One of the most respected if not well-known contemporary Spanish film composers, Alberto Iglesias may not have been a household name among casual moviegoers but his scores graced such critically embraced foreign films as "All About My Mother" (1999), "Sex & Lucía" (2001) and "Volver" (2006), and his first major U.S. film, "The Constant Gardener" (2005), for which he earned his first Academy Award nomination. Drawing upon years of classical training as well as studies in electronic music, Iglesias often gave his chamber-based traditional orchestra music a decidedly Latin flavor and accent. With his score for the Afghanistan-set drama "The Kite Runner" (2007), Iglesias and his moving, impeccable music earned a second Oscar nomination, as well as further acclaim by filmgoers and filmmakers around the world.
Born in 1955 in San Sebastion, Spain, Iglesias studied music since childhood, focusing on harmony and counterpoint before moving on to piano composition. After formal training in Barcelona and Paris as well as his hometown, he formed a partnership with Javier Navarrete, and the two composers toured the world between 1981 and 1986, performing their own electronic compositions. Iglesias then moved into film scoring, beginning with Spain's "La Conquista de Albania" (1984) and "The Dream of Tangiers" (1986). While drawing notice from film buffs and soundtrack aficionados, it was not until he paired with popular Spanish director Julio Medem that he began to break out, beginning with "Cows" (1991) and "The Red Squirrel" (1993). Their collaboration continued with "Lovers of the Arctic Circle" (1998), an ambitious narrative following the relationship between young Ana and Otto, who meet when they are children and find their lives continuing to intersect in unexpected ways. Their next project was "Sex & Lucía," the story of a waitress, played by Paz Vega, who travels to an island where her former lover used to write, with flashbacks detailing their passionate and at times explicitly rendered romance. Iglesias relied on classical arrangements and sometimes moody set pieces to complement the poetic, time-shifting storylines of both films. He also scored "The Chambermaid on the Titanic" (1998) for director Bigas Luna, the political drama "The Dancer Upstairs" (2002) helmed by John Malkovich, and the Fidel Castro documentary "Commandante" (2003) for filmmaker Olive Stone.
But his most creative and productive ongoing partnership was with Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, known for tackling difficult subjects such as sexuality, gender, and identity, beginning with "The Flower of My Secret" (1995), followed by "Live Flesh" in 1997. Their first collaboration to earn significant critical notice in the U.S. was the celebrated "All About My Mother," the story of a grieving mother who seeks out her child's father, now a transvestite prostitute who never knew of the boy's existence. Iglesias added a haunting score, mixing piano cues and violins, which reflected a sense of passion as well as melancholy, drawing critical acclaim as well as a growing fan base among soundtrack collectors. Iglesias made good on his reputation with "Talk to Her," his follow-up for Almodóvar. The story of two men forced to connect with each other as they care for a comatose woman they each know, the film's score was singled out for its Spanish Flamenco pieces and stirring string work, especially on the two tracks, "Alicia Vive" and "El Amante Menguante."
Next up in his ongoing collaboration with the famed Spanish director was the provocative NC-17-rated "Bad Education" (2006), a complex story of a young cross-dressing man played by Gael Garcia Bernal who hopes to reconcile with his boyhood friend with whom he shared an abusive, sometimes intimate past, so that they might make a film about their troubles. The often suspenseful film, played as a movie-within-a movie, was heavily influenced by Hitchcock, leading Iglesias to draw upon the vicious strings of the classic Bernard Hermann scores of "Psycho" (1960) and "Vertigo" (1958). For their sixth film together, "Volver," Almodóvar and Iglesias broke into lighter territory. The film told the story of a hairdresser, played by Penelope Cruz, who is visited by the restless ghost of her doting mother - a much more delicate, humorous and whimsical effort than their previous works. Iglesias' score shared that sense of fantasy, evoking an almost bittersweet journey into the old memories for its main characters, earning the European Film Award for Best Original Soundtrack. While failing to earn an Academy Award nomination, many Oscar-nominated composers named "Volver" as the score they most admired for the year.
It was his collaboration with director Fernando Meirelles on "The Constant Gardener" that earned Iglesias his first real stateside critical acclaim, including an Oscar nomination. Based on the political thriller by novelist John Le Carre, the film follows an American diplomat, played by Ralph Fiennes, as he navigates a corrupt African landscape while trying to solve the murder of his wife, played by Rachel Weisz. Iglesias' score provided a minimalist backdrop, utilizing piano, strings and occasional choral work to underscore the sadness and despair of both a senseless crime and a suffering people. But despite positive notices from soundtrack critics, Iglesias lost the Oscar to Gustavo Santaolalla and his score for "Brokeback Mountain" (2005).
For "The Kite Runner," based on the acclaimed novel by Kahled Hosseni, the story of a guilt-ridden Los Angeles man who returns to his homeland of Afghanistan to make amends with a friend he wronged during childhood, director Marc Forrester sought an epic score along the lines of "Lawrence of Arabia," yet with a slightly ethnic feel. Iglesias embraced the challenge, insisting that while he was not a Middle Eastern composer and would not have time to travel to Afghanistan to do proper research, he would draw upon his own Spanish background, as well as its Indian and Middle Eastern influences. Iglesias also hit upon the idea of allowing the spoken language of the film, Dari-Pashtu, to inform the music. The result - while not exclusively Middle-Eastern - was a classical score often described as being in the vicinity of Afghanistan, if not Afghanistan itself, interpreted through a western orchestra. Iglesias won a Satellite Award for Best Original Score, as well as Golden Globe and Oscar nominations. With all the critical acclaim from film to film, it seemed a certainty that his music would accompany many thematically challenging and ambitious movies to come.