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KUSC has Oscar-nominated music on its mind

Alexandre Desplat is interviewed as part of the radio station’s annual talks with Academy Award-nominated film composers

Alexandre Desplat, composers nominated for Best Original Score
Alexandre Desplat is an Oscar nominee for The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game. (Photo/Brigitte Lacombe)

The Academy Awards are all about flashy visuals, but there’s one film-centric tradition that’s a feast for the ears.

That would be Jim Svejda’s thoughtful Classical KUSC interviews with the composers nominated for best original score.

In the weeks before the awards ceremony, Svejda conducts in-depth, one-hour interviews with each composer, interspersed with excerpts from their nominated scores. 
The first interview this year, with composer Alexandre Desplat, will air at 9 p.m. Thursday as part of The Evening Program With Jim Svejda heard weeknights on Classical KUSC.

The prolific Desplat has two nominations this year, for his work on The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson’s comedy about a hotel in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka, and The Imitation Game, the biographical drama about British mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing.

KUSC announcer Svejda has been conducting one-on-one interviews with Oscar-nominated composers for more than a decade, and perhaps for 15 years, he estimated.

With a very few exceptions over the years, he’s managed to snag an interview with every nominated composer in the hectic few weeks from the Oscar nominations until the ceremony.

How does he do it?

Many times, the composer’s representatives call him.

“They know my intentions are good,” Svejda said. And he’s become friends with several of the oft-nominated composers, which makes getting an interview easier.

Thorough research

Another obvious reason is that “we are the movie capital of the world,” so it makes sense that film composers would be interviewed here, he said.

The interviews are generally done in person in one of the KUSC studios on the lower level of the AT&T building in downtown Los Angeles.

Svejda watches all the nominated films first, and — like the careful interviewer he is — does thorough research so that he is not surprised by anything that comes up during his conversations.

He noted that as directors are becoming less and less musically savvy, fully orchestrated scores are losing ground to ambient sounds, electronic music and the director’s favorite rock album. That’s not to say that rock musicians can’t be good composers of film scores, Svejda hastened to say.

“Hans Zimmer [nominated this year for Interstellar] and Danny Elfman [past nominee for Milk, Big Fish, Men in Black and Good Will Hunting] have great rock backgrounds.”

Svejda sympathizes with the obstacles talented composers have to contend with.

Alfred Newman used to say that everyone in Hollywood knows two jobs — theirs and music.

Jim Svejda

“The level of music literacy among directors is shocking sometimes,” he said. And there is a persistent myth that film scoring is something anyone can do.

“Alfred Newman used to say that everyone in Hollywood knows two jobs — theirs and music,” he said.

Does his interest in film music ever interfere with his enjoyment of a film?

“If it does, than the score isn’t successful,” Svejda said. “The music should serve the picture.” If it doesn’t, it’s jarring. “I’ve heard people in the audience literally say ‘shut up’ to the music,” he said.

Fellow nominees

In addition to Desplat and Zimmer, the other nominees for best score this year whose interviews with Svejda are in the works are Gary Yershon for Mr. Turner, a drama about the career of British painter J. M. W. Turner, and Jóhann Jóhannsson for The Theory of Everything, the romantic drama about physicist Stephen Hawking.

The dates and times for those interviews will be listed on the KUSC website under the highlights for The Evening Program. 
In addition to Svejda’s interviews, Classical KUSC will be devoting the week of Feb. 9-13 to film music with its KUSC at the Movies feature.

Film and music fans can go online to let KUSC know their most-loved film scores or favorite piece of classical music used in a film. In the online form, describe why you are fond of the piece or share a story about when you first heard it. Then, during that week, a selection of these requests will be played on the air.

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KUSC has Oscar-nominated music on its mind

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