Hol­ly­wood nights re­turn to Scot­land

Film mu­sic pro­ducer Robert Town­son looks for­ward to team­ing up again with the RSNO

The Herald Magazine - - Arts MUSIC - ALI­SON KERR

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

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