Movie’s score gets a new life from its author
Canadian composer reworks music from Life of Pi into a symphonic composition for TSO’s season opener
Bombay Jayashri is the fourth generation of her family to sing traditional Carnatic classical Indian music.
“We are family practitioners of this art,” says Jayashri, whose voice was heard on the Oscar-winning Life of Pi score by Canadian composer Mychael Danna.
The spiritual otherworldliness of her voice was one of Danna’s first inspirations when he was commissioned by director Ang Lee to write the movie’s music.
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra opens its 2017-18 season — conductor Peter Oundjian’s 14th and last as artistic director — with a Tuesday concert that unveils Danna’s reworking of the score into a roughly 20-minute symphonic composition.
Jayashri, fresh off a singing tour in Australia, will be the soloist in this world premiere, being attended by both Danna and Lee, who will participate in a Q&A at Roy Thomson Hall.
Winnipeg-born Danna, whose music for the films The Breadwinner and Alias Grace is being heard during TIFF, now makes his home in Los Angeles.
The concert is a chance for his whole family, including his two school-aged sons, to visit the city where he used to live as well as to reconnect with Lee, who is a friend.
The two had already collaborated on The Ice Storm, Ride with the Devil and parts of Hulk before Life of Pi. Danna remembers reading The Life of Pi and thinking, “No one can make a movie out of this.”
But Ang contacted him, declaring he was perfect for the job. “He said, ‘You were born to do it.’ You are a Canadian man married to an Indian woman. You have a foot in all the themes. Let’s do it.”
The story of the book, by Canadian author Yann Martel, and the resulting movie is now familiar: Pi, a young hero from India, finds himself adrift in a boat on the Pacific Ocean with exotic animals for companions. Danna had heard Jayashri’s album of children’s lullabies and felt “that was the right approach” to Pi’s story.
He travelled the world and the music was recorded in numerous countries.
Lee says the score was central to the storytelling.
“It takes us through the movie, which is difficult to grasp, in a beautiful and gentle way,” he says in the TSO’s program notes.
Faced with the symphony orchestra’s request to create a concert piece, Danna again thought he was being given an impossible task. “It took a little bit of work,” he says with understatement.
Oundjian, who will conduct the orchestra for the concert, studied the new score while teaching at Yale this summer. In many ways it is his swan song as he leaves the TSO at the end of this season.
His final year is set to highlight Canadian achievements, including September events such as pianist Jan Lisiecki performing in a Glenn Gould tribute and a trio of violinists performing Alexina Louie’s “Triple Concerto” with TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow, Montreal’s Andrew Wan and Ottawa’s Yosuke Kawasaki.
Oundjian has personal connections to all three, he says. “I’ve known Jonathan since he was17, Yosuke I met as a baby — I’m friends with the family — and Andrew I met for the first time in Aspen (where Oundjian taught) when he was 19.”
The season ends with a Shakespeare-themed performance on June 26 by Canadian actor Christopher Plummer, who happens to be Oundjian’s next-door neighbour in Connecticut.
The two men and their wives regularly get together at each other’s homes for dinner and lately the topic has been Plummer’s upcoming TSO duties.
“His power as an actor is second to none,” Oundjian says, setting up the evening titled Bravo, Peter!
But first, there is the opening concert featuring compositions by Saint-Saens, Stravinsky — and Danna.
“He said, ‘You were born to do it.’ You are a Canadian man married to an Indian woman. You have a foot in all the themes. Let’s do it.” MYCHAEL DANNA COMPOSER