LIANE HANSEN, Host:

The Superbowl and Grammy ceremony are over, but the award hoopla continues in Turin, and in Hollywood preparations are being made for the Oscars. The National Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences bestows its awards in three weeks, and as we've done for the past 10 years, we're going to listen to the five nominees for Best Score.

This is last year's Academy Award winner, Jan. A. P. Kaczmarek's score for Finding Neverland.

(SOUNDBITE OF FINDING NEVERLAND SCORE)

HANSEN: And again, for the tenth time, is Weekend Edition Sunday's resident film music buff, Andy Trudeau. Andy, I missed you last year. It's good to see you again. And my, what an interesting selection of scores this year. Not a lot of familiar names, at least to me, on there.

ANDY TRUDEAU: The same wind that blew through the nominations for Best Film have moved the leaves down on the music section. We've got three independents. Independent is in. Small is in. Nary a blockbuster in sight. It's an interesting mix. Three first time nominations and then the consummate insider getting two nominations. The other odd thing about this year, this was only the second time on the music Best Song side, they only nominated three instead of five.

HANSEN: Amazing. Lewis Carroll said, Curiouser and curiouser, things are changing. Let's do it alphabetically. The five nominations this year for Best Original Score are Brokeback Mountain by Gustavo Santaolalla; The Constant Gardner by Alberto Iglesias; Memoirs of a Geisha by John Williams; Munich, also by John Williams and Pride and Prejudice by Dario Marianelli.

And our game plan is to listen to two scores this week, two next week, and one with a recap on Oscar day. To get us started, it's your pick. Spin the wheel (LAUGH).

TRUDEAU: Let's start with Constant Gardner by Alberto Iglesias. He's a Spanish composer. He's been quite active for a long time on the European scene. The earliest film credit I've been able to find for him is 1984. This is really the first score of his that I think has gotten any wide circulation in the Hollywood part of the world. The film is set in Africa, and interestingly, this guides the composer's selection of instruments but really not the style. What you're going to hear is a juxtaposition really of African instruments and Western instruments.

There's no real thematic material. Rhythm is really the organizing principle. Many a scene, at least many a cue on the soundtrack, starts with a rhythmic pattern which he then just builds on and then lets run out. The first one we're going to hear uses African flutes and percussion along with a baritone saxophone. I mean this gives you an idea of the sound mix we're doing here and it's in a musical vocabulary that to my ear is very jazz-like. We'll start with the rhythm track fading in.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTANT GARDNER)

TRUDEAU: Now he really kicks in the rhythm with the rattle and gourd.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTANT GARDNER)

TRUDEAU: African flutes and baritone sax. What a mix.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTANT GARDNER)

TRUDEAU: And the rhythm track just walks us out.

There's a few times that the composer isn't really locked into one of these up-tempo rhythmic schemes and interestingly they seem to have to do with scenes with an emotional depth to them. Obviously, that kind of approach is not going to work when you're trying to pluck the heart strings. Here he shows his veteran experience if you will and creates, I would say, a very typical, in terms of contemporary film language, a very typical emotional scene.

We're going to start with very elegiac strings. And then one of those New-Agey pianos, very echo-ey, playing very space chords, and it'll pay off at the end with a very mournful choral line which is purely electronic. A sort of a male bass sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTANT GARDNER)

TRUDEAU: This is the closest he comes to a theme in this score.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTANT GARDNER)

TRUDEAU: Thank you Ennio Morricone.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTANT GARDNER)

TRUDEAU: Throughout this score, the composer is really combining, not really blending, ethnic African instruments and Western instruments. It's a world music approach. You take different cultures and really let them basically each do their own thing. And the combination is what makes the interesting sounds here.

