerland, »The Sound of Hollywood« - London, and productions in South America (Colombia, Brasil) and Asia (Taiwan, China).

I really want to thank you once again Sandra for granting me this interview and I really honored to meet you and everything.

ST: Thank YOU!

I'd like to extend some very special thanks to the wonderful Sandra Tomek for this great interview and for taking time out of her busy schedule to do this with me. Let's do it again! Also, very special thanks to Chandler Poling for arranging this interview and for giving me this plumb assignment.

Please feel free to visit the official "Hollywood In Vienna" website @http://hollywoodinvienna.com/ for more information on the gala and previous concerts. It's a great site.

Here is Sandra Tomek's Bio:

"Sandra Tomek is organizer and artistic producer of the Film Music Gala Concert »Hollywood in Vienna«, which she designed and created in 2007.

She is responsible for music programming up to the staging of the event. With the synthesis of the arts music & film, she wants to attract new audiences and aims to elucidate the musical connection between Vienna and Hollywood. The cultural manager and specialist in internal medicine is committed to foster the awareness of the historic, artistic and psychological significance of film music. For that purpose she founded the event agency Best of Film Music in 2006. Besides Hollywood in Vienna, Tomek is also director of the International Film Music Days Vienna—together with Alexander Kukelka—and initiator of the »International Film Music Symposium Vienna, International Film Music Academy Vienna, the Vienna Film Music Award and Max Steiner Award."