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Volume 18 Issue 5 - February 2013

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  • February
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MUSIC AND THE MOVIES: THE WELL-COMPOSED LIFE OF PI continued from page 11In the 25 years Danna hasbeen doing this highly specializedwork, did he everdream he would be nominatedfor two AcademyAwards? That questionisn’t asked at the BeverlyHilton. His music for Lifeof Pi is nominated for BestOriginal Score and “Pi’sLullaby” which he wrotewith Bombay Jayashri (shepenned the lyrics in Tamiland sings it on the movie’ssoundtrack) is nominatedfor Best Original Song.Jayashri wrote recently onher website that Ang Lee’swords — “A child sleeps notbecause he is sleepy, butbecause he feels safe” — werethe catalysts for her lyrics.Danna’s mini-press conferenceconcludes withsome personal history: “Mybiggest musical influenceswere not so much filmic. I“The music had toaddress emotionsbut be simple”grew up with progressive rock and classical training, in choirs and leadingchoirs but also with a huge interest in non-western music from alldifferent countries of the world.”It’s now mid-January and Life of Pi has grossed almost 0 millionin North America and more than 0 million in the rest of theworld. Anything is possible except what you expect. What accounts forthe surprising appeal of this spiritual adventure about a teenage boywho survives for more than 200 days on a lifeboat in the Pacific with aBengal tiger as his companion? In his Hot Button interview with DavidPoland, Danna spoke about the film in terms of tragedy and loss, crisisof faith, God vs. gods and universal ideas. “If the music portrayed thosebig ideas too directly it was difficult to watch,” he said. “The music hadto address emotions but be simple.”Balinese gamelan, all kinds of Indian instruments, choirboys and aTibetan men’s choir were all components of the score. “The challengewas to make it effortless and simple sounding.”He certainly succeeded in conveying its effortlessness. To me, thescore’s overriding effect was one of serenity, of a calm centre at the coreof what is essentially a harrowing experience. Right from the beginningof the film, the tranquility of “Pi’s Lullaby” sets the tone for what followswithout overstating the scope of it. It’s a perfect example of Danna’sexpressed aim to serve the film, and despite the song’s high melodicquotient, it does just that. As the music unfurls, it’s clearly in supportof the action of the screen rather than a comment on it.When the scene moves to Paris an accordion subtly underlines thechange even as an Indian flute reminds us of Pi’s origin. As the filmprogresses the Indian flute takes on a substantial role, the leader as itwere of the eastern musical forces Danna employs (orchestral stringsrepresent the western tradition). Whether it’s the innocent appeal ofa children’s choir or the insistent push of Indian drums, it’s the nonintrusivenessof the score that is as much the key to its success as is themusic’s intrinsic beauty.One of the few times the music swells occurs when the ship passesthrough the Mariana Trench, while the massive storm that sinks thevessel is accompanied by sound effects only. A later storm when Pi ison the lifeboat is set to music but its swells don’t mimic nature butinstead match Pi’s sense of the storm’s majesty. Similarly, Pi’s walkingthrough the meerkats on the mysterious island is unexpectedly set toan electronic tune, while the magical night that follows is supportedby an equally wondrous celestial track. Even when Pi finally reachesthe Mexican shore, Danna’s score makes no overt comment but onlyserves as a floor beneath the images.The remaining Oscar nominees for Best Original Score this year are a mixof veterans and relative newcomers, all representing the pinnacle oftheir profession. The music they’ve written for the four other nominatedfilms falls broadly into the category of that which makes an overtlyemotional statement on the action on the screen.Skyfall is Thomas Newman’s 11th Oscar nomination; he has neverwon. A signpost for music that comments on the action, it’s a big oldstylescore in keeping with the 50th anniversary of the James Bondfranchise. Right from its Istanbul opening it screams action, moves onto a blousy theme for the latest “Bond girl” and continues to ramp upthe energy level in concert with what’s on the screen, even managing aslight reference to the original Bond theme before the finale in Scotland.Lincoln is the 48th nomination for John Williams, whose 80th birthdaylast summer sparked rumours of retirement. He’s won five Oscars,the last for Schindler’s List 20 years ago, also a Steven Spielberg filmthat, like Lincoln, coincidentally had 12 nominations overall. Williams’scores invariably comment on the action, pumping it up and emotingright along with it, many times with memorable results. Lincoln findshim relatively restrained; the allusions to Aaron Copland sit comfortablybeside Spielberg’s subtle, understated but powerful direction,something the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s sensitive playing andgorgeous sound reinforces.Alexandre Desplat might be the most prolific film composer workingtoday. Seven films he scored were released in 2012, from the delightfulMoonrise Kingdom to Zero Dark Thirty’s taut suspense. But it is hisresourceful work for movie industry darling Argo that the 232 membersof the music branch of the Academy chose to nominate. His fifthnomination, he’s yet to win.For Anna Karenina, Dario Marianelli builds on a snippet of thefourth movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.4 as well as Russianfolk songs and dance (the waltz and mazurka). His sui generis faux-19th century theatre music supports screenwriter Tom Stoppard’s anddirector Joe Wright’s brilliant conception of Tolstoy’s massive novel asa piece of stagecraft. This is Marianelli’s third nomination; he won forAtonement, which Wright also directed.The 85th Academy Awards ceremony takes place on Sunday,February 24, at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood. The race for originalscore appears to be between Lincoln and Life of Pi. Lovely as “Pi’sLullaby” may be, Adele’s “Skyfall” has the heft to win best song despitehardcore support for “Suddenly” from Les Misérables. Will MychaelDanna be facing another gaggle of journalists that night? Anything ispossible except what you expect.Paul Ennis is a Toronto-based, classically trained musician whohas spent many years programming and writing about movies.62 February 1 – March 7, 2013

PHOTO: MARCO BORGGREVETokyo QuartetFarewell PerformanceFriday April 5, 2013 at 8:00 pmChurch of the Holy Trinity19 Trinity Squareon Bay Street opposite City Hall,on the west side of Eaton CentreTickets: no vouchers or exchanges416-366-7723The Tokyo Quartet willretire from the concertstage in June, 2013. Thisconcert is their farewellperformance in Toronto.In support ofMozart Quartet in D Major, KV 499, HoffmeisterZoltan Kodaly Quartet No. 2, Op. 10Brahms Quartet in C Minor, Op. 51, No. 1

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