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Producer Interview: Sandra Tomek

posted Oct 11, 2015, 11:22 PM by

Hollywood In Vienna - A Conversation With Sandra Tomek

Sandra Tomek is the founder, producer and artistic director of Hollywood In Vienna. The yearly event celebrates modern and classic film music in Hollywood and traces it all back to its origins in Vienna, the city of music. Hollywood In Vienna gives audiences a chance to experience an amazing concert with many featured guests. This year James Newton Howard will be highlighting the event. Sandra Tomek takes some time for a detailed and fascinating conversation about the making and organization of the event.

Interview Conducted By:
Michael Hollands

Special Thanks:
Sandra Tomek
Thomas Mikusz 
Krakower Poling PR

MH: First of all, I would like to thank you for taking your time today in order to talk to me about your creation, Hollywood In Vienna.

ST: You are very welcome!

MH: In 2009 you presented the very first Max Steiner Film Music Achievement Award to legendary composer John Barry. What was your inspiration behind this event?

ST: The first concert was actually conducted in 2007, but it wasn't until 2009 that we started to present the first Max Steiner Award. Not only is it our intention to honor the legacy of Austrian composer Max Steiner, but to also present a special film music achievement award to the most prestigious composers working in the industry. When we first started, we were not sure whether it would work out, since Vienna has quite a history in terms of classical music, but film music was perceived as something "American". Initially I thought there were doubts whether the public would respond to our event. However Vienna has a strong connection to Hollywood history with composers such as Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold being extremely successful scoring classics such as Casablanca, Gone With The Wind and The Adventures Of Robin Hood. Therefore it was a long way in the making and of course we needed a substantial budget to realize the concert. Thankfully we have received great public support and also within the industry from people like Bruce Broughton. The award is furthermore an opportunity to draw attention to the legacy of Max Steiner here in Vienna, who might be better known in Los Angeles than in his hometown. By staging a great concert, we could establish Vienna as a film music capital.

Hollywood In Vienna 2013

MH: Personally, I am glad this event has been created in order to present the world of film music to a wide audience. Sometimes I feel that film music simply doesn't get the attention it deserves, which is unfortunate as many people are not familiar with the names of the great film music composers...

ST: Not necessarily! Since we started the event, the response has become bigger and bigger and this year Hollywood In Vienna will be broadcast in 35 countries. This clearly shows the broad acceptance of our concert. When the tickets went on sale this year, we experienced something that had not happened before. The server crashed for a moment due to the extremely high demand of this year's event. This clearly shows that our film music event has become increasingly popular!

MH: Right now you mentioned the server problem. On the first day the tickets were available, I had a conversation with a friend over the phone and I asked him whether he had already purchased his tickets and he told me that the event had already been sold out and I was just stunned. So then, I immediately went downstairs to my computer to check the situation and see whether all tickets were really gone. Luckily, I managed to get one! The response was simply huge. This temporary system breakdown, to me, clearly indicates that the event has become really popular, which of course speaks for the quality of your event and of course many fans want to experience the music of James Newton Howard live. He is one of the best and most popular composers the industry has to offer.

MH: Producing and preparing an event of this size requires an enormous team effort. Could you get me some insight regarding the structure of the event also in terms of lighting, set design and music selection?

ST: We work closely with our music department and a music supervisor. Up front, we listen to a large selection of pieces, make our selection, which then has to be arranged for the concert. A suite is then prepared, which also has to be approved by the composer who is honored at the event. For example this year, by the time we had the music arranged, the pieces and suites had to be sent to James Newton Howard, so he could approve the music, which will be performed during the concert. It is a complex and exciting procedure. We also have a visual design department, which helps us with set and lighting design, in order to provide the right atmosphere. You also have to keep in mind that the event is broadcast on television and we have certain clips played on screen that accompany the music performed on stage. Everything, including the electronic music elements, has to be in sync. I am proud to say that this year's concert will feature world premiere selections of James Newton Howard's Blood Diamond, Maleficent and The Hunger Games.

James Newton Howard

MH: WOW, this does indeed sound very complex. I think the work really pays off and on TV you can really see the effort that you and your team put into this. So far, I have only been able to watch Hollywood In Vienna on television. Yet, just by watching it on the screen at home, I must say it is extremely well produced not only in terms of presentation, but in terms of music selection and performance, visual design and camera work. The execution is just great. Fortunately, this year I will experience my first live Hollywood In Vienna concert!

MH: How do you decide which composer will be honored at your event each year and have you already been approached by publicists and agents in Hollywood with suggestions?

