WSA-awards as a leg up to a higher podium

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News 12 Feb 2020
She was nominated for the World Soundtrack Discovery of the Year Award and has now received the Oscar for best original score. In between, she also picked up a Bafta, a World Soundtrack Award, an Emmy and a Grammy. In recent months things have been moving fast for Icelandic composer and cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir. Proof once again that the World Soundtrack Academy has an eye and a good ear for new talent.

Guðnadóttir’s revolutionary and innovative score for the TV series ‘Chernobyl’ first received an award at the WSA last year, followed by an Emmy and a Grammy. This is not the first time that winning a WSA award has turned out to be a leg up to the highest podium in Hollywood. This is why industry professionals sometimes call the WSA awards the little brother of the Oscars.

Setting the tone

The tone will certainly be set on 24 October in Capitole Gent, where the 20th anniversary edition of the World Soundtrack Awards will be celebrated. Film music, and subsequently sound and sound design, and their impact on film have been part of Film Fest Gent’s identity for decades. Twenty years ago, after many performances by composers and thanks to good connections with film music professionals, the festival decided to create a World Soundtrack Academy that would award prizes every year as a way of bringing friends and colleagues together.


This led to unexpected but prestigious results when it appeared that the WSA awards sometimes were an indication for the Oscars. First Ghent, then Hollywood? In some cases that turned out to be true. Like the time when Gustavo Santaollala played his guitar solo from ‘Brokeback Mountain’ in front of an enraptured audience in De Bijloke. A breathtaking world premiere that many still remember today. A few months later Santaollala won an Oscar for best original score with this soundtrack.

Pole position

For some composers, performing at a WSA concert is the first time they can hear their score live or are able conduct it themselves. A few weeks after Dario Marianelli presented his score for ‘Atonement’ here, he received an Oscar for it. Alexandre Desplat received a World Soundtrack Award in Ghent as Composer of the Year for the film ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’. What everyone saw coming for a while was confirmed a few months later: in Hollywood, Desplat received his first Oscar for the same film. Previously he had already been crowned Film Composer of the Year four times in Ghent. He has since won two Oscars, received nine Oscar nominations, and picked up two Golden Globes and three Baftas.


Together, composers awarded at the WSA have collected a total of 46 Oscars. John Williams, Film Composer of the Year at the first edition of the WSA awards, and John Barry each have taken home five statuettes. They also share more than 120 Oscar nominations with John Williams in pole position (47) followed by Elmer Bernstein, Thomas Newman, Hans Zimmer, Alexandre Desplat and Marvin Hamlisch.


WSA winners are doing pretty well for themselves at the Golden Globes too. We have counted 45 wins to date. The British Baftas take up slightly less space in the award cabinet of WSA winners with 27 awards. John Williams ends up in first place once again with seven trophies.

Film composers’ paradise

The selection of winners includes names such as Craig Armstrong, Patrick Doyle, Elliot Goldenthal, Howard Shore, Vangelis, Alberto Iglesias, Thomas Newman, Maurice Jarre, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Gabriel Yared. The list goes on and on. At one point or another, most of these composers were on stage in De Bijloke, Het Kuipke or Capitole Gent. ‘Ghent is a film composers’ paradise’, the trade journal The Hollywood Reporter wrote about the early years of the WSA. And it has remained that way over time. But the WSA doesn’t just set the tone, it also opened the door to other initiatives. These are not our words, but Variety’s, that other trade journal. The European Film Awards has had an awards category for film composers for years and for a while, Cannes also organised film music concerts. Other festivals, such as Krakow and Aubagne, to name but two, can stand proudly next to Ghent, which will soon enter its third decade with the WSA.