Dallas — Typical action thriller movie fans probably don’t recognize the name of composer Joe Kraemer.
But, whether they know it or not, a large part of the adrenalin rush viewers experience while watching Tom Cruise dodge bullets and fight for the right in thrillers such as Jack Reacher and Mission Impossible—Rogue Nation comes from the lavish symphonic background scores composed by Kraemer.
Tuesday at Dallas Performance Hall, Kraemer, whose music has enhanced the film-going experience for millions around the world, will enjoy a new thrill of his own: hearing his music performed live by the Dallas Chamber Symphony at Dallas City Performance Hall. The event, the opening of the fifth season for DCS, is a collaboration with Dallas VideoFest, and marks the opening of the 29th annual festival.
“It’s going to be a different experience to hear my music live before an audience,” Kraemer says.
Kraemer grew up in a musical family in Albany, New York in the ‘70s and ‘80s before studying keyboard and composition at the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston. Composing for film was an early ambition: he admits that his first adolescent record purchases were movie music albums, and he wrote his first film score at the age of 15 for a low-budget production by another ambitious young person, director Scott Storm.
After Berklee, Kraemer climbed up the Hollywood ladder, steadily building a reputation for solid creative work with scores for the new cult classic The Way of the Gun, the Cinemax series Femmes Fatales, and the direct-to-video thriller Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead. With Tom Reacher in 2012, and Mission Impossible—Rogue Nation in 2015, which grossed $200 million and $682 million in box office receipts, respectively, Kraemer had reached an apex in the world of film composition. And, along with the financial rewards of involvement in these blockbuster projects, he enjoyed the artistic satisfaction, in the case of Mission Impossible—Rogue Nation, of composing for a symphony orchestra of 88 musicians.
But, like any composer, Kraemer craved connection with a live audience.
Enter the Dallas Chamber Symphony, a young ensemble which has, under the leadership of conductor and artistic director Richard McKay, supplemented a traditional concert series with showings of film classics such as Harold Lloyd’s A Sailor-Made Man, Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr., Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, all with live, newly composed accompaniments.
Austin-based composer Brian Satterwhite, who has provided several of those scores and continues an ongoing association with the Dallas Chamber Symphony, is also a friend of Kraemer and a former Berklee student. He told Kraemer about the ongoing film-score project of the Dallas Chamber Symphony and urged him to take on a commission for a new score for F.W. Murnau's 1927 silent film Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans.
Kraemer jumped at the chance.
“One of the great things about working on a big budget project like Mission Impossible is that it enables me to do projects like this,” Kraemer says.
Although Kraemer didn’t have a hand in the selection of Sunrise as the subject for a new score, he is enthusiastic about the film—which, with its exploration of the lives of simple characters, is virtually opposite from the hero-focused action-thrillers Kraemer has been working on lately.
“At its core, Sunrise is a story about a married couple who become estranged and rediscover lost love,” Kraemer says. “It’s melodramatic, straightforward, and accessible. So I’ve created a score that’s straightforward and communicates directly.”
Much of the setting of Sunrise is rural, and the principal characters are farming villagers who wander into a confusing urban setting. Kraemer, whose action thriller scores roil with a romantic grandeur reminiscent of John Williams’ epic film scores, says that here he turned for inspiration to Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, a resonant celebration of rural folk culture. Although most music lovers know the beloved Copland score in a version for full symphony orchestra, Copland’s original version was written for a small dance company pit orchestra of approximately the same size as the 16-member chamber orchestra specified for Kraemer’s score.
“The biggest challenge has been satisfying the need for emotional expression within the bounds of a small orchestra,” Kraemer says of producing a dramatic 95-minute score. “Every instrument and every note has to count.”
On the other hand, Kraemer can take satisfaction from the realization that, for once, his music is a much more significant part of the conscious cinematic experience.
“Because it’s a silent film, the music is the entirety of the sound of the film,” Kraemer says. “There’s no competition with dialogue or sound effects.”
Though the audience of a few hundred Tuesday night in Dallas doesn’t begin to match the millions who hear his music while watching the adventures of Ethan Hunt as played by Tom Cruise, they will be acutely aware of the music—and will definitely know the composer’s name as they leave the performance hall. And, though the commission for Sunrise is only a fraction of what Kraemer might earn from a big-budget thriller, as Kraemer gladly points out, “There’s more to life than money.”
» To read more about the Dallas VideoFest, see our preview story here; and look for more on DVF29 to come