Henri Mancini, Mark Rothko and the Beatles have inspired British composer… (Los Angeles Philharmonic )
British composer George Fenton, 61, is several decades into a career writing for film, theater and television. His film scores alone cover a great deal of ground, ranging from high-toned period pieces to smart comedies and much in between — "Dangerous Liaisons," "The Fisher King," "The History Boys,""Groundhog Day" and dozens of others.
He's been nominated for five Academy Awards, including for the score of "Gandhi" with collaborator Ravi Shankar.
Fenton's early days involved acting, including an important part in "Forty Years On," a play by Alan Bennett and some English television. He later wrote the music for Bennett's "Six Plays" and the film "The History Boys," based on Bennett's play.
Fenton is in town Friday and Saturday to conduct his own score for "Frozen Planet" — the conclusion of a trilogy of environmentally themed documentaries that aired on the BBC, with David Attenborough as narrator. ("Frozen Planet" will be projected at the Hollywood Bowl as the score is played.)
Fenton says those films have been important to him. "The mighty Trilogy of 'The Blue Planet,' 'Planet Earth' and 'Frozen Planet' has given me a new insight into the world we live in and some incredible personal experiences. Playing the scores to the images in concert has taken me all over the world," he says via email.
"The whole thing has really woken me up to the natural world and its values."
We spoke with Fenton about his influences.
The Beatles: No matter how much I liked other bands, there's no doubt that the Beatles changed the cultural landscape of the U.K. They triggered the explosion of bands, shops, hairdressers, restaurants, filmmakers. They made things seem possible, and however much I hated aspects of growing up, I was always grateful to own an electric guitar and be able to dream of one day doing the things they did. It was a little weird when I actually met them.
Jonathan Swift: I did a film about him once and during it I read a lot of quotes of his. There's one about drinking coffee whenever you can (coffee was the new big thing then) and when you can't, to be easy without it. I've found that an excellent maxim for de-stressing about life, particularly on airplanes.
Alan Bennett: The playwright, who has been my friend since I appeared in "Forty Years On" as a boy. He is a mixture of brilliance, self-effacement, humor and tolerance and has empowered so many people to become what they've become. He has so much weight but he never throws it around.
Henry Mancini: Hank Mancini was someone I always wanted to be like. He was unruffled and funny with an amazing facility for music and great freshness in his writing. I got to know him via my publisher and he would send me things from time to time, tools of the trade for a film composer — click track tables and books, stuff like that. And pencils, with a note that said, "Try these, George — the music writes itself." I love those days when the music writes itself. I think he had quite a lot of them.
Mark Rothko: I could stand in front of a Rothko for hours. I went through a brief phase of wanting to own one, but I'm a pragmatist. I look at them and marvel at just how much you have to know and how confident you have to be in your own skill, no matter how troubled you are, to represent all of it in something so simple. His canvases seem to me to be so powerful and so balanced. They give me hope, and they give me a goal in terms of process.