Photo credit: © Etienne Walter
After the overwhelming revelation that was Pas De Deux and the magical days we spent with James Horner and Hakon and Mari Samuelsen in Liverpool during November 2014, it was hard for us to resist attending the world premiere of Collage, a concerto for four horns.
So we set out to London toward the end of March 2015, full of enthusiasm and eager to discover this new concert work. Five months prior to the premiere, James Horner had told us that he hadn’t really started work on Collage, even though he was toying with a few ideas. This means that the composing process on Collage was far shorter than on Pas De Deux, which had been several years in the making. After completing Southpaw, the Maestro spent most of early 2015 creating his horn concerto. It was to be an atypical Horner entry and it left us with unique souvenirs.
March 27, 2015 – Royal Festival Hall
10.30 AM. The James Horner Film Music team patiently awaits the start of the dress rehearsal. There’s about ten of us, and we have the privilege of finding ourselves seats in the magnificent Royal Festival Hall. We have a chat with Mari Samuelsen, who has also come up to London for the occasion. She has a scoop for us, revealing the date of the Stavanger concert, the Norwegian premiere of Pas De Deux and the event which, as fate would have it, marks the very last time James Horner would conduct the piece.
From our fifth-row seats, we witness the successive arrivals of Richard Watkins, David Pyatt, John Ryan and James Thatcher. Following them, and holding the Collage score under his arm, is James Horner. He shoots the audience a quick glance, notices us and waves before ducking into a seat not far away from us.
During the Pas De Deux rehearsals, we were first offered the thunderous third movement. This time around, Horner presents us the piece in its entirety. We watch the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the four horn players seated up front, performing the notes that James Horner has composed for them, solo and in unison. We love every bit of it. It is an experience that no recording on disc will ever be able to reproduce.
That’s the first impression we get from Collage. The notes flow through our ears as water through a riverbed, given that the piece is structured as a lengthy crescendo. The music becomes increasingly dense and seems « unstoppable ». With the final notes still hanging in the air, it takes us a while to readjust to the sound of silence. Twenty-one minutes without a single dull moment, a veritable collage of musical cells which play in succession, refer back to one another and, over the course of their length, reveal a complex structure based on the juxtaposition of intricately linked motifs and colours.
Collage opens with sixty seconds of aching beauty, the four horns successively playing a musical phrase related to one of the themes from The Perfect Storm, a gigantic orchestral score which itself featured the horn prominently. After this, two pianos, the celesta, and the xylophone get the piece going, not unlike Pas De deux.
During its first few delicate minutes, Collage offers strings and woodwinds tying together the horn performances and it reminds us of the serenity heard in A Shore Never Reached (Back To Titanic). On one occasion, the strings and woodwinds
transition to a gorgeous orchestral swelling that recalls Pas De Deux. The strings are wonderfully heartfelt and weave around the colours of the horns, lending them a very welcome romantic air, while the dancing woodwinds add a sense of virtuosity to the piece. This impressionist tableau extends to the middle of the piece, when the mood turns sumptuously pastoral. It is a minute touched by beauty if ever there was one in the composer’s oeuvre, with a horn solo that transports us back to the woods of The Spitfire Grill and Iris.
Photo credit: © Etienne Walter
Slowly but surely, the piece plunges into a whirlwind of notes that vaguely resemble John Williams’s An American Journey. Still, Collage is vintage Horner and feels like a summary of all the horn material composed over the course of a career that lasted 35 years. The horn solos are the heart of the piece, emotionally and structurally. The way the instruments play off of each other is the essence of Collage.
During the last third, the music offers an unchained abundance of melodic material, the variations and progressions now delightful, upbeat and flighty. The transitions between strings and woodwinds are increasingly dynamic and take us back to the urgency of The Spitfire Grill’s A Desperate Decision. The horns are proud and cheerful, the strings ever livelier, the trombones pur happily away, and the percussion writing is especially clear. This ensemble embarks on the final movement, a brilliant swell of energetic music that culminates in a shining display of chimes.
The rehearsal goes on, about thirty more minutes’ work on moments revisited by James Horner and Jaime Martin. It’s all very minor, because most of the adjustments were made at Henry Wood Hall last night. At the end of the rehearsal, we are able to talk with the composer and the conductor and take pictures to commemorate these precious moments.
In the afternoon, we interview horn player David Pyatt. Please find the text using this link:
The concert itself was another chance for us to meet the composer. At the end, he walked up to the scene visibly touched by the rounds of energetic applause.
We spent one more evening in London and, much to our surprise, received another phone call from James Horner. He asked us what we thought about the concert. We talked for about fifteen minutes, during which he invited us to attend the rehearsals of Titanic Live that were just a month away, and he thanked us for coming over to listen to his music. It was the perfect end of an unforgettable stay.
On May 30, The London Philharmonic Orchestra, the four horn players, Jaime Martin and James Horner reunited once more for the recording of Collage, with Simon Rhodes acting as the recording engineer.
It turned out to be the last time James Horner ever recorded a piece of music…
John Ryan, Richard Watkins, David Pyatt, Jaime Martin and James Thatcher during the recording of Collage on May 30, 2015