A SYMPHONY OF HOPE: THE HAITI PROJECT – Christopher Lennertz et al.
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
On January 12, 2010, the city of Port-au-Prince in Haiti was effectively flattened when it was struck by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake. Within a matter of seconds over 50,000 people had been killed, and over a million people left homeless. Diseases such as cholera blighted the survivors and thwarted relief efforts, and since then the humanitarian crisis in the country has reached staggering proportions, with over 250,000 residences destroyed and basic services and infrastructure left in ruins. Reacting to the global call for help, film composer Christopher Lennertz was inspired to act. Calling upon his fellow composers and other members of the Los Angeles film music community of musicians and engineers, Lennertz teamed up with the charity Hands Together to create A Symphony of Hope: The Haiti Project, a musical fundraising project intended to help the people of Haiti.
The idea is a clever one; beginning with a traditional Haitian melody, “Wongolo”, each composer contributes an additional 8-32 bars of music to the piece, and then passes it along to the next composer, until eventually an entire symphony is created. The idea of having different composers pick up the torch from a predecessor is symbolic of the way that one helping hand passes on to another helping hand, and so on and so on, until eventually dozens of people are contributing to a common cause. And what people; twenty five composers, a 92-piece orchestra and a 42-strong choir including special soloists, 23 orchestrators and arrangers, 16 engineers and editors, and various publicists, journalists and graphic designers all came together and donated their time free of charge to help make this project possible, making it by far the most widespread and comprehensive charitable project ever undertaken by the Los Angeles film music community. And this is the result; not only is the project a worthy one, but the music itself is absolutely superb.
The symphony is split into five movements, each intending to convey an aspect of Haitian life before, during, and after the earthquake. The opening movement, “Wongolo”, is a celebration of Haitian culture, containing several variations on the central melody of the traditional folk song which many have called the musical soul of Haiti. Beginning with George S. Clinton’s lush and graceful orchestral and choral arrangement, at 1:26 it segues into a gorgeous vocal performance by Lisbeth Scott of the song in French over an arrangement by Christophe Beck, before moving on to a playful, lively variation by comedy composer John Swihart. At around the 4:30 mark Brian Tyler takes over, and takes the melody in a totally different direction, adding a darker and more plaintive trumpet performance, speaking to the pride and nobility of the Haitian people. The movement concludes with a joyous piece written by Lisbeth Scott herself, beginning with a sublime Mike Lang piano solo, and eventually building into a glorious, full-throated orchestral and choral dance, with rolling timpanis and rousing brass, before returning to Lang’s sensitive solo piano to close the piece.
The second movement, “Devastation”, is a musical depiction of the earthquake itself, angry, violent, confusing, and ultimately harrowing, as the full extent of the terrible forces of nature are unleashed. Christopher Lennertz, Theodore Shapiro, Don Davis and Andrew Gross tackle the action music portion of the score; Lennertz’s opening piece starts calmly, almost pastorally, with a bass recorder, before exploding into a tumult of action. Andrew Gross intentionally echoes Don Davis’s score for The Matrix with shifting, fading brasses, before the movement launches into a dark and powerful Don Davis-penned action sequence for the full orchestra and chorus chanting deconstructed parts of the Wongolo lyrics against a throbbing, percussive action beat. Also of note in this movement are a couple of pieces of Pete Seibert’s ‘connective tissue’, bridging the gap between Lennertz’s and Gross’s pieces, and then again between Gross’s and Davis’s, during which he intentionally channels the musical identity of other composers – listen for the homage to James Horner’s four-note motif at the 1:44 mark, as well as some allusions to John Williams’ E.T. Flying Theme around the 2:42 mark.
Things change with comedy composer David Kitay’s piece, composing against type with a very serious sequence for tremolo strings, pizzicato effects, and a lonely brass performance of the Wongolo melody. Elia Cmiral’s gorgeous lament, which concludes the movement, features a cello solo performed by Dennis Karmazyn and abstract choral effects, and is amongst the most emotional pieces the Czech composer has ever written.
The third movement, “The Aftermath”, speaks of the sense of relief felt by the survivors as they pick through the rubble of what was once their home. It’s a piece which seems intentionally confused in tone; it is at times soft and solemn, at others almost celebratory in tone, clearly intending to illustrate the conflicting emotions felt by those who survived the quake – I am happy to be alive, but so many of my people are dead. The movement begins with John Debney’s contribution, in which a beautiful and graceful solo flute melody eventually grows to encompass a warm and tender string and choral sequence that is simply gorgeous. Christopher Young takes up the mantle at 2:45, combining Karmazyn’s cello performance with another stirring Lisbeth Scott performance of the main theme, before passing the torch to Tyler Bates, who adds a contemporary edge to the melody with an electric guitar version of the melody alongside heartfelt wordless vocals. The piece ends with a wonderful blending of both Young and Bates’s music that rises to an enormous, thematic crescendo, ending the piece on a triumphant and hopeful note.
The fourth movement, “Rebuilding”, looks at the humanitarian efforts to pick Haiti up off its knees. It has a can-do, busy attitude of progress and determination, beginning with Dave Grusin’s jazz-inflected opening piece, which puts muted brasses against a jazz percussion section with brushed snares and cymbal rings. Edward Shearmur’s first piece is quiet and intimate, featuring a soft string wash and soft-stringed guitars, while Michael Wandmacher’s subsequent piece is quite wonderful, a rousing arrangement of the Wongolo melody that rises to epic proportions and works in a bold classic Hollywood sweep. Nathan Barr’s contribution is a grandiose, almost classical-baroque piece for strings and choir and a vivacious rhythmic core that has echoes of Bach, before Shearmur returns again with a vibrant, rhythmic, almost tribal piece, making wonderful use of traditional percussion, rattlers and shakers, and an up-tempo world music beat.
The final movement, “Hope”, is one of optimism, looking to a possible future where Haiti has recovered from this devastating natural disaster and once again returned to civilization. The whole cue is basically a series of arrangements of the Wongolo melody, building up to a grand and magnificent denouement. The movement opens with a stunning, heartfelt vocal performance by Carmen Twillie (from The Lion King) over a Deborah Lurie arrangement, which segues into an exceptional full-orchestral statement by Bruce Broughton that at times recalls the lushness of his love theme from Tombstone. Tim Wynn, Jeff Beal and Marvin Hamlisch take their turn in sequence, Beal highlighting dancing flutes and Hamlisch a syncopated piano line, before Randy Edelman takes over for the big finale, an arrangement which at times resembles his score for Dragonheart. The project’s lead orchestrator, Pete Seibert, has his moment in the sun, composing nearly a minute of the piece’s big finish from the 8:39 mark, before Edelman returns to conclude the symphony with epic majesty.
Rounding out the album are three additional pieces recorded after the main symphony; a piece of original spoken word poetry by actor Beau Bridges, and two new versions of traditional Haitian songs: “Yo-Yo” performed by jazz great Arturo Sandoval alongside Mike Lang and Bart Samolis, and “Yellow Bird”, performed in a classic Hollywood vocal style by singer Lucy Schwartz, accompanied by her father, composer and pianist David Schwartz.
A Symphony of Hope: The Haiti Project is clearly one of the most important film music-related albums released in 2011. Not only is the music sensational, and not only does the album give listeners the opportunity to hear the combined musical efforts of 25 of Hollywood’s greatest composing talents coming together for a common cause, but the driving force behind the whole project is one which everyone can stand behind as being worthy of support and financial contribution. I urge everyone to buy the A Symphony of Hope: The Haiti Project soundtrack directly from Amazon. Every single penny of every copy of the album sold goes directly to Hands Together to help the people of Haiti. You won’t regret it.
- Movement I – Wongolo (11:47)
- Movement II – Devastation (12:04)
- Movement III – The Aftermath (8:34)
- Movement IV – Rebuilding (8:49)
- Movement V – Hope (10:19)
- Reflections (spoken by Beau Bridges) (0:36)
- Yo-Yo (traditional, performed by Arturo Sandoval, Mike Lang and Bart Samolis) (7:32)
- Yellow Bird (traditional, