CF) Why did you take on Troy the moment James Horner asked you ?
JG) I’d have to be crazy to turn down an offer to work with a musician as renowned and as in demand as James Horner. In Hollywood, everybody knows everybody and David Foster was always going on about James Horner and John Williams. When I got his phone call, I was over the moon and I didn’t hesitate, not for a second. He told me about Troy, the movie, the music he was composing for Achilles and Briseis and I said yes there and then.
CF) Why were you interested in working with James Horner ?
JG) You know, I’m pretty close with Charlotte Church since we recorded The Prayer together and whenever we hook up, she always tells me : "I hope he’ll call me back" or "When is he going to call me back ?" Two or three times, okay, you don’t pay any attention, but when she goes on about it the whole time, it becomes obsessive. And rightly so, because James Horner is very much in demand because of the emotional richness of his music and because of its quality. Walk into his world, and you find yourself in the company of illustrious composers. That’s what I’m always looking for : present-day musicians who are mindful of the repertoire and who use their own music to keep it alive.
CF) Did David Foster have anything to do with your decision ?
JG) No, not at the time James called me. But as soon as we had finished talking, the phone rang again and David wanted to know what the news was. But really, David was a key player. He is a huge influence on my style and I owe him a lot on Closer. Without him, I don’t think it would have been so easy to go from Closer to Remember.
CF) James Horner told us that less than an hour after his phone call, you were at Todd-AO listening in on the recording sessions.
JG) I asked to see him and he said : "Right now, I’m recording at Sony Scoring Stage. Come over if you want to." I figured I wasn’t going to say no to that, so I spent two magical hours at the recording sessions. He took a break and told me about the song, he introduced me to Tanja Tzarovska and asked me to watch a nearly finished cut of Troy on a monitor in the room. Quite apart from the prospect of contributing to the end title song, I was thrilled to see how over the span of two hours he literally took possession of the visuals and constructed a piece of music, bit by bit. He rehearses the percussion once, then again. He moves on to the brass. I am watching carefully as the puzzle is being assembled. With some assistance from Randy Kerber, he changes some stuff here and there and starts a new round of rehearsals. After some time, he says : "Okay, let’s go." And then, the whole thing hits you in the face ! It’s like the music swallowed the scene whole and seen from the outside, the whole thing was absolutely amazing ! I stayed the entire day and asked him if I could come back. I ended up spending lots of hours in the recording studio.
CF) Why was Remember such a satisfying experience ?
JG) The melody is really beautiful. David Foster and Randy Kerber adapted it so that it fit my voice and my style, but it was still pure James Horner. The lyrics are fantastic too and miles away from all the violence in the movie. Remember has a certain elegance and it is also a profound piece, largely thanks to Tanja Tzarovska and her wonderful voice. Between the two of us, we’re a mirror of the relationship between Achilles and Briseis and that’s the kind of communion that James was aiming for. As far as I’m concerned, I am very happy with it.
CF) Did you receive any particular instructions ?
JG) No, or rather yes, just one : respect Tanja’s voice [laughs]. James really wanted Remember to be about counterpoint, both vocal, modal and tonal (everything is in two times two octaves). Beyond that, he just told me : "Sing the way you feel the piece. Don’t worry, you’ll know when the right moment has arrived." In the end, of course, he had mapped the whole piece out with Tanja, who did the two voices, and that’s more or less the version you all know by now. [laughs]
CF) You’re still very young, but how would you like to be remembered ?
JG) I sometimes try my hand at composition and I play the piano but I’m no maestro like James Horner. I hope to make my mark vocally in a musical industry where, in the States at least, the voice no longer takes pride of place. In a world of rap, R’n’B and hip hop, Closer and Remember are like UFOs ! I would love to be able to restore the voice to its rightful position by drawing from new or old compositions, so basically by respecting and following the repertoire.
