Interview: Yati Durant on the Edinburgh Film Music Orchestra
This Friday (20 May) sees the public debut of a new orchestra, one that aims to bring a decidedly diverse range of film music old and new to hopefully appreciative audiences. Paul F Cockburn speaks with Yati Durant, founder, musical director and conductor of the Edinburgh Film Music Orchestra.
Paul F Cockburn: When it comes to film music, how much of a challenge is it to even find suitable scores for an orchestra to play from?
Yati Durant: It's actually very difficult; there's very few resources where you can get a hold of this music. The best way is to actually contact the composers themselves. Most of it has never been published in sheet music form, which just shows you how film music has never really been thought of in a serious fashion. They'll happily sell you the soundtrack on CD, but publishing the sheet music is the last thing that any film studio would consider doing.
That's a real shame; even with John Williams, you can get orchestral versions of his most famous scores, but his work like (Alfred Hitchcock's final film) Family Plot (1976) are erased off the face of the earth. They just do not exist in any written form to perform, except in some Studios' archives, completely out of reach.
Much of the footwork (establishing) the Edinburgh Film Music Orchestra involves a lot of research to locate these things and then put them together to a playable form. The Preisner scores (from Three Colours: Red, and Three Colours: White) have never been performed live in the UK; in fact, I think they've only had one or two live performances in Europe. Even though aficionados will have seen the films, they've never before heard the score performed live.
What inspired you to set up the orchestra?
I started by composing my own film music and I've organised concerts, for example, with experimental film music for The Battleship Potemkin, or German Expressionist films. I've had the opportunity to re-score some of my music for live performance, integrating it into other compositions for concert.
I realised that there is very little opportunity to perform film music on a level that it can be actually appreciated in a concert situation, so I've always fantasied about having a film music orchestra. I know things like this existed in the past, and there's the Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg, which is probably one of the world's only full-time symphony orchestra dedicated completely to film music.
They've been extremely successful, and are called on for all different types of projects, but I just never saw the opportunity to experiment with an orchestra like that which, as a composer, is what you really want to try to make possible.
What I was looking for is an ensemble willing to take some programming risks, and perhaps even commission and/or perform world premieres of new film music. I don't really think that's been done before. When I started here (at the University of Edinburgh) ” I teach film music composition, and run an MSc in composition for screen ” I just thought it would be a fantastic idea to see if something like that could work here.
For the time being, all the orchestra members are donating their time for free...
Yati E. Durant
For this first concert we have about 20 members; a lot smaller than a symphony orchestra but also a lot larger than a typical silent film music orchestra during the 1920s and 1930s. It does depend on necessities; I've organised silent film concerts where you only need five, seven or eight players, so it will really revolve around what we're playing.
In any case, in the studio, even the greatest film music composers use a lot of recording techniques like overdubbing; they use a string group of maybe 10 players, supplemented with electronic support. When we hear a film music concert, for example by the BBC Concert Orchestra, that's actually an extremely luxurious film music experience that even the greatest film composers now just don't enjoy when they're under tight time and budget pressures.
What I'm trying to do at the moment is to create relationships over time with these musicians so they'll see that this orchestra is active, and that we've got a lot of projects going on that are varied ” from large to small ensembles, and from mainstream to experiemental.
Your inaugural concert features music from Kieslovski's Three Colours and Polanski's The Ninth Gate, along with your own score for Chaplin's The Vagabond (performed live to screen). Is the programme deliberately designed to be a calling card showing the range and scope of film music you hope to perform in the future?
Definitely. I've always been fascinated by Polish film composers, who have a unique musical history and a type of musical ingenuity and development that perhaps is unprecedented among composers of the last 40-50 years. I wanted to experiment taking some of them on board.
My score to Chaplin is definitely experimental, although it's not extremely aggressive, but it shows that we want to have as many premieres as possible. Already, there are several composers who have enthusiastically asked if they could take on an experimental project, write a film score that we could perform live. I absolutely support that, that's what we have to do.
We have an open call for scores; doesn't mean that everyone can get a performance, but I want to see what's out there, I want to see who has the same ideas that we have. I suppose the biggest fantasy that would come out of this would be a type of film music festival.
Clearly you believe that music is a vital part of the cinematic experience.
It has always been an extremely important part of the theatrical and cinematic experience. The composer Hanns Eisler believed that music blossomed through the development of film; he felt it personified what was an otherwise quite ghostly experience: being in a dark cinema full of people, watching a flickering black and white screen with some abstract, cut out movements. Directors like Hitchcock would say that music was the single most important tool that the director could use to get his message to the public.
If you try to watch The Battleship Potemkin or maybe a Chaplin film, in complete silence ” maybe even putting on a flickering sound in the background so you're pretending to hear the projector ” it's not a very pleasant experience. You're really missing a huge chunk of it; but when the music comes in, you're there.
The Edinburgh Film Music Orchestra's first concert is at 7.30pm, Friday 20 May, at the Reid Concert Hall, Edinburgh. The programme will feature film music by Zbigniew Preisner, Wojciech Kilar and Yati Durant. Entry is free, although donations are welcome.
Yati Durant is an American-born composer, conductor, trumpeter and keyboard musician. Currently based in Edinburgh, he is Lecturer of Music, Sound and Moving Image (and also programme director of the MSc in Composition) at the University of Edinburgh. He has worked with numerous composers and musicians around the world, and previously lived in France, Germany and Poland. His critically acclaimed live score to the German expressionist film Vin Morgens bis Mitternachts was released on CD and DVD. His score for Chaplin's The Vagabond was selected as a finalist of the Concorso Giovani Musicisti Europei.