ST: We discuss the honoree with our committee very early on and yes, we have also been talked about in Hollywood...

MH: Great, this shows how the event is perceived and the word is spread very fast. So, this comes a no surprise to me that Hollywood is “knocking at your door”.

MH: You have worked with different people on stage and also with different conductors, like John Axelrod and David Newman, whom I really admire both as a composer and conductor...

ST: David Newman is an incredibly nice person and a pleasure to work with. We have worked with a group of talented people and all the composers we have invited so far, from Alan Silvestri to James Horner and Howard Shore, to name just a few, have been great and down to earth. Composers have to write and produce a score sometimes within a matter of weeks, so they have to be team players, which I think leaves absolutely no room for airs and graces.

Sandra Tomek & Alan Silvestri

MH: I absolutely agree and I think it shows that highly creative and brilliant artists can be very down to earth and they check their ego at the door.

ST: Every composer has been so proud to receive this award and James Horner was actually in tears during the concert. Afterwards he approached me and asked to stay in the empty concert hall after the audience had already gone, in order to process everything that had happened during the event. It was so emotional for him. When James came to Vienna, it was actually the first time he had experienced his own music live.

James Horner

MH: It must have been a very special night for everybody involved and James Horner was very touched. To me this was a very special event as well and I think, of all the Hollywood In Vienna concerts I have seen, I think this is my favorite one so far.

MH: I checked out and it seems the whole event appears much bigger this year, with more guest performers and you even invited a special choir. Did this in any way affect your preparation?

ST. We already discussed certain things back in December. The actual preparation started in May and there are five major rehearsals with orchestra and choir. Everything is well prepared and we will also present the world premiere of "The Hanging Tree", which James wrote for The Hunger Games plus a song from the movie One Fine Day, which will be performed by Brian McKnight. The program will furthermore include a special suite from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. So it was a lot of preparation, but we managed everything well and are proud of this year's concert.

MH: "The Hanging Tree" will probably also stand as one of the evening's highlights. I like all scores James has written for The Hunger Games so far. My personal favorite score by James is The Village, so I am really looking forward to this one as well. Another score which I would just love to hear is The Last Airbender, one of James' finest achievements ever. Will this piece be a part of the concert?

ST: Yes, absolutely. As a matter of fact, we will kick off the James Newton Howard tribute with a composition from this particular score - a perfect start for the evening.

MH: Fantastic! Wyatt Earp seems to be a score that James himself is really proud of. Did you, by any chance, also include this score?

ST: Yes, it will be a part of a James Newton Howard medley. We simply have to make a choice about the pieces that will be performed and how to present them to our audience. Time is also a factor. So we decided to incorporate it into the medley.

MH: Is there a score by James that you consider to be your favorite one?

ST: I like The Village very much. The violin parts are wonderful. Another beautiful score that also features the violin is Defiance. Those two blend together really well, so we have prepared a little suite of those as well.

MH: At the beginning of our conversation we were talking about the success of the concert and the fact that Hollywood has also taken notice. Is it your intention to further expand the concert or have you reached a certain level in terms of performance and organization that would make you say that things should stay the way they are?

ST: Oh well, since we are all perfectionists, I am sure we will find something that we think can be improved or done in a different way.

MH: For the past four years you have given a special title to all events like Thrilling Moments or Comedy Tonight. This year's event has been promoted as Tales of Mystery. What can the audience expect from the first part of the night?

ST: Oh, it will be eerily beautiful. For instance, we will reacquaint our audience with The Addams Family and scare them with The Omen, Death Becomes Her and Poltergeist. Further highlights include Alice in Wonderland and The Perfume, which will see a special vocal performance by Daniela Fally.

Daniela Fally

MH: If I am informed correctly, you will also incorporate The Da Vinci Code?

ST: Yes, this score will also be featured in the concert.

MH: I will attend the Gala Evening on October 16th. Yet, the actual experience will start sooner with both a symposium and a workshop, right?

ST: Yes, we will have a symposium on the 13th and a workshop on the 14th of October at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. The International Film Music Symposium will feature James Newton Howard and several other guests such as Richard Bellis, Conrad Pope and Sam Schwartz from the Gorfaine / Schwartz Agency.

MH: Great, looking forward to the concert, Ms. Tomek. I am thrilled to finally be able to experience a live Hollywood In Vienna concert. It is exciting to see you take the fantastic world of film music beyond the theaters, not only with Hollywood In Vienna but also with events that you promote with Best Of Film Music. I want to thank you again for your time and for all the information you have just shared with me. I really appreciate it!

ST: It's my pleasure!

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