CF) Are you surprised by how successful Closer has been in the States? JG) Yes, it has sold over five million copies, so I have to believe that the album touched an audience beyond its mere value as a curiosity. It certainly filled a void in the current music scene here and Closer was always intended as a valid artistic alternative. Reaching this big an audience was a real challenge and I was more than pleased to see the American audience embrace an album sung in Italian, French or Spanish.
CF) Why was France such a strong presence on the album ?
JG) I love your country, its cultural diversity, its scenery, its refusal to just "follow" … This may sound like a cliché, but being in Paris is always something new and fascinating for an American, and I always tend to feel good in France. And you know, all the photos in the booklet were taken in Paris or in the French campagne [“countryside” – tries a French accent – CF]. It’s where I feel at peace and at home. Of course, your language is very complicated and I prefer singing in Italian or in English, but even though it’s a lot harder in French, that’s part of why it’s so fascinating. There’s nothing easy about France and it really shouldn’t be. It just makes it that much more rewarding when you win an audience over.
CF) Last year, you were on Star Academy with L’Hymne A L’Amour. Why did you choose that song ?
JG) Again, you’ll think it’s a cliché, but when you get into the French repertoire, two names keep popping up: Edith Piaf and Céline Dion. David Foster had given me other options, but I almost accidentally chose L'Hymne A L'Amour and Pour Que Tu M'Aimes Encore. I adore Céline, we did My Heart Will Go On together in Las Vegas, but in the end, I settled on Edith Piaf because of the woman she was and because of what she represents. And of course, L'Hymne A L'Amour is one of the greatest declarations of love across the vast spectrum of art forms.
CF) Tell us some more about your performance.
JG) Well, Italian is a language that seems to flow easily. On the other hand, French is more complex because the syllables are very sectioned and certain sounds like "e" and "in" do not exist in English. I had to rehearse the hell out of it and it’s still a hard nut to crack. Then again, I have lots of friends in France and Céline Dion and Lara Fabian were wonderful teachers, but yeah, I’m still working on it [laughs].
CF) You know Lara Fabian, so you’re more or less the go-to guy for anyone who wants to know more about A.I. and For Always.
JG) John Williams writes like James Horner: their music is full of refinement, it is intellectual and emotional. It’s a beautiful and elegant song and, like Remember, it showcases all the talents involved. It was a great honor to be a part of that, and I owe a lot to these composers’ expertise and to their big hearts.
Source: JOSH GROBAN, UN CLOSER TRES E-TROIE !
J.H. et des poussières : La Guerre de Troie aura bien lieu, par Jean-Christophe Arlon & Didier Leprêtre – Cinefonia Magazine 2004
INTERVIEW WITH TANJA TZAROVSKA
"Lovely Tanja Tzarovska… Your voice is what inspired me to take this project on". James Horner wrote these glowing comments in the CD booklet. What do they mean to you?
TT) He’s such a sweet and generous man, I’m not at all suprised by those words. They are flattering but really, I wasn’t suprised. I was amazed by his willingness always to listen and try to understand the person in front of him, whether it be me, Josh Groban or Wolfgang Petersen. He thanks every single collaborator in the booklet but really, it should have been the other way around, because it’s a great honor to work with such a great Maestro.
CF) When I looked up the name Tanja Tzarovska on the Internet, I was immediately directed to official Macedonian websites. Have you become something of an icon in your home country ? TT) Again, I’m flattered. But then again, who really knows Macedonia ? I am sure that not even 50% of all Europeans would find my country on a map. As to America and Asia, I don’t even want to know. When someone achieves fame beyond our borders, it immediately becomes a state affair and and an excuse to advertize Macedonia as a country. My reputation at home is what it is, but the fact that I was able to work on two movies so widely seen as The Passion of the Christ and Troy has added immensely to my exposure. I have been working in London for years now and my choice of projects depends on time and chance. In other words, the movies come to me, not the other way around. I offer my singing, my tradition and my roots : these three elements make up my resumé. True, I am sought out for the Macedonian that I am, but my vocal color exceeds those borders because for me, singing is an opportunity to represent something that goes beyond the restrictions of identity.
