Music by the man who gave us Godzilla’s perennial theme can be heard at this year’s “Celebrate Asia” concert, alongside another from a 1983 made-for-television family drama and a haunting melody from the Oscar-winning score of 2009’s Best Picture.
In other words, films play a big part in the 2017 incarnation of Seattle Symphony’s popular, annual program celebrating our region’s Asian-American community and diverse cultures.
The eclectic lineup of music selections, all performed by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, is primarily focused this time on Japan and India. On the bill is the bittersweet grandeur of “Nami no bon,” from the aforementioned TV movie originally called “Lantern Festival of the Waves” (retitled “Lanterns on Blue Waters”) and starring the wonderful Chishu Ryu.
Then there’s “Latika’s Theme” from A. R. Rahman’s familiar music for “Slumdog Millionaire,” the multi-Academy Award-garnering hit from director Danny Boyle. Rahman, perhaps the best-known Indian composer in the world today, took home two Oscars, a Golden Globe and multiple international awards for his work on that Mumbai-set story.
Rahman will play a major part in “Celebrate Asia,” with a total of four pieces in the program and a personal appearance for the world premiere of “The Flying Lotus,” his first commissioned work by a major orchestra.
Seattle Symphony’s vice-president of artistic planning, Elena Dubinets, is thrilled that Rahman — who has composed for 160 movies, plus musicals and chart-topping albums — has chosen SSO for “his first orchestral piece not related to films. What we didn’t know was that he would be so generous and kind to us to write a real symphonic work.”
A suite from Rahman’s part of a score for an ambitious and short-lived musical adaptation of “Lord of the Rings,” which briefly played on Toronto and London stages, is also a highlight.
“It was too big a musical to sustain,” says Rahman, speaking by phone from his native Chennai, India. “It was very expensive.” Less problematic is a special version of the spare “Latika’s Theme” Rahman is bringing to Seattle.
“It’s very understated on the film’s soundtrack. But I have an orchestral rendition that we played at the White House, so I’m going to use that arrangement again.”
Dubinets says “ ‘The Flying Lotus’ is inventive and beautiful. He knows how to write fabulous melodies.” Participating in the performance will be the Seattle Symphony Chorale and Seattle Girls’ Choir.
“ ‘The Flying Lotus’ is a musical impression of where India was and where it’s going,” says Rahman. “India is very progressive now. People are in such a very strong kind of mood. I thought I should capture musically those feelings of elation and also helplessness in a way. How can you say that musically, and also with a sense of pride in it? It’s hard to explain in words, but I thought music could communicate those emotions.”
Rahman, 51, began playing music professionally at the age of 11, and went on to become a successful jingle writer and film composer. He studied Western classical composition at the University of Oxford, and has created opportunities for music students in India to learn and perform through a foundation and a conservatory he founded.
Asked about his incredibly prolific life as a composer (including scores for such Hollywood movies as “Million-Dollar Arm” and “Couples Retreat”), Rahman laughs and says “I don’t have anything else to do. I get bored very fast. I feel like I should always go deeper into music and explore the possibilities.”