UPCLOSE: BEN­JAMIN NORTHEY

HK Magazine - - CULTURE -

HK Magazine: Have you played with the HK Phil be­fore?

Ben­jamin Northey: This will be my fourth time. I’ve got a good fa­mil­iar­ity with the mu­si­cians and they know me too, which is re­ally for­tu­nate. We did “Planet Earth,” an­other BBC series, last year. That makes a big dif­fer­ence be­cause we don’t have to dis­cover the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion from scratch—we al­ready have a good base to work from and a good fa­mil­iar­ity. They’re such a won­der­ful orchestra: They make my life very easy. HK: Why do you think this BBC series lends it­self so well to live mu­sic screen­ings?

BN: A lot of it comes down to the com­poser. The com­poser in this case is a Bri­tish guy named Ge­orge Fen­ton. He did all of the mu­sic for “Planet Earth” [and “Frozen Planet.”] You talk about vi­su­als tak­ing the au­di­ence on an ad­ven­ture—it en­ables peo­ple to go to ex­tremes of the North and South Poles in this case—but your sub­con­scious mind gets the emo­tional cues from the mu­sic. That’s how all film mu­sic works. The best film com­posers are the ones who can add lay­ers to the vi­sion, and that’s cer­tainly what Ge­orge Fen­ton does. Take a wide cin­e­matic shot of a vast glacier land­scape: Fen­ton paints that in mu­sic and makes it sud­denly ma­jes­tic and epic.

HK: What chal­lenges are there when you add a vis­ual el­e­ment to a con­cert?

BN: It changes ev­ery­thing. In a nor­mal or­ches­tral per­for­mance, you are able to be in con­trol of the pac­ing of the work. As the con­duc­tor the tempo of the work is your re­spon­si­bil­ity and you have quite a bit of free­dom in terms of in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Whereas with the [vis­ual el­e­ment] there are key el­e­ments that need to be cap­tured ex­actly. If a po­lar bear rolls down a hill, it has to cor­re­spond with the ex­act point in the mu­sic. If there’s a scene where a fish is snap­ping at an­other fish, it’s syn­chro­nized to a par­tic­u­lar point. I have a lot more tech­nol­ogy in front of me for this show: I have my own TV mon­i­tor, which has the time­code of the vi­su­als run­ning along in min­utes and sec­onds, and I have that also on my mu­si­cal score. I have to make sure those two things are lin­ing up the whole time. If it drifts a lit­tle bit, I have to make sure we get back into ab­so­lute syn­chro­niza­tion. HK: Do the mu­si­cians also have these vis­ual prompts? BN: It’s all up to me, un­for­tu­nately! So it’s a big re­spon­si­bil­ity to carry for these kinds of con­certs. I’ve done a lot of them now. You get more ex­pe­ri­enced and they be­come a lit­tle eas­ier, but it’s still a dif­fer­ent mind­set than con­duct­ing a reg­u­lar con­cert. You’re very much in the ser­vice of some­thing big­ger than just the mu­sic.

HK: What will the au­di­ence get out of “Frozen Planet” be­yond the nor­mal orchestra ex­pe­ri­ence?

BN: I’ve con­ducted this con­cert once be­fore. It’s re­ally epic, in terms of its scale. It’s a great ex­pe­ri­ence for peo­ple to come and see things that they would never have seen be­fore, and have an am­pli­fied ex­pe­ri­ence, emo­tion­ally—and to think about what the mu­sic is adding to the vi­su­als and how it re­ally changes things. It’s a great way for peo­ple to dis­cover the orchestra, and have a re­ally in­ter­est­ing night out, too. To learn some­thing about the world is the big mes­sage be­hind this show.

HK: Do peo­ple say “good luck,” or do they say “break a leg”?

BN: You can say good luck, that’s fine. Back­stage, we never say good luck: we say “toi toi toi.”

Ben­jamin Northey is an Aus­tralian mu­si­cian, ar­ranger and the Chief Con­duc­tor of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra in New Zealand. He’ll be in town con­duct­ing the Hong Kong Phil­har­monic’s screen­ing of the BBC’s “Frozen Planet” set to live mu­sic. He tells Jes­sica Wei about the chal­lenges of con­duct­ing a live screen­ing and how mu­sic drives our emo­tions.

Watch Northey and the HK Phil­har­monic bring “Frozen Planet” to life Jun 3- 4, 8pm at the Hong Kong Cul­tural Centre, 10 Sal­is­bury Rd., Tsim Sha Tsui. $180-480 from urbtix.hk.

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