Profiles

Award-Winning Video Game Composer Austin Wintory Returns to Conduct the CSO

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His journey began in Aurora, where he lived his first seven years. His father was an orthopedic surgeon, and his mother a professional mom moonlighting as an artist. "Neither of them are musicians in the slightest," he stresses (nor is his older sister). His paternal grandmother was a music teacher and played violin in her local Arkansas orchestra, "so if we are assuming musicianship is a genetic thing," he says, "it came from her."

He spent his first decade in a kind of musical vacuum, but was always sparked by creative impulses. "I was into videogames, I was into movies," he says. "I really just liked creating."

When he was ten and living in Englewood, he developed a Ralphie Parker-style fixation on a BB rifle that belonged to his father as a kid. Mr. Wintory bartered culture for armaments, promising to give Austin the gun only if he learned to play Beethoven's "Für Elise" on the piano. Wintory accepted the challenge. "The local church-lady piano teacher all my friends took lessons from was booked," he says, "and I guarantee you if she hadn't been we wouldn't be having this conversation -- because they all quit."

Instead they discovered Derry O'Leary, a burly Irishman who (in Wintory's description) "looks like Santa -- big white beard, huge guy -- [and] wore Hawaiian shirts and straw hats and beaten-up sandals." Wintory got his crash course in "Für Elise" and earned his rifle, and he decided to continue with lessons. O'Leary eschewed the classical repertoire, and what he chose to bring to their next lesson would set the course of young Wintory's life.

"I'm from Los Angeles," says O'Leary (who for decades has been a regular sight at the Cherry Creek Mall, tickling the ivories at Christmastime), "and I scored a little bit of TV back in the '60s and '70s. I was always interested in film scoring. I brought over some soundtracks, because I have quite a collection of Jerry Goldsmith and other scores. We put on some albums, and he kept saying 'wow' and 'cool.'"

"They were so imaginative," says Wintory. "I couldn't believe music like this existed at all. It was just instantly, 'I need to do that.' I couldn't even read music -- I just knew I wanted to be a composer."

O'Leary tasked his pupil with scoring a fake movie, complete with a main theme, love theme, action sequence and end credits. "About three weeks later, he had it done," O'Leary recalls. "And it was great. His dad said, 'I think you've found his niche.'"

Wintory plunged into composing with single-minded determination. On his own initiative, he wrote new music for existing films as an exercise and taught himself notation and the fundamentals of music theory.

When he showed up to Cherry Creek High School, he was a bona fide film music nerd who knew that his idols (like Goldsmith and John Williams) were always credited as the composers and conductors of their music. "I marched straight into the orchestra at the very beginning of my freshman year," he says, "and the orchestra director, to his credit, basically opened up the doors. I ended up putting my music in front of the student orchestra and conducting it almost every day, all four years of high school. They performed it in their concerts four or five times a year."

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Tim Greiving
Contact: Tim Greiving