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February 23, 2015
Oscar Music Awards Make "Glory"-ous History
Alexander Desplat scores win for Grand Budapest Hotel by Jon Burlingame
HOLLYWOOD—Alexandre Desplat beat the odds.
A composer nominated twice in the same year in Oscar's original score category almost never wins. Twelve times in the past 50 years of Oscar nominations, a composer competed against himself – and, before last night, only once did that composer win: John Williams, in 1978, for Star Wars (the other nomination was for Close Encounters of the Third Kind).
With nominations for both The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game, it was widely believed that Desplat would be the victim of a split vote, and that Johann Johannsson would take the Oscar for The Theory of Everything. So the announcement that Desplat (prior to 2014, a six-time nominee for films including The Queen, The King's Speech and Argo) was the winner for Grand Budapest came as a welcome surprise.
Hugs from his fellow music nominees, along with one for director Wes Anderson, preceded the French composer's ascent to the stage to accept from presenter Julie Andrews. "It's been a beautiful decade in Hollywood for me," he said. "I've worked with great directors and producers and I'm very grateful." He paid tribute to his wife Solre (a violinist who played on his first film session), adding, "You made everything happen for me."
Fifteen minutes earlier, on the heels of a moving performance of their song "Glory" from Selma – which earned the night's first standing ovation – songwriter-performers John Legend and Common won the Best Song Oscar. Their inspirational speech earned a second standing ovation.
Common spoke of performing "Glory" on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, "once a landmark of a divided nation but now a symbol for charge," he said, saying the bridge "was built on hope, welded with compassion and elevated by love for all human beings."
Legend added: "We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say that Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now. The Voting Rights Act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised in this country today," he said, adding that "there are more black men under correctional control today than there were under slavery in 1850."
The 87th Academy Awards show was an especially musical Oscarcast, with host Neil Patrick Harris opening the show with a new Broadway-style production number, "Moving Pictures," by Frozen songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (and fun guest appearances by Anna Kendrick and Jack Black).
All five nominated songs were performed this year. Among the others, Adam Levine did "Lost Stars" from Begin Again; Tegan & Sara sang "Everything Is Awesome" from The Lego Movie (with rapping help from The Lonely Island) surrounded by a chorus of dancer-singers dressed as Lego toys; Tim McGraw performed "I'm Not Gonna Miss You," an acknowledgement of the reality of Alzheimer's Disease from the documentary Glen Campbell... I'll Be Me; and Rita Ora sang "Grateful" from Beyond the Lights.
The "in memoriam" segment was disappointing for its lack of any music people despite the loss last year of Oscar winner Ken Thorne (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) and nominees Ian Fraser (Scrooge), Gil Askey (Lady Sings the Blues) and Gerry Goffin (Mahogany). Thorne's photo is on the Oscar website, but the others are merely listed by name.
Jennifer Hudson, however, brought the house down with her performance of "I Can't Let Go," originally written for TV's Smash by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman but given new lyrics for the Oscarcast. Similarly, Lady Gaga earned a standing ovation for her medley of The Sound of Music songs, praised immediately afterwards by the film's beloved star Julie Andrews.
First-time Oscar music director Stephen Oremus conducted the 68-piece Oscar orchestra not at the Dolby but via remote from nearby Capitol Records (still a bone of contention among many studio musicians and music lovers). Sally Stevens was once again choral director, supervising a 40-voice gospel choir in "Glory" and a 20-voice choir accompanying Lady Gaga and the "Awesome" number. Ryan Shore was assistant music director.
Saturday afternoon, the Society of Composers & Lyricists held its annual champagne reception for Oscar music nominees at La Boheme in West Hollywood. All attended except for Hans Zimmer (Interstellar) and John Legend (who, fellow nominee Common quipped, was performing in Las Vegas because "he's got to make that money").
Academy music governor Charles Bernstein introduced the affair and SCL president Ashley Irwin introduced each nominee, presenting all with commemorative batons. Desplat, noting that he was a double nominee, joked, "Can I have two?" Songwriter Diane Warren ("Grateful") pointed out that "it's a good weapon!"
"Everything Is Awesome" songwriter Shawn Patterson summed up the feelings of many when he said that meeting his fellow nominees was, "for me, the award." Glen Campbell's wife Kim accompanied songwriter Julian Raymond (Campbell's co-writer on "I'm Not Gonna Miss You"), saying that "Glen would be so honored" but that, given his Alzheimer's condition, is "not really understanding." Raymond added that the experience had been "life-changing... the stuff that dreams are made of."
©2015 Jon Burlingame