Toronto native, composer Howard Shore made good scoring some of the most prestigious films in modern times, including The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film trilogies among eighty films. He’s worked closely with Martin Scorsese and David Cronenberg and “scored” three Academy Awards for his work on the first LOTR trilogy as well as three Golden Globes and four Grammy awards. Shore started his career with Lorne Michael, on Saturday Night Live and hasn’t looked back, and even ventured into opera with The Fly. His latest project which is personal to him was to compose the music and titular song for the harrowing Christmas Day release Song of Names. We spoke with Shore in Toronto.
Howard, you are from Toronto and your career is worldwide, but you don’t have a home here?
No, I grew up in Toronto and left in 1975. I moved to New York to do Saturday Night Live. I didn’t think the show would last so I kept my flat in Toronto for a year. Eventually, I moved. The show’s been on 45 years!
You went with summer camp buddy Lorne Michaels and went to NY for SNL, part of that early Canadian talent brain drain south?
Yes, I was!
Worked your career with master filmmakers, Scorsese, Cronenberg among them, and you’ve made an average of one major film a year, and more, since 1978. Do you think of yourself as driven?
No, I don’t. I had certain opportunities, I love music and writing music so I look for opportunities to work with great orchestras and in the recording studio.
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You scored Francois Girard’s Song of Names, writing the film’s titular “Song”. Its an incredibly emotional song, a Jewish prayer naming of the Holocaust dead. Did you feel a personal and religious connection to the story?
Yes, I wanted it to be truthful. I had to go back into my childhood for the scene in the film in the Schule in Stoke Newington, set in 1951. I wanted to write something authentic to the period. My dad, Max Shore created Toronto’s Beth Sholom Synagogue around the same period, in the early fifties. I could connect to my father and upbringing in the synagogue in the fifties and I wanted to create a piece for that. When you spend that time, the cantorial singing becomes a part of you. I had to go back and bring that out. It was a beautiful scene, so authentic.
Do you prefer to work on projects with which you feel a personal connection?
Its very good to have the emotional experience and the connection to the subject so you can express your ideas in our music from your heart.
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The very young stars, Luke and Jonah play violin. Did you interact with them or work with them?
The only actor I worked with was Daniel Mutlu, the cantor, the rabbi in the Schule scene but I worked with Judith Klerman and her husband Bruce Cohen, the cantor from Brooklyn Heights in New York. They found Daniel Mutlu a reformed cantor in a synagogue in New York. He became a rabbi for that scene. And he had to act and learn a new piece. That scene is devastating
What are you scoring now?
I’ve been working in Paris with Michel Hazanavicius, who made The Artist. He won the Oscar. It’s a new film called The Lost Prince and very family-oriented. Its comedic, fantasy, bright and colourful. So, I went from Song of Names to that. It was good, it brought me back.
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How do you and a director connect to make a movie? Obviously, with Martin Scorsese and David Cronenberg, they just call you, but what about François Girard. How did you connect?
I was happy to be able to work with those great artists on those collaborations. With François Girard, Robert Lantos brought us together. He introduced us and I knew François from Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, The Red Violin, I was a real fan. Before meeting him, I thanked Robert Lantos for introducing us, great decision and we worked hard on the film together. He’s a smart, brilliant director and he does opera. He’s done Wagner, Parsifal, he’s doing The Flying Dutchman and Loewenberg. Its incredible, he does opera, directs films and theatre.
It must be great when artists get together and their passion and ideas get fired up.
I love it when it’s flowing!
Critics Choice Association/AWFJ/TFCA/FIPRESCI