The Swiss Times - Swiss News in English

The Swiss sibling trio that sets the tone in Hollywood

Diego, Lionel and Nora Baldenweg are world-famous for their music for films, series and commercials. The siblings have just worked together with US star Liam Neeson. Despite this, hardly anyone knows the Zurich trio in public. A portrait.

It sounds like a paradox: the pressure is high in the film and advertising music industry. Precise work is required, often combined with tight deadlines. "At the same time," say Diego, Lionel and Nora Baldenweg, who have been in this business for over 20 years, "patience is one of the most important things in our profession." It can take years for loose contacts to turn into a concrete order.

This was also the case with "In the Land of Saints and Sinners", an Irish late western realized by Robert Lorenz, Clint Eastwood's long-time producer. Several years passed between the first talks and the contract being signed. The Baldenwegs made sure that the new film with Liam Neeson, which is soon to be shown in cinemas, sounds the way it does. Big budget, big stars, big attention. The siblings were even recently nominated at the prestigious Movie Music UK Awards in the top category "Score of the Year" - alongside greats such as John Willams and Alexandre Desplat.

Rougher customs abroad

Nora Baldenweg says that different standards apply to international productions than in Switzerland. Many composer-agents have tried to get this job. More competition, harsher customs. Baldenweg is surprisingly relaxed: In the end, she says, it's always a question of fit. Nothing can be forced.

But despite the differences, the core of the work remains the same: "We create worlds and moods, we develop a vision, we tell a story," says Lionel Baldenweg. The best possible result is created in collaboration with the other person - a director, for example. They sometimes invest more time in changes and adaptations than in the original composition, says Diego Baldenweg.

Their work is well received. In two decades, the three have made a name for themselves. They have consistently and persistently gone their own way, remaining approachable and likeable. Not something that can be taken for granted in this highly competitive industry. Baldenwegs take a sober view: every project starts from scratch.

Same blood, different abilities

The fact that they work together as siblings is a recurring theme. Of course, they are happy about the mutual openness and trust, but they are also grateful for their different skills. Diego is the main creative and technical composer, while Lionel and Nora take care of communication and business matters and complement their shared creative visions as co-composers. "Our difference makes our work better," Lionel Baldenweg is convinced. But they are less interested in the degree of kinship than the media. "What matters is what we deliver," says Nora Baldenweg.

Baldenwegs did not choose the classic path of training in film music. It all started with their band. One day they were told: "You can also make money with this music in advertising or film." One thing led to another. Eventually, they were asked by director Michael Steiner and composer Adrian Frutiger to provide the orchestral music for "Mein Name ist Eugen". "Back then, we knew how to compose songs and orchestral music, but not what film music was," says Diego Baldenweg and laughs. Despite all the discipline and seriousness, Baldenweg has retained a playful side.

Parents gave a lot

Today, film music, including TV series, makes up 80 percent of her work, 20 percent is advertising. It used to be the other way around. Despite international commissions, they enjoy working in Switzerland. Four years ago, for example, they composed the theme tune for the Swiss Film Awards. Shortly afterwards, they composed the Zurich Film Festival's theme tune. In 2009, they were also the first to record a film score (for "180°") with the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich and conductor David Zinman.

What about the fear of the white leaf? Baldenwegs have a good remedy for this: Time for food. In other words, they allow themselves to spend more than a month a year at festivals, watching films, meeting people and "not talking about music, but about exciting stories, God and the world", as Lionel Baldenweg says. "We get inspiration here," says Diego Baldenweg. The exchange is important to the three of them. The terms sincerity and authenticity come up again and again. Collaborations with conductors, orchestras and other disciplines are a central feature of their work.

It sounds like a paradox: commercial success and praise and appreciation from the experts. Baldenwegs manage it again and again.

*This text by Raphael Amstutz, Keystone-SDA, was realized with the help of the Gottlieb and Hans Vogt Foundation.


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