Raven Girl Composer Gabriel Yared on scoring for the stage rather than the screen
The Oscar-winning film composer tells Jessica Duchen what drew him to soundtrack Wayne McGregor's new ballet.
Wayne McGregor’s new ballet Raven Girl, created in collaboration with the author and artist Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler’s Wife, Her Fearful Symmetry), is the latest in a remarkable line-up of bird-woman to grace the stage at Covent Garden. But what about its music? To follow in the wake of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Stravinsky’s The Firebird is no small ask.
McGregor awarded the commission to Gabriel Yared, the distinguished Lebanese-born composer best known for his film scores – more than 70 of them, including Betty Blue, The English Patient (for which he won an Oscar) and The Lives of Others. He has previously written the music for several ballets, including two collaborations with the choreographer Roland Petit in Le Diable Amoureux (Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, 1989), and Clavigo (Paris Opera, 1999). Brought together by his publisher, Yared says he and McGregor clicked at once.
‘For a composer, ballet music is a unique opportunity to express oneself in the most complete way – eclectic, rhythmic and symphonic,’ Yared suggests.
As a composer, I reckon that there is no challenge as exciting, no art more complete. Writing for a ballet drives one to give the best of one’s musical and orchestral knowledge and the best of one’s inspiration.
‘Compared to film music, though I work on the score even before any images are shot, ballet music needs a real breadth, great thematic cohesion. It needs to keep the dance in mind at all times. Each piece, as well as the ballet as a whole, needs to have a well thought-out architecture.’
Raven Girl’s story spoke to him from the start. ‘First, the love story between a Raven and a Postman; then the birth of this “human” raven girl, uncomfortable in her own skin and looking for her true nature. And at the end, her meeting with the Raven Prince. I like its poetic nature; its fantastic, often bizarre but also dark and dreamlike qualities, its strong sense of loneliness. There are many symbols and lessons, all covered by a tale that could at first seem trivial. It is the mix of simplicity, emotion, and depth that inspired me and accompanied me while I was composing. It was as if the richness of my musical world was allowed to express itself freely, to let itself go to any crazy idea and any intense emotion, to follow the path of this imaginative and colourful fairy tale.’
Although he explored Niffenegger’s abbreviated story and artwork in depth, he chose a different path into the compositional process: ‘I asked Wayne to send me a few simple words, which inspired me a great deal. I started to compose with these few elements in mind.’ After about ten weeks, from September last year, he had ‘almost miraculously’ written and demoed about an hour of music. ‘I worked frenetically with enthusiasm, almost possessed by the spirit of the story and with an intense need to write music. It was quite an exhilarating process.’
In November Yared and McGregor met to go through what Yared had written. ‘From the eight pieces I showed him, he kept seven and asked me to focus my attention on the ballet’s final tableau. Everything had been so easy before, but that last piece took me a lot of time to write. Wayne was looking for something very simple and lyrical, in a style very different from the rest of the music, as if this was a new story altogether.’
The result? A major new score, in which symphonic music for full orchestra blends with specially created electronic samples. ‘Wayne was immediately supportive of this idea, which really shows how open-minded and bold he is artistically,’ says Yared. ‘It is a first for me – and apparently for the orchestra as well.’
Generous philanthropic support has been provided for the production from The Taylor Family Foundation, Mr and Mrs Brian Capstick, David Hancock, Linda and Philip Harley, one anonymous donor and The New Ballet Works Syndicate.