Former hedge fund PM is behind the music of Oscar-winning "12 Years a Slave"

By Simone Foxman

Tue Mar 11, 2014


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Nicholas Britell focuses on a different kind of performance.


Hollywood and Wall Street have long had a love-hate relationship. Actresses grace both the marquis and the arms of the world's most notorious financiers. Both the financial press and the paparazzi are gleeful when Hollywood and Wall Street snipe at each other over movie financing. It's not often, however, that a former hedge fund principal ends up as a composer of an Oscar-winning feature film.

Enter Nicholas Britell, who's earning accolades for his musical contributions to 12 Years a Slave. The 33-year-old was a principal at the emerging markets-focused Covepoint Capital Management, where he invested in such frontier markets as Egypt and Vietnam until he left the firm in 2010. Previously a portfolio manager at Bear Stearns Asset Management, he became a portfolio manager and principal at Melissa Ko's Covepoint when it spun out of the investment bank. Covepoint received numerous accolades throughout the years; in 2009, it was one of Absolute Return's Funds to Watch and in 2010 it received a nomination for the best U.S.-based global macro fund. But last year the firm decided to return capital to outside investors and transform itself into a family office following a sour 2011 and 2012.

Britell wasn't responsible for the entire score of 12 Years a Slave, which received a Golden Globes nomination, but he was charged with recreating the music of the 1840s, both by arranging four old spirituals or fiddle songs and composing six new tunes that pay homage to the time period, according to The Hollywood Reporter. This task was made all the more crucial by the fact that the film's main character, Solomon Northup, is a violinist. Arts reporters at Variety, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, and The Hollywood Reporter all delve into Britell's musical contributions to the film in more detail.

Britell's musical background runs deep. He studied piano performance at The Julliard School's pre-college program before going to Harvard to study psychology. He worked on a smattering of musical projects even as he pursued a career in finance, composing and playing music for a variety of shorts and features, according to IMDb.

But his musical career really started to take off in 2012. He wrote the score for the award-winning PBS documentary "Haiti: Where Did the Money Go?" and feature film Gimme the Loot. He also teamed up with Benjamin Millepied-best known for his choreography in the movie Black Swan and his marriage to Natalie Portman-to form The Amoveo Company, a production company and art collective. He also produced Whiplash, a feature film which won top honors from both the audience and grand jury at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in January.

Britell did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

See also: Nicholas Britell's website and Soundcloud

ISSN: 2151-1845 / CDC10004H