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11th FMF: Cinematic Piano

The master of prepared piano and the famous creator of minimalist sounds Hauschka and OHalloran will perform on the 2nd of June 2018 at the ICE Kraków Congress Centre as part of the 11th Krakow Film Music Festival. The main theme of piano improvisations will be the Oscar-nominated soundtrack by both pianists, composed for Lion,a film by Garth Davis.

This is the third instalment of the FMF Cinematic Piano – a series of piano recitals presenting film music in new, chamber versions. In 2016, the first artist featured in the project was Aleksander Dębicz, a versatile pianist and arranger, who presented the festival audience with piano interpretations of film themes recorded on a best-selling album with the same title. Last year, the French jazzman and film composer Jean-Michel Bernard performed on our chamber music stage, and his recital programme was filled with piano improvisations on the most famous themes composed by the legends of film music, including Ennio Morricone, John Williams, Francis Lai, Alex North and Ryûichi Sakamoto.

This year’s concert in the Cinematic Piano series will revolve around the soundtrack by Volker Bertelmann (known under his stage name, Hauschka) and Dustin O’Halloran, composed for Garth Davis’Lion.(2016). The script of Davis’ Australian-American-British drama inspired by facts tells the story of a five-year-old boy lost in the streets of Kolkata. Little Sheru does not know his name or the town he came from. He is soon adopted by a couple of Australians from Tasmania and, starts a new and happy life as Saroo Brierley. However, after his graduation, he decides to find his biological parents; and so he sets off on a journey to find his family and his former home. The film story of young Saroo received six Oscar nominations (best film, music, cinematography, best actress and secondary actor), and the soundtrack has also been nominated for the Golden Globe and the British Film Academy Award (BAFTA).

When considering the details of the film’s musical setting, the director was thinking of both pianists – the German master of prepared piano, Volker Bertelmann and the American minimalist Dustin O’Halloran; both of which were mainly focused on their solo careers and considering cinema as an episode in their musical endeavours. Paradoxically, it was different aesthetics and erse creative views that helped the composers create the first soundtrack together. Dustin O’Halloran said: “In this particular film, our different styles turned out to be an asset. It was the first joint project, so everything was new, but at that time we were great friends already and we knew each other, as well as our music and skills in composition. The first half of Lion tells a story about the journey of two brothers, the protagonist’s courage and resourcefulness. Hauschka’s music has a lot of such naturalness and freshness in it. In its second half, the film is more about an inner, emotional journey, which better fits my aesthetics. Garth talked a lot about combining the two timelines in both parts of the drama, about the current timeline, when we react to the events taking place at the moment, and the spiritual timeline, when we feel the hero’s bond with his biological mother and real family. I think we’ve managed to capture the way a young boy was able to endure such difficult moments and at the same time show what made him dare to continue his search.”

Composing the music for Lion took two months. Hauschka and O’Halloran worked separately in Germany and Los Angeles. Because of the time zone difference, they composed their parts interchangeably – while one of them was sleeping, the other was writing and recording music. This caused many technical problems, because working in two different studios and two different time zones was not conducive to the cohesion of the score or the continuity of the creative process. “This wasn’t the biggest obstacle, though”, O’Halloran recalls. “The biggest challenge was finding the right equilibrium and emotional balance in the music, as well as matching the right instrumentation with our economical sound.”

According to critics and film music theorists, the economical sound mentioned by O’Halloran, is one of the greatest advantages of the soundtrack in Davis’ film. This is due to the fact that the emotional load of the plot is so high that a soundtrack that was too dense and intense would cause emotional overload and fatigue in the viewer. Therefore, the authors focused on the key feelings and fascinations of the protagonist (longing, love, search for a family), composing the entire soundtrack around a simple, anchored piano motif, which – left in a way suspended, without a resolution – reflects his uncertain situation and subsequent stubbornness. The remaining melodies in the score emerge from this short musical piece, which also forms the link, combining the narrative of the soundtrack to Lion.

Just before the Oscar Awards ceremony, during a party at the film producers’ home, Hauschka and O’Halloran were asked to recall the main theme of Davis’ film. The composers sat down at two pianos and improvised their own variations on the joint soundtrack. At the request of the FMF organisers, they decided to repeat their performance in Krakow. Join us at the ICE Kraków Congress Centre on the 2nd of June 2018 for the third edition of Cinematic Piano, featuring Hauschka and O’Halloran.

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