Can you tell us about the concert? What can your audience expect?
The concert is a real celebration of maestro AR Rahman’s film music, performed by one of the worlds’ best symphony orchestras, the CBSO, and joined by the superb CBSO Chorus.
We have a selection of his well-known film songs such as Jai Ho and Chaiyya Chaiyya, sung by Shin DCS and accompanied by full orchestra and choir, as well as music from his acclaimed scores to movies such as Bombay, Roja and Slumdog Millionaire, with help from Flute soloist Lisa Mallett and sitarist Roopa Panesar.
We are also performing music from his West End hit show Lord of the Rings, featuring the leads from the arena show Peter Pan (coming to the NIA Birmingham this Christmas). And we will be highlighting some of AR’s lesser known orchestral music for film, to demonstrate the artistry and skill of this “Mozart of Madras”. It will be quite an evening!
Filmmakers come back to Mr Rahman time and time again. What makes him such a prolific storyteller?
I think maestro Rahman’s ability to highlight a particular mood or emotion in his music makes him a great storyteller. His music never gets in the way of the images, but supports and enhances the viewing pleasure. That’s why directors come back to him again and again, whether it be Mani Ratnam or Danny Boyle.
How important has Mr Rahman been in redefining film music?
I think his approach to film music scoring has particularly affected the film industry in India. Before AR there was very limited use of the symphony orchestra in film scoring. Indian string sections, yes. But the full palette of a symphony orchestra, no. AR has really driven forward the way music is used in Indian cinema. The songs are still there, but now there is a rich and sophisticated orchestral underscore that enhances the movies more subtly than before. And this is becoming increasingly the norm.
What are your favourite pieces?
As I get older I find simplicity and purity in music more and more attractive. So for me, his haunting flute melody theme from Bombay moves me every time. I remember performing this piece in Mumbai last year with a symphony orchestra, and I looked around at the audience after we had finished and saw so many people with tears streaming down their faces. Just magical.
How would you describe the spirit of Mr Rahman’s scores?
I think the spirit depends on the film – but underpinning the music always is an honesty, simplicity and spirituality that speaks to so many people
What is it like working with a genius?
We don’t get caught up in all that! When I sit down with AR to work, it’s all about the music. So it is one musician to another, discussing how best to realise his music.
Is he conscious of being an award winner or is he down to earth?
All the awards and accolades mean very little to AR. He is a very humble, shy and spiritual man. I remember meeting him in L.A. after all the fuss over Slumdog Millionaire had died down a little. He had been to numerous awards ceremonies over the previous months and had won 2 Oscars, a Golden Globe and a Bafta. I asked him if it had been amazing, and he replied that through it all, all he had really wanted to do was get back to his studio and compose his music.
Have you any anecdotes about how he works?
AR loves to compose at night, when all is quiet and he can concentrate on the music. A few years ago, we were recording a movie score in Prague. AR was still writing during the recording process, and I remember every night at about 3am I’d hear footsteps in the hall outside my hotel room, and he would slip a CD under the door, containing music files for the next day. There was this internationally acclaimed composer padding the hotel corridors at dead of night to deliver the next batch of music!
How is it different to western song writing for example?
AR can turn his hand to any style of writing really. So he is equally at home writing in a western style, or in a more traditional Indian style. I think we live in such a “connected” world these days that everything in music is cross-pollinated, and styles and genres influence each other globally. A good tune is a good tune, and AR is a supremely talented melodist.
Can he work to pictures easily?
Maestro Rahman has a natural instinct when writing to picture. Often he will watch the film and then go away and compose without it. But somehow he has internalised the movie, because the music always fits when we put it back up against the picture. It is a very rare talent. But then again, AR Rahman is a very rare talent indeed.