A Q&A with Emmy-nominated Canadian Composer and Orchestrator Virginia Kilbertus

  1. Could you tell us about the film THE LIGHTHOUSE with Robert Pattinson, and how you became involved in orchestrating it?  

    The Lighthouse was such a unique and wild project to work on. I got to know Mark Korven, the composer, while I was a resident at the Canadian Film Centre. He got to know my music there and thought I would be a good fit given my background in avant-garde, 20th century and contemporary music. The score was so textural and experimental, a thorough understanding of extended techniques and notation practices was definitely needed! What’s funny is that I didn’t know much about the film until we were in the recording studio. I saw the score set to picture for the first time there, and everyone in the room was blown away. I felt so honored to have been a part of such a special film. I also learned so much from the project. Mark is incredibly creative and has an amazing intuition and knack for pushing musical boundaries. It was so inspiring to watch him work with the musicians to create sounds I didn’t even know were possible on acoustic instruments.

  2. You were nominated for an Emmy for your work for the Hulu series, ENDLINGS. I was quite taken with your description of essentially disrupting every sound and instrument you used in it. How did you go about doing that and why did you approach it that way?

    Endlings is another project that I feel so grateful to have worked on, because it was so freeing and so much fun! Although I have an immense love of classical and orchestral music, I’m also hugely influenced by a wide array of other music genres, and I felt like I was able to bring all of those together for the Endlings score. J.J. Johnson’s initial direction to me was that he didn’t want to be able to easily identify the instruments in the score. So that left me with a wonderful sort of conundrum. I needed to make the score otherworldly, but simultaneously relatable. I ended up distorting a bunch of acoustic sounds, blending those with some modular and analog synths, and layering in some raw acoustic extended technique recordings.

  3. Another project you recently worked on was the Richard Dreyfus film, ASTRONAUT. How did you approach that project and what did you gain from that experience?

    Working on Astronaut was just a beautiful experience all around. The project instantly spoke to me and felt like a perfect fit, musically. I approached it first by thinking of my instrumentation palette – and once I settled on celesta, bowed and metallic percussion, clarinet, and strings, the themes grew from there. I learned so much from working with Shelagh McLeod. My first pass was a bit heavy-handed, or over-scored, and through working with. Shelagh, I really learned the importance of pulling back, of restraint, and how to let the beauty and poignancy of a scene come through with very minimal scoring.

  4. In the past, you mentioned that you wanted to score a Western-themed video game, and although you ultimately had success with scoring it, you had initially been encouraged to score a more “feminine” genre. Do you have a preferred genre, and how did you go about handling that situation? 

    I think this is probably one of the biggest issues female composers are confronted with – the idea or stereotype that women are best suited to scoring certain genres, which just is not true in the slightest. When I was in this situation with the Western-themed video game, I fought hard to score it, and I am so glad that I did. It’s pretty satisfying to prove that you are capable of something others didn’t think you could do because of your gender. I’ve encountered this type of situation numerous times throughout my career and it’s something I will continue to push against. I don’t have a preferred genre, and the diversity of genres within the film scoring world is actually what drew me to the profession in the first place. Give me something lush and sweeping one day, and something dark and gritty the next!

  5. What is next for you?

    I’ve really been enjoying the different projects that come my way – both in terms of genre and format, and I hope to continue working with great people and stories!

    Interview by Valerie Manahan

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