On this page you can read our interview with James Horner, Hakon and Mari Samuelsen, recorded Thursday November 13, 2014 at the Hope Street Hotel, Liverpool.
Main subjects covered:
JHFM: In the rehearsal, we could sense in our own hearts, it was really from the heart. It was an emotional rush for us, and we can't wait for the whole performance tonight.
James Horner: Thank you so much. So much of it is in the interpretation, though–it's in the playing, as in Mari and Hakon's playing. I thought it would sound good, you know, but so much is in…it was written around them.
JHFM: Was it challenging for you, this new approach? Writing for two soloists?
James Horner: Yes, it was challenging, because I wanted to write something that was challenging for them, and we discussed it several times and I was always trying to figure out how modern to make it sound, or tonal or atonal. It was always a balance and I decided early on what I thought would sound best for the two of them, and I wanted the piece to be very accessible for an audience. It can't be this academic, avant-garde thing which does nobody any good. It had to be very beautiful, in a way, and very impressionistic, and it was very much written for them.
JHFM: It keeps modulating all the time so it's very approachable but very modern and sophisticated.
James Horner: It is in its architecture. It's like looking through one of those kaleidoscopes. It's always pretty but it's always changing inside.
JHFM: Another thing we realized is you don't rush it, it's an artist's time to last just the perfect time within the emotion. Some composers are too quick, they’re moving out of the emotion or staying for too long. I think this Pas de Deux is so successful because it is within an emotion where we can wonder, then it moves on with another beautiful color and not a big contrast. There are contrasts but they are smaller.
James Horner: We had discussions when I was writing it, the music was finished but I had to write their parts first, so they could have the music to practice to, then I filled in the orchestrations later.
Usually when I write a piece the coloring is done while I'm doing the horizontal movement. In this case I really had to write and make the piece work horizontally, when we didn't have time for the orchestration because they had to get the notes. Then I did that later which is very different from the way I usually work.
JHFM: Yes. So, it's interesting to note that you have often said that after the performance of Spectral Shimmers, you were very disappointed with the academic world.
James Horner: It wasn't that piece, it was just, I still – we talk about this – I still find the classical music world eating itself alive. They just keep performing the same pieces in the same way and audiences are getting older and older.
James Horner then asks if we want to move into the restaurant, as the overall volume is too loud where we are. He's clearly trying to be as accommodating as possible. As we move in to the restaurant, James Horner then offers to ask if the background muzak can be turned off for the sake of the interview. He then makes an interesting observation about music and life.
JHFM: There is always music playing in the background. All the time.
James Horner: Yeah, it's insane. Yeah, a little bit insane. People do need to listen.
JHFM: Not just in the background.
James Horner: I noticed it in life, everywhere I see it. It makes it valueless.
JHFM: This period of your life where the aesthetics of the academic world disappointed you, I often thought about that because, when you started in your career you still had very modern influences in your music but you had the more emotional parts of the avant-garde. Penderecki, Ligeti, these were the composers you were very fond of but still you needed to express emotion, lyricism, and that was bad in the concert world at the time, moreso than now, I guess.
James Horner: I tend to be in my world; Ligeti was always someone who played an important part of my world, and it wasn't because of Lux Aeterna or any of the big pieces, it was because of his love of Thomas Tallis and the English Renaissance of the period and that was something that I was in love with, all the intricate writing of this world. And to hear someone like Ligeti's music and study it and work with him and know that a lot of how he made these unbelievable textures, although they sound contemporary, are based on earlier music. It's fascinating for me. That's why I just had a terrible time with classical music. It was Bach chorales, the usual people, and very little access to the outside world. When I started to become successful in film, there was no reason for me to even work with the academic world any longer. I just left it all behind me.
Mari Samuelsen, Alexander Buhr (Managing Director in Mercury Classics), James Horner, Hakon Samuelsen
JHFM: Did you feel that films was a way for you to be–it's a paradox, but–to be free in the writing? To say, "I'm going to write something modern or romantic or counterpoint, or ethnic, or folk music, it could be anything".
James Horner: Yes, because I get to write for whatever the film demands. The downside is I usually write for somebody that has no taste…that's the downside! The good side is if you can work the politics you're able to write things that are very emotional and have them seen by a huge audience, and that's a very powerful thing to work with. And I'm able to jump styles, I'm able to jump around, make people cry, but a lot of the magic of film is the multimedia, the music against picture. Whereas the music by itself, to me, is not as effective necessarily. And that, in concert music, is something that I don't know how to solve. But, I know people are very attracted to seeing dance and music, or film and music, but just the world of going into a dark hall and seeing an orchestra play Tchaikovsky in tuxedos, that's like the Titanic generation. That's gone. I think what people want to do now is come up to the stage and be a part of it.
