Composer Carlos Rafael Rivera has been presented with the 2020 International Film Music Critics Association Awards for Best Original Score for Television and Film Music Composition of the Year by IFMCA members Jon Broxton and Craig Lysy. Both Rivera’s wins were for his spellbinding score for the chess-themed Netflix mini-series The Queen’s Gambit, directed by Scott Frank, and starring Anya Taylor-Joy as chess prodigy Beth Harmon, who overcomes a difficult childhood in an orphanage, as well as substance abuse problems, to become one of the world’s first female chess Grand Masters.
The other nominees in the Television category were Dracula by David Arnold and Michael Price, His Dark Materials by Lorne Balfe, Lovecraft Country by Laura Karpman and Raphael Saadiq, and The Mandalorian by Ludwig Göransson.
The other nominees in the Composition of the Year category were “1984” from Wonder Woman 1984 by Hans Zimmer, “Buck Takes the Lead” from The Call of the Wild by John Powell, “Symphonic Suite F – 1st Chapter: All Life” from Fukushima 50 by Tarō Iwashiro, and “Themyscira” from Wonder Woman 1984 by Hans Zimmer. These are Rivera’s first two IFMCA Awards, from his first two nominations.
Rivera was born in Washington DC in August 1970, the son of parents from Cuba. He began his career in Los Angeles as a member of the rock band Zoo Story, in which he played lead guitar and sang. He then earned a doctorate in Composition at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, where he studied with Donald Crockett and Stephen Hartke, and as part of the program was a protégé of composer Randy Newman. Simultaneously, Rivera was a professional guitarist and guitar teacher; he has performed onstage as opening act for The Who at the Hollywood Bowl, and recorded studio sessions for Island/Def Jam, and Universal Records.
Rivera began writing music for film and television in 2014, with his first score being the Scott Frank-directed action thriller A Walk Among the Tombstones starring Liam Neeson. He won the Emmy for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music, and was nominated for Outstanding Music Composition for a Limited Series, Movie or Special (Original Dramatic Score), for his score for the epic western mini-series Godless in 2017, prior to scoring The Queen’s Gambit in 2020. He has since worked on the HBO Max comedy series Hacks starring Jean Smart, the Disney+ children’s fantasy series Just Beyond, and the third series of the popular Mexican telenovela La Reina del Sur.
Away from film music, Rivera is the Director of the Media Scoring and Production Program at the acclaimed Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. He has served as Composer-in-Residence with the Miami Symphony Orchestra and was a musical consultant for “Invitation to World Literature,” an educational series funded by the Annenberg Foundation and produced by WGBH.
IFMCA member Jon Broxton said that The Queen’s Gambit was “wonderfully, unapologetically classical, and is rich in sparkling violin performances, infectious piano lines, and beautiful statements and passages for the full orchestra” and described the Main Title specifically as “easily one of the best cues of 2020, a mass of swirling classical strings, rich and powerful brass, and pounding timpani. It’s just stunning, like the most passionate dance, and perfectly captures the essence of the story, the opulence of the locations where the Grand Masters play, and the feverish will to win that Beth displays.”
IFMCA Florent Groult said that the score was “led by the piano and the strings of moving melodic cells, reminiscent of Desplat’s style from afar, forming a subtly changing inner musical voice with a classic elegance that will appeal to many”. Similarly, IFMCA member Tomasz Ludward said that “the greatest strength of this soundtrack lies in how it builds narration, emotions and drama … in the case of the grand chess final in Moscow, you can really talk about epic music. The orchestra blows up the picture beautifully”
See below for the acceptance speech and video interview conducted by Broxton and Lysy:
Click on the thumbnails for larger photo images:
With special thanks to Jason Kutchma, Erik Woods, Holly Broxton and Peet’s Coffee.