In the next cue, we're going to hear again this blending of East and West. The percussion is going to reflect the instruments in the strings, especially a solo cello is the Western element. And I like the fluttered tongue effect you'll hear at the end of this cue.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTANT GARDNER)

TRUDEAU: Definitely establishes an African locale there.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTANT GARDNER)

TRUDEAU: But now he's going to shift to a very eerie string sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTANT GARDNER)

TRUDEAU: And now very Western strings with a very lyric cello line.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTANT GARDNER)

TRUDEAU: Listen in the accompany now for that flutter tongue effect.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTANT GARDNER)

HANSEN: Music by Alberto Iglesias for The Constant Gardner, one of five sound tracks nominated this year for the Best Original Oscar Score.

Andy Trudeau is our constant guide to the nominations every year. And we have an old friend to talk about next, John Williams. He received two nominations, for Munich, that will be our subject next week, but this week we're going to hear some of the score for Memoirs of a Geisha. But first, Andy, is it just my imagination, or was John Williams pretty prolific in 2005?

TRUDEAU: This was a year incredible for a gentleman of his accomplishments. Four scores. We'll be talking about two of them. But he also did the last of the Star Wars saga and War of the Worlds.

And really, of the years we've been doing this, he's been nominated every time except one year, and that was because that year he didn't write any film music.

HANSEN: Huh, he made up for it in 2005.

TRUDEAU: Like The Constant Gardner, Memoirs of a Geisha, which is the one we're going to talk about is set in a foreign locale, in this case Japan. Unlike Constant Gardner, this is very much, and this is a Williams' style, it's a theme-driven score. He establishes a couple character themes and then manipulates those for many of the cues. On the one hand I think that makes the solution to some of these scenes a little easier because he's always got a starting point. On the other hand, it takes a certain amount of genius to write these themes.

The first of the two principle themes is given to the solo cello to introduce, and since he's John Williams, he can pick up the phone and get Yo-Yo Ma to show up to play it. It's called Sayuri's Theme.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA)

TRUDEAU: A little string introduction to take us to the theme.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA)

TRUDEAU: Williams can write such wonderful long-legged themes. They just unfold in front of you. It's just a wonderful knack that he has. The other theme introduced by solo violin and picked up another phone and got Itzhak Perlman to show up to record it. Here it is and the tempo is most definitely a waltz.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA)

TRUDEAU: One sign of Williams' experience: that accompaniment figure establishes its own little character. Even though you've got the melody, the accompaniment is not just there to fill in. It adds something really special to the moment. For films set in foreign lands, I think it's a great chance for Western composers to utilize the native instruments.

The next cue, the scorings for kodo and percussion with, got a little flute thrown in. There's a melody there that's holding that kodo line together and that's really what Williams is all about. And at the end, you're going to hear some very uncharacteristic, I think, tonality of this score, dissonance at the end of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA)

TRUDEAU: So he's really blending those Japanese instruments with the Western context and creating something that's distinctly, I think, Williams.

Now the next cue we're going to hear, Williams uses a Western string section and this is how the themes really help him. You'll hear how the strings are playing around with fragments of the theme we heard Yo-Yo Ma play. And then, just because I love the drums.

And Williams has this knack in occasional scores. He throws in these little breaks. We'll have a little drum break. What's interesting, you have a repetitive rhythmic line that really catches your ear, but what's moving it forward are these little rolls he does underneath with the lower bass drums. So we'll start with the strings playing one of the themes of the film, and then it'll take us to the drum break.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA)

TRUDEAU: Here comes our drum break.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA)

TRUDEAU: Notice how the base drum is giving us our forward motion here.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA)

HANSEN: Music from Memoirs of a Geisha by John Williams. Nominated for a Best Original Film Music Oscar. And earlier we heard a little bit of The Constant Gardner by Alberto Iglesias. Andy Trudeau is our guest again, so two down, three to go. Next week, more John Williams for Steven Spielberg's Munich. We talked about that. And what else?

TRUDEAU: A trip to Brokeback Mountain for music by Gustavo Santaolalla.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HANSEN: Can't wait to hear it. Andy, thanks. Andy Trudeau visits with us every year at this time to talk about film music. Thanks a lot, Andy.

TRUDEAU: My pleasure, Lianne.

HANSEN: And you can find more on our website, NPR.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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