The first time I encountered and enjoyed your music was in 2019 when I heard the score for Finding Home, was writing music for film something that you set out to do as a career or was it an attraction to music that then led you into scoring movies?
Becoming a film composer was always something of a dream I had. First, though, I set out to be a classical composer, and the film scoring opportunities came along later. But for the past 15 years or so I have made it my career to make music for films first and foremost.
Long before I had made any steps into the film business, I do remember though that people often told me my music had a strong ability to produce images in their mind.
Were, your family musical at all, and what would you say are your first memories of music of any kind?
I remember my mother singing me bedside lullabies. Those are my first consistent memories of music in my existence as a toddler 2 or 3 years of age. My mum had taken some piano lessons as a young girl, but like the rest of my family she was but an amateur in music. My grandmother had played the organ in the village church where she lived, and my grandfather was a mason, but used to play trumpet in the royal guards in Copenhagen around the breakout of WW2. So, music was surely something that lived a life in our family, but I was the first one to pursue a career in the field, by studying as a classical composer.
I started out as a pianist. My grandmother taught me very early on the first page of Beethoven’s “moonlight” sonata; and I was hooked! I quickly discovered that I had a way with improvisation and making up little tunes. If I had heard a piece once, I could often play it by ear. I wouldn’t say that I was much of a prodigy child, but the world of music was a place I could spend hours on end. And when I got my first real piano teacher around 7-8 years of age, one of the first things he helped me with was the notation of my “opus 1” – a neat little tune, that I keep in a folder to this day.
Recently I have noticed several Danish movies that contain symphonic scores, is the film industry in Denmark a thriving one that allows composers to write orchestral scores as opposed to the current trend of using synthetic elements in the USA and the UK?
It is a rather complex question to answer. I think though it is fair to describe the Danish film industry as thriving – relative to our population of nearly 6 million. There is an average of 30-35 feature films, and a great number of TV-series of high quality being produced annually. But I wouldn’t say that orchestral scores are the trend here. As you have noticed, they do appear, but often the choice to go with a symphonic score is related to certain genres.
I have had the fortune to record with orchestra on roughly a third of the fifty film and TV productions where I have been the composer. Sometimes the budget is there, sometimes the story calls for a more minimal “band”; it is very much up to the director’s vision. And sometimes early in my career I also decided to “invest” my entire fee in a live orchestral score, if I thought it would advance my portfolio etc. and the film would end up being more engaging and genuine.
One of your recent scores is for the TV series The Secret of the Christmas Heart which is a 24 episode series, does scoring a series such as this differ greatly from working on a feature film, and how do you approach a project that may need as much music as this, do you score the episodes in the order that they run as in the story or do you work on certain sections first and tackle others later, and do you repeat any of the cues from early episodes in later ones?
“The Secret of the Christmas Heart” (Julehjertets hemmelighed) is a Christmas/Advent calendar TV show, that runs a new episode every day of December up to Christmas eve. In Denmark these “calendars” are hugely popular and one of the last remaining kinds of TV shows that can really gather the nation to watch together across all ages. So, to score one of these is a big deal here, with a lot of exposure. And, a huge workload, as you rightly suggest. There is not budget or time to score every episode the way you would do with a normal feature film. Rather, an extensive bespoke music library is composed for the series to encompass the main characters, the different locations. And in this particular case I had the luxury of being ‘first out of the race block’.
I started composing a couple of months before shooting began, and I had an early recording session with our regional Aalborg Symphony Orchestra – so when editing started, the editors had tailor made orchestral cues at their disposal that the director and producer were very happy with, and thus we never used any temp music from other scores on the production.
Naturally some scenes needed to be scored directly to picture, and I had a second session with the same orchestra half a year later, where those cues were recorded.
It was a very rewarding process for me to be involved that early on and to be able to shape the world of the series with the score in an integrated way. But to answer the last part of your question, yes, a lot of the score is re-used across multiple episodes, and I think of it more as a strength story telling wise than a problem.
The score is filled with melodies and is a very thematic work, do you feel that it is important for a film score to have themes for characters or locations within the storyline?
It can be a very powerful tool, I would say. Especially with a multi plot show with many characters, it sharpens the storytelling and helps the younger part of the audience to navigate. And again, the genre – a period drama, adventure, upstairs/downstairs family show is a secure haven for engaging in leitmotifs and recurring musical themes.
What size orchestra did you have for The Secret of the Christmas Heart, and where did you record the score?
The Aalborg Symphony Orchestra has a full setup in a wonderful contemporary concert hall. I could use the complete symphonic palette with 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, harp, piano, celeste, percussion and almost 50 strings. I think the orchestra sounds gorgeous, and I am very happy with and proud of this score.
The score is released digitally will there be a compact disc release of the music, also I am guessing that the release on digital platforms is not the entire score. How much music did you compose for the series?
I would be surprised if a physical release would see the light of day. As it often is, composers don’t have much of a say in this. Sadly. I think there is some 20 to 30 minutes of score that didn’t make it to the OST release. But I did the selection for the album myself, so I hope I made the right choices of including the best parts.
When one of your scores is going to be released either digitally or on a disc do you have any involvement in what music will be included on the release to represent the score?
This can often be the case, yes. And it makes a lot of sense that at least a certain part of the curation of the score release is handled by the composer, especially on series, where there is so much music at hand.
What artists or composers would you say inspired you and maybe had an influence upon the way in which you write a score?
As I come from an orchestral/classical composer background it is natural for me to be drawn towards the scores of the golden Hollywood tradition of John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith Miklos Rózsa, Herrmann etc. and the likes of Morricone, Elmer Bernstein, and Silvestri. But I have also taken a lot of notes from the way Thomas Newman works with psychological scoring; I love most of Desplat’s scores and my personal relationship with Jóhann Jóhannsson remains a chest of inspiration.
I would also mention sound designer and editor Walter Murch as a great source of inspiration when it comes to implementation of music and sound into film.
Do you orchestrate and conduct your film score’s and do you ever perform on them?
I have too much respect for the conductor’s profession and value to engage in this artform myself (and probably also too much awareness of my lack of ability). My place is in the recording booth on the ‘end result side’ of the loudspeakers. It can surely be arousing to stand at the conductor’s podium, but I don’t feel it is an ideal position to make decisions for the music. It works for some film composers, and I respect that, but I want to be where I can hear all details and make the right choices for the score editing process etc.
I always deliver fully orchestrated demos to directors to approve. So, arrangements and orchestration are an integrated part of my writing. But often I will work with a music preparation team, that takes care of the layout of the physical printed score and parts, which I then proofread and approve before sessions. On some projects I also have worked with assistant arrangers if the deadline has been tight.
Often, I will perform the piano parts of the score in my studio, either recorded on my grand piano or done with virtual/sampled pianos. And if – due to budget – the score is all midi, I am essentially performing every part myself.
What would you say is the purpose of music in film?
I always attempt to serve and advance the story with the score. If I’m not part of the storytelling, there should rather not be music in a scene. The right score can lift a film and open a whole new dimension in the experience. But as with cooking, the right dose is essential. You can easily ruin a precious moment with a wrong, premature, or too loud score.
Film scoring has a lot in common with things like magic tricks, deception, persuasion, and seduction, and most of us have experienced how easy such forms of “art” can go wrong. But I think we all love when the transcending moment happens and everything in a film works just the right way. And as such, the score has the potential to be the very soul of a film. Just think about how well you can imagine/relive certain scenes by listening to the score of a great film on its own. I am fascinated by these moments of movie magic and to see that I sometimes contribute to the story with my score in the “right” way is a humbling and highly addictive experience.
The comedy drama Orkestret is another TV series you have worked on recently which is performed by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, how did you become involved on the project, and is it any more difficult writing for a comedy than say an action movie such as Zombiehagen?
Oh, man; comedy is SO hard. It is perhaps the most challenging genre to score. At least in my experience. Timing is everything, and you really must rely on skilled film editors to stand a chance with the music. Additionally, in comedy, the musical cues tend to be shorter and more condensed, which at first could seem like an easier task – but once you get down to it, it requires a lot of refining and “tuning” for the score to work successfully and allow the audience to laugh without them having the feeling of being spoon-fed.
“Orkestret” (The Orchestra) plays out in the fictional Copenhagen Symphony Orchestra, following the 2nd clarinetist in his struggle to become the principal 1st clarinetist. Such a simple, yes relatable setup. And the show is extremely well written. I hope it gets to air widely internationally. So far (to my knowledge) it is out in The Nordic countries and France. I came on the show because of working with the producers on a different series, and I also know one of the executive producers from early on in my career.
What musical education did you receive?
I spent a total of 10 years after high school educating myself as a classical composer. The main education I received in St. Petersburg, Russia – studying with a former student of Dmitri Shostakovich at the Rimsky-Korsakoff Conservatoire 1998-2003. And returning to Denmark, I finished a post graduate composer diploma in 2007 at the Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen – the city I have lived in ever since.
I never took any lessons in film scoring, so all I know in this field has been learned by doing and by working with great film makers.
However, since 2020 I have taught film scoring at the Malmö Academy of Music in Sweden. Naturally this has led me to look into more theoretical aspects of the film scoring trade, and I feel that I keep discovering interesting new ideas and ways to work in the field.
You also write music for the concert hall, when composing for concert performance is there more freedom for you as a composer to express yourself musically as you are not restricted by timings or having your music talked over or drowned out by sound FX etc?
When writing for the concert hall you are essentially God of your own realm. You have complete freedom. And form becomes a much more delicate matter. It is music for its own sake, on its own principles. Film music is this whole other animal. The score is meant to drive us forward through the narrative – it should best not halt in a definite way until the end of the film. Concert music has to become a narrative of some sort on its own terms to hold us interested as an audience.
A great score cue can last 90 seconds and release enormous amounts of emotional tension – but all in connection with and relation to the story, the actors, the dialogue, the light, the sound etc. In the concert hall you’ll have to work with a whole other level of abstraction. The music will never be as closely connected to ‘meaning’ but it will have so many other aspects that can be rewarding, not least because we are lending it our full attention. It is rare in a film that your brain will focus entirely on the score, and it is of course also not meant to be so.
Becoming Astrid was a movie that you scored back in 2018, your music won much acclaim from fans and critics alike, when you were asked to write the score did the director have specific ideas or requests regarding the style or the sound of the music, and was there a temp track on the movie when you first looked at it, if so was this helpful or distracting?
Quite early we settled on the idea of using a smaller orchestra consisting of piano, harp, church organ and strings. There was some temp music in the final cut I was given to work on, but I don’t recall exactly what they were. But the director was quite steadfast about the score not being “adventurous” at all even though most people know Astrid Lindgren for her children’s tales. She wanted the film to work on a psychological level first and foremost. And together with the film editors the director has made deliberate space for the score to speak and take place at certain pivotal moments of the picture.
A different director would perhaps have cut the same film down to 90 minutes, but I think the full 2 hours it lasts brings us exactly into the character of young Astrid in the way that we end up being sincerely moved, because the film takes its time to let us understand her. And the music was deliberately given the role to take our hands during that emotional journey.
In 2013 you scored the documentary The Artic Giant, do documentaries require more music than a feature film?
Nature documentaries like The Arctic Giant, indeed rely heavily on a score. With the animals not having any lines of dialogue, the filmmakers will have to make up for that with voice over, but every so often the music will lend the animals a lot of the gestures or qualities that we come to interpret as human. To say, for instance, that whales are dancing is highly debatable, but with a waltz stuck on top of images of them moving in certain patterns in the water, it becomes something that can be rather beautiful, even if it all is a big construction.
As I said earlier, we are constantly deceiving and seducing the audience when we make films. But most of the time it is done in a way where the result is a form of art – rather than an unwelcome overstep of power. At least one hopes so.
What is next for you?
Before Christmas 2022 I finished an 8-episode sequel to the Christmas Heart series. It will air in April ‘23. After that I will take parental leave to be home some months with our infant daughter, our second child. And later this year I shall work on the 2nd season of “Orkestret” and on a still secret international feature film.
Many thanks to the composer for his time and answering my many questions…