54 Small Talk On the eve of his first con­cert in Hong Kong, Os­car-win­ning com­poser Alexan­dre De­s­plat re­veals the joys and chal­lenges of per­form­ing for a crowd

Hong Kong Tatler - - Con­tents -

W hat do quirky com­edy The Grand Bu­dapest Ho­tel, dra­matic biopic The King’s Speech and thriller Zero Dark Thirty have in com­mon? Aside from the fact that they all won Academy Awards, their scores were writ­ten by Alexan­dre De­s­plat. The French-greek com­poser has been mak­ing au­di­ences smile, laugh and cry for the past 30 years with the mu­sic he has writ­ten for more than 170 films. As he pre­pares for two con­certs with the Hong Kong Phil­har­monic, De­s­plat ex­plains his creative process and re­veals why he loves Star Wars.

When a direc­tor ap­proaches you, what’s the first thing you do?

I read the script, of course, which can de­cide if I’m in­spired by the story and the nar­ra­tive. Some­times I’m called when the movie is al­most com­pleted and in the edit­ing room. For ex­am­ple, for The King’s Speech, the edit­ing was over when I was called in. Same for The Queen and The Shape of Wa­ter. Some movies are re­ally ready to go [when I be­gin com­pos­ing], which is al­ways bet­ter for me be­cause the movie has found its fi­nal bal­ance, shape, en­ergy and pace, and I can just surf on it.

You re­cently wrote the score for your first western, The Sis­ters Broth­ers, which is ru­moured to be in the run­ning for the Os­cars. Was it chal­leng­ing to com­pose for a western?

It was quite a chal­lenge to keep my­self away from clichés and try to pro­ceed dif­fer­ently than if I was just mim­ick­ing what Leonard Bern­stein or Bruce Broughton or Bob Dy­lan or Neil Young have been do­ing be­fore me. I had to get rid of the ref­er­ence of a western and try to trans­pose the story into an­other world. Get rid of the horses and hats and the story could be a film noir, it could be a de­tec­tive story. The score is about a kind of dark fairy tale with killers chas­ing each other and find­ing trea­sure.

What sparked your in­ter­est in com­pos­ing for cin­ema?

I think it was when I was watch­ing Ital­ian movies. Fellini movies with Nino Rota’s mu­sic, and all of these French movies I could see on TV, Fran­cois Truf­faut’s films with scores by Ge­orges Delerue. Then there was this strik­ing mo­ment when I heard the score of Ro­man Polan­ski’s Chi­na­town by Jerry Gold­smith. And an­other very strong one was John Wil­liams’ Star Wars. John Wil­liams un­der­stood all the mu­sic of the 20th cen­tury and all com­posers— from Stravin­sky to Ravel to De­bussy—and di­gested all of that into one sin­gle sound. I was so im­pressed by that. I was 15 or 16.

Com­pos­ing for film in­volves lots of work in a stu­dio. Does per­form­ing your mu­sic for a live au­di­ence—as you’ll be do­ing in Hong Kong—ex­cite you?

It’s a great plea­sure be­cause in a stu­dio my only au­di­ence is the mu­si­cians I’m con­duct­ing and the few peo­ple in the con­trol room: the direc­tor, the pro­ducer, Do­minique “Sol­rey” Le­mon­nier—who’s my artis­tic direc­tor and will be with me in Hong Kong. Be­fore per­form­ing live, I try to mod­ify what has to be mod­i­fied from the stu­dio sound to the or­ches­tral sound. The mu­sic I write seems quite sim­ple, it’s very trans­par­ent, you can hear ev­ery line very clearly, so it seems sim­ple when you read it on pa­per, but when you play it live you re­alise how dif­fi­cult it is be­cause ev­ery­thing can be heard. The third flute can be heard, the trum­pet that plays bar 55 for three bars has a solo that will be very pre­cise and can be heard. It’s not sim­ple to play live be­cause it’s as trans­par­ent as a tree in win­ter—you can’t hide be­hind the leaves. But we’ll get there—i’m very ex­cited to play with the Hong Kong Phil­har­monic. Alexan­dre De­s­plat per­forms with the Hong Kong Phil­har­monic on Jan­uary 4 and 5, 2019. Tick­ets can be booked at

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