JHFM: Like in pop and rock?
James Horner: Yeah, they don't necessarily hear the percussion in the back or whatever, but they get the whole vibe of the energy of it, and that is so important.
JHFM: This is what we felt last night. Your music…the heart was beating, the whole body was shaking, and this is what we feel because we know your music, and this time your work was enhanced by the orchestra and with the two wonderful performers. We could feel the vibration.
James Horner: So much of that is them, they're really the heartbeat. As I said, the piece is nice enough but it really needs interpretation and it was written with their abilities very much in mind. I'm sure they told you we met several times, which I don't think they were expecting I think they were expecting to get a work text that was just like, 'This is from God …'
Hakon Samuelsen: 'and there is a down bow, not an up bow right there', because many composers are like this.
JHFM: They want to control, right?
James Horner: Yeah, but it's all about interaction. There is no right note. It's interaction and, in addition, I'm not a violinist or a cellist–I know how to write for them, obviously—but, not at the level they're playing.
HS: Well, you must be careful about that, I'm not agreeing. Another thing you said something about the French horns earlier…
MS: The presence of the French horns.
JHFM: The presence of the French horns was very….'Horner'. Something that's been going on for a long time is the sound of the horns.
James Horner: I love French horns when they clash, because the sound is so mellow. They can play very big dissonances and it doesn't sound hard, it sounds pretty. And if you control the dissonance, and then make it consonant, then dissonant, and consonant, the horns just have a lovely color from that. You have to sort of know, they're like paints. You have to know to make the proper color to make it indigo.
JHFM: Why did you accept the commission from Mari and Hakon?
James Horner: Because I like their playing, and I like them very much. I had said no to a lot of pieces before, but I felt this was a good challenge for me and a good skill set to have, to be able to try and write a piece for me, that comes after Brahms, that is emotionally fulfilling and challenging to play. So as a commission, it's a great opportunity for me, and a risk. But I always like taking risks.
Mari Samuelsen: Out of the comfort zone.
James Horner: Out of the comfort zone is so important.
JHFM: And you are willing to do more projects like this in the future?
James Horner: Yes, I'm doing this horn concerto, so I've already committed myself to at least one other thing, and perhaps something after that, but they all take away from film work, so I have to make sure. I have no desire to do the next big huge Hollywood thing, I've already done that. I'm looking for different challenges for the most part. Working with them, working with serious music, or independent filmmakers, is much more interesting.
MS: That must be quite tough for yourself when you're so successful (and you are), you can always just do those big things which you're experienced in doing, but then put yourself out of that in order to make yourself develop a new side or challenge and still be insecure; as a human being, it's very easy to follow one road.
JH: Oh it is, everybody does that. It's an income, it's natural…
MS: It's like musicians playing the standard repertoire.
JH: And I just think it's so important to diversify and take risks, and it's so important.
HS: I want to say–because we spoke about this with regards to Pas de Deux–the importance of the horns, and I feel their presence, and you asked earlier how you write for violin and cello. I think it has an impact as you are a horn player, and had it as an early instrument in the solos, and the French Horn as an instrument, and I spoke about the Dvorak Cello concerto which had the most beautiful solos going from French horn to cello.
JHFM: There will be a horn solo in the Tchaikovsky symphony tonight for the slow movement.
MS: Also from Prokofiev, the concerto for violin….you were saying?
HS: So yeah, that's the connection I made.
MS: Also from the second Prokofiev concerto, beautiful violin solo and the French horn comes and just lifts it to a new level.
HS: You got the longest interview out of everyone in the world for Pas de Deux.
James Horner: The last thing I'll say is that I saw this very much as a.–which is why I called it a Pas de Deux–as a dance piece between these two, it's very fluid. They don't dance but the way they play to me has tremendous movement in it, and that's really a lot of how I saw the piece, in the dances.
MS: The voices dance. The voices you've written for us.
JH: They take turns, they caress, it's very intimate.
MS: And that I have to say, there's no comparison when playing Brahms, where I can do my part and it's very dramatic. It's big and it could almost stand for itself, where here they are so… in different ways, we can have a distant interval but we are so connected and then we suddenly cross and it's really such a two-voice piece.
JH: It is.