Flanders fest ends on a high note


GHENT, Belgium -- As he led the Brussels Philharmonic through a selection of his film work, composer Alexander Desplat couldn't help doing an energetic little hop on the conductor's stand as the music crescendo. It was a spontaneous act of enthusiasm that neatly sums up what the Flanders Film Festival and its World Soundtrack Awards is all about -- a warm, intimate celebration of film music unlike any in the world. Set against a backdrop of the stunning gothic architecture of Ghent, the 12-day event draws the cream of the composing world every October. In addition to Desplat, who was in Ghent to pick up prizes for Film Composer of the Year and Score of the Year (for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"), A.R. Rahman, Marvin Hamlisch and Shigeru Umebayashi were also on hand to revel in all things film music.

And to think, without French composing great George Delerue the festival might not even exist.

"I've loved film music since I was a child," longtime managing director Jacques Dubrulle says. "I would always see George Delerue's credit on so many scores, so one day I said, 'I would like to know this guy.' So we brought him over to do a concert more than 20 years ago and it went very well; he is so important to the festival (that) we named our competition after him."

And thus the festival's focus on film music was born, with each year bringing a new expansion of the fest's scope. This year, for instance, in addition to live performances of the film music of Umebayashi -- whose midfest concert was so popular it was performed twice -- and Desplat and Kevin Costner performed live with his band Modern West and Andy Garcia was presented with the Joseph Plateau Honorary Award.

These days, with the traditional orchestral score becoming increasingly threatened by shrinking music budgets, Dubrulle feels the festival is serving a valuable purpose by reminding the film world that there is no substitute for a full orchestra.

"There is a big problem with budgets, today the studios do not give composers the same money to produce film music," he says. "This is why a lot of composers make electronic music. But we try to give a very important place to the symphonic score because the sound is different. So we must ensure that the classic film score continues, and with the Brussels Philharmonic we have an opportunity to do that."

It's no surprise that composers regularly return to Ghent for the festival. Dubrulle says the atmosphere offers these normally solitary artists a rare opportunity to enjoy on another's company and discuss a craft that all to often gets overlooked.

"Composers like to return," he says. "They are people who are very open to discuss the craft with other and composers. They like to meet and talk because they always work at home and don't have an opportunity to be in the spotlight. We often them the opportunity, which I think is very important."