CF) The Maestro couldn’t have said it better. You’re Briseis, Achilles and Death all rolled into one.
TT) That’s quite true. James’s music and its spiritual touch are of a very wide range. His discourse is as vast as it is precise. That’s why we got along so well. Quite apart from his technical expertise, James Horner is a man who studies your sensibilities and makes them his own. He recognizes and internalizes your talent and migrates it into his own discourse. That means that you become an integral part of his music rather than just an additional color or a soloist.
CF) Did you know James Horner prior to Troy ? TT) Indirectly, yes. I had chosen Dreams To Dreams when I enrolled in the Skopje Conservatory and I have often sung My Heart Will Go On on Macedonian television. I also knew James through Mel Gibson, who often talked about him during the recording sessions of The Passion of the Christ. And I also knew him through Maggie Boyle, Sissel and Charlotte Church, whom I secretly envied. So when we first met, I felt quite at home in his world and we immediately hit it off.
CF) You mentioned Mel Gibson. How was he on The Passion of the Christ ?
TT) Like James Horner, he is someone who throws himself body and soul into a project. We talked passionately about the score, and he really makes you feel at ease, that’s a gift he has. John Debney and I worked very hard to find the right sound for the film, especially for The Olive Garden, and in the end it was Mel who was repsonsible for the approach we took. He’s a dedicated and determined artist, and he considered the shoot as his own Passion. That kind of rubbed off on me, so you can imagine the recording sessions were intense, exhausting but also very poignant.
CF) How do you go from The Passion of the Christ to Troy ? TT) Film music is perhaps the one modern art form that allows you to establish links between various cultures. The Passion of the Christ is a melting pot of "world" influences that are crystallized in John Debney’s score. Troy was a completely different affair. Gabriel Yared wanted his music to be right for the geography and for my Macedonian roots. James Horner rejected that colour locale, and instead often used me as a sort of counterpoint, also in the areas that were common to both composers. James wanted my voice to speak to the divine and he wanted me to represent multiple story elements, which means my voice is very present in the movie. I was the voice of Death, the voice of redemption through Briseis and not just the voice of destiny. I also provided the kind of respite he wanted during moments of character conflict and movie drama. I had a lot more to do in the score as envisioned by James.
CF) How did you deal with the last-minute composer switch on Troy ? TT) I had very little to do with what happened between Warner Bros. and Wolfgang Petersen. I worked very closely with Gabriel Yared. It was quite an honor to be asked by him to do the singing. He even invited me to write the lyrics for the end title song. The results were satisfying, but from what I have been told, the score did not live up to the producers’ and the studio’s expectations. I’d rather not comment on the decision to reject Gabriel’s score because that’s really not up to me. That being said, James Horner was smart enough to retain the idea of female voices and I’m very proud of that, even though James has a different musical language. By the way, that also meant that I was not required to repeat myself from one approach to the other. More often than not, my contribution was very different.
CF) It’s true that James Horner took a different approach than Gabriel Yared, even though the vocal coloring is often similar. Could you comment on that and was it easy to go from one to the other in what must have been a very stressful situation ?
TT) James Horner took away a lot of the stress because of how good a listener he is. He is a confident human being and he’s equally confident about his music’s potential. There is nothing artificial about his "classical" and "serious" approach to film music and he welcomes any and all ideas you bring to him. There is something almost scientific about the architecture of his music, in which the voice has a very precise place. On the other hand, there’s this enormous freedom he gave me to invest myself spiritually into the project, as if he wanted my voice to undress in front of his music so that he could dress it up again.
CF) How did James Horner want you to work, technically ?
TT) He wanted as little exotism as possible without going so far as to ignore my various roots. On a technical level, I had to adapt to the harmonic nature of his music and perform vocally what he expected, ranging from voluptuousness and oppressiveness to shrieks and almost orgastic abandon. Don’t take this as a pretentious metaphor, but every piece of music requires you as a musician to lay bare your soul, even more so when you work with James.
CF) Had you seen the movie before recording James Horner’s score, and if so, how did that influence your performance ?
TT) James insisted that he and I see the movie together so that we could discuss the placement of the vocal material. He listened very carefully to what I had to say, fully aware that I was a little ahead of him because I had already been working on the project. He was thinking about his music, I had my demos on my mind as well as the material I had already recorded. I saw what worked, what didn’t work and I tried to fit my contribution into his vision. So we talked a great deal and you know, one of the reasons why James Horner is such a great artist is that he is able to take all these conversations and thread them into the patchwork he is assembling. Listening to the Troy album, I am amazed by what he has been able to get from me and by the way all the elements are so seamlessly integrated.
CF) Did James Horner give you precise instructions or did he afford you some freedom in your performance ? Were his instructions of a purely musical nature or did he encourage you to immerse yourself in the project ?
TT) You know him better than I do, so you know the answer is yes to both questions. He’s a composer who writes with a fascinating and intricate set of colors, which means every musician needs to be aware and respectful of the bigger picture. We all have our own specific thing to do and that makes up the identity and the integrity of James Horner’s discourse. So yes, his instructions were very precise, very rich and highly motivated. On the other hand, there definitely is a degree of freedom to be enjoyed, but even there, he will make sure that everything comes out like James Horner music. It’s almost as if he sensed what I was going to do, he could almost guess. It’s very impressive.
CF) Hector’s Death is one of the score’s highlights. Never does your voice sound as heartbreaking, and yet you never overplay your hand. It’s a solemn lament rather than sentimental weeping. How did you approach this key scene ?
TT) James was very explicit : "I don’t want any weepy sentimentality." He saw this combat as the confrontation of the musical forms that are very dear to him and that he is incredibly proficient at. He absolutely did not want my voice or the choir to overpower what happens on screen but simply to illustrate the scene and povide some kind of spiritual comment. He wrote the vocal part with almost religious precision and we did a "wild" rehearsal, without worrying about the visuals. Then he asked for the scene to be played and we did one take, just he and me. He gave me the go-ahead and afterwards he clapped his hands. I was nervous and surprised, and he told me : "This will do fine, Tanja. I just wanted this one take and your authenticity." It was a now-or-never thing, it was almost scientific and calculated improvisation !
CF) Your voice is often linked to death, because it often appears just before or after death strikes (The Temple of Poseidon, The Greek Army and its Defeat, Hector’s Death, The Wooden Horse and the Sacking of Troy …) What were Horner’s instructions in that area ? Your voice sounds restrained and profound, which infuses these moments with both suffering and the sense of a destiny fulfilled.
TT) It’s a bit like Hector’s Death. We were not allowed to go overboard with anything. We needed to be vigorous yet relaxed and well-balanced. James Horner would tell me time and again : "Don’t just do something. In every scene you go looking for what’s dearest to you." At every inflection of the voice, every nuance and every reading, I thought of those words. I delved deep into myself to find a vocal expression that I ended up discovering somewhere and that he already knew I had. I gave myself over to introspection and tried to give James the velvety sound he wanted as well as a more pastoral tone. As a result, my voice is a contrast : James never wanted it to be aggressive and he never wanted jarring accents.
CF) Right before the Greek army moves into Troy’s breached walls, there’s a striking shot of soldiers advancing implacably in the dead of night, with your voice, spectral and haunting, both close and distant, as the sole musical comment. How do you feel about that moment and how did you approach it ?
TT) It was a surprising move and we proceeded with a great deal of caution and restraint. Everything hinges on the contrast between the almost unbearable on-screen violence that is about to unfold and my voice being completely at peace. We then go back to the previous question : James Horner wanted certain sequences to "breathe". At that exact moment, he wanted my voice to be molto moderato so as to mollify Death’s doings, like a morbid dream. Death is not about to hit, it has already done so.
CF) Do you think your voice (in the song Remember) is the personification of Briseis, linking her to Achilles ?
TT) In Remember and elsewhere, I am linked to Achilles through Briseis but also through Achilles himself.
CF) How did you work with Josh Groban on Remember and what do you take away from that experience ? TT) I think Remember is just the extension of the relationship between Achilles and Briseis, and as such it is the extension of the cue Briseis and Achilles. That’s how James Horner presented it to me. The score ends with a kind of redemptive requiem (Through the Fires, Achilles … And Immortality) that segues into Remember, which has exactly the same colors. You might say it’s the modern extension of the Lied that I was offered. So I extended the Lied with Randy Kerber on Remember. I recorded just with him on the piano and James supervising. Afterwards, Randy went off to record with Josh and David Foster’s crew. I met Josh at the sessions because he was there all the time (laughs). We finished mixing together since James wanted everyone there for the final approval of the song. What I take away from the experience is how much we complemented each other and the wonderful chance I had to spend time with Josh Groban, who is brilliant. His inflections and his intonations are amazing and we are very proud of our song.
CF) Do you regret not being able to perform the song composed by Gabriel Yared?
TT) Yes, especially because I was going to sing in Macedonian. But then again, James offered me his own song and it was an honor for me to contribute to his music, particularly in the magnificent finale that is Through The Fires, Achilles… And Immortality.
CF) That’s right, the movie ends on your voice, and as often, James Horner provides the score with an open ending, as if the music reached for the eternal. The ending is endowed with a profound sense of serenity and a hint of absolution. How did you perceive that ending that never ends?
TT) Love is unending, not even death can end it. You’ve just put into words what the movie is all about. That’s also the idea behind Remember, behind the characters of Achilles and Briseis, behind all of Troy. The final shot of Brad Pitt plays to my voice, which is full of serenity and which joins him on the way to his immortality. And the voice is also about James Horner reaching for the eternal, as you say.
CF) You have worked on two movies so far. Are you eager to do more?
TT) Yes, provided I can work with composers who respect and understand me. I would work with James Horner again in a heartbeat. In other cases, I think I would try and look for what James Horner was the first to offer: sincere dialogue, an exchange of ideas and a spiritual investment. I think opportunities like these are few and far between.
CF) How do you feel about the work of James Horner ? Did Troy feel like a second chance for the two of you to work together after things had failed to pan out on The Passion of the Christ ? TT) No one has ever understood me like James. In that respect, Troy and the long way to its final score was a chance for me to grow as an artist. I have met someone who is a Maestro on many levels : first as a human being, then as a musician. Apart from the talented composer you know he is, he has enriched our relationship; it’s like we are linked body and soul. And I thank him for that. We talked just once about The Passion of the Christ. He congratulated me on my performance and told me he regretted very much not having been able to do the score. He never understood why Mel Gibson was so set against the idea of "sacred" music in which voices would take center stage. I don’t know if it’s a missed opportunity because I am not sure that the range of my voice is like Charlotte Church’s, the singer James had in mind in the first place. That said, since James wanted to score Passion as an oratorio for two voices, me and a female singer he had worked with before, yes, I think our paths might have crossed. I hope it will happen again soon.
CF) It may seem like a small detail, but Troy’s soundtrack album made it to number two in Tukey and number one in Greece and Macedonia. TT) I am very glad it did so well in those markets, especially since we don’t usually come together, like the French or the Americans, to discuss and celebrate symphonic music that is not related to the local repertoire or folklore. The movie is a triumph in our neck of the woods too. Kudos to Wolfgang Petersen and Warner Bros., who are the ones who made it all happen.
Source: TANJA TZAROVSKA: TROIE FOIS PLUTÔT QU'UNE, CINEFONIA 2004
J.H. et des poussières : La Guerre de Troie aura bien lieu, par Jean-Christophe Arlon & Didier Leprêtre – Cinefonia Magazine 2004
Special thanks to Didier Leprêtre, Kjell Neckebroeck and John Andrews
Translation by Kjell Neckebroeck.