Award-winning conductor and orchestrator Irwin Kostal brought his innate musical genius to such Disney classic motion pictures as Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and Pete’s Dragon. He received Oscar® nominations in the category of Best Music, Original Song Score and Adaptation for all three films.
Quick to speak his mind, often layered within a joke, Irwin demonstrated a high standard in preserving the artistry and integrity of music. In 1982, while conducting the re-recording of music for Fantasia, originally conducted by Leopold Stokowski, Irwin quipped, “I’m not just wearing Stokowski’s straitjacket, I’m also wearing Mickey Mouse’s.”
Further surveying this musical charge, Irwin revealed his fine ear for high standard when he added, “Believe it or not, we do have the liberty of changing details, even orchestration, here and there. We also can play a little with the beat, making stresses coincide even more accurately with what we see on the screen.”
Born October 1, 1911, in Chicago, Illinois, Irwin discovered music as a boy, learning to play the piano.
He passed on college, saying, “I found out early what I wanted to do wasn’t being taught in most schools,” and he subsequently learned musical arranging at his local library, where he studied the symphonic scores of composers such as Beethoven and Debussy.
After landing his first professional gig as a staff arranger for Design for Listening, a Chicago-based NBC radio show, he moved to New York where he was tapped to arrange for Sid Caesar’s television series Your Show of Shows and went on to conduct for The Gary Moore Show. Later he received Emmy® Award nominations for his work on The Julie Andrews Show” and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring Kirk Douglas.
During the 1960s, he emerged as one of Broadway’s preeminent musical orchestrators. His work for the original stage versions of West Side Story and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum eventually led him to Hollywood and Mary Poppins.
His motion picture peers soon honored Irwin with two Academy Awards for orchestrating and supervising the Leonard Bernstein score for West Side Story, followed by orchestrating and conducting Richard Rodgers’ The Sound of Music.
Among Irwin’s other notable film contributions are Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Charlotte’s Web, both of which reunited him with fellow Disney Legends and songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman. In 1983, Irwin returned to Walt Disney Studios to compose and conduct for the beloved holiday short Mickey’s Christmas Carol.
Irwin Kostal passed away on November 23, 1994, in Studio City, California, while serving as president of the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers.