Hollywood nights return to Scotland
Film music producer Robert Townson looks forward to teaming up again with the RSNO
ROBERT Townson, the film music producer who brought Hollywood legends to Glasgow in the 1990s and worked with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra on a series of recordings now regarded as mythic, is returning to Scotland next week.
In two special concerts, the RSNO and Townson are reuniting to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Varese Sarabande, the record label that showcased their unique relationship; a relationship which produced an astounding 40 soundtrack albums over seven years.
Just like the new audiences that have been coming to RSNO concerts after having their interest piqued by the organisation’s various film music events, so Townson, now vice president of soundtracks and executive producer at Varese Sarabande, found that film music was a gateway to classical music in general.
Back in the late 1970s, Townson was “just an 11-year-old kid” going to the cinema with his pals. Over the course of just two years, four movies came out which, he says, changed his life: Star Wars (1977) and Superman (1978), both with a score by John Williams, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Alien (both 1979), both scored by Jerry Goldsmith.
“These four films opened my eyes and ears to this music,” says the charismatic Canadian, who still sounds wonder-struck as he describes the effect that Williams’s rousing fanfares had on him. “I was not a musically sophisticated kid; I didn’t even play the piano. I went to see the films with no expectation but I was struck by the scores, there was an immediate connection. John and Jerry sparked my passion in all music – through them I discovered classical music, in particular Dvorak, Mahler and Beethoven.
“The late 1970s was a fertile period of great film music – a near golden age. The composers who were writing still included the masters of earlier decades – Miklos Rozsa, Elmer Bernstein, Georges Delerue.” Not only were some of the most important figures from the 1940s and 1950s still active but film music as a distinct genre worthy of respect was given a shot in the arm around this time with the release of the Classic Film Scores by RCA. These records introduced the adolescent Townson to the first wave of Hollywood movie composers, who had come from Europe.
He recalls: “I developed a voracious appetite for the music, especially Jerry Goldsmith’s. Every score I heard by him was mindblowing to me. The variety and range in his work was amazing. I look back now and admire my teenage taste!”
You also have to admire Townson’s teenage chutzpah. After all, he founded a record label, Masters Film Music, before he was 20. But why?
“Well, it was born out of frustration. I was frustrated that there were new films whose soundtracks weren’t being released. Three of these films really triggered me into action: The Final Conflict (The Omen 3) and Raggedy Man which had Goldsmith scores, and Heartbeeps, which John Williams did between Raiders of the Lost Ark and ET, a magnificent period in his career. I realised that something needed to be done – and the conclusion I came to was to release all three myself.”
Operating out of his bedroom in his parents’ home, Townson contacted Goldsmith and, for distribution, approached Varese Sarabande as it was already a specialist in film music, having recorded concert works by movie composers. The film studio allowed him to use the original soundtrack of The Final Conflict by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Goldsmith himself.
Goldsmith was delighted with the album. For Townson, it proved to be the launchpad for his career. “It established me, working with Jerry. From that first album until he died in 2004, there wasn’t a time when we weren’t working on something. We made 80 albums together; he was like a second father to me. He was a wonderful man, an absolute genius and a very cool guy – very demanding of himself and very driven. He would finish recording a score in the morning and start writing the next one that afternoon.”
ASUCCESSFUL recording of Alex North’s score for 2001: A Space Odyssey inspired Townson to begin a new project: of recording existing scores alongside the new soundtrack albums he was producing for Varese Sarabande. Three albums into the series, he began to have logistical problems with the orchestra, and just at that point he heard that the RSNO was interested in recording film music.
Townson’s first visit to Glasgow, in 1995, produced a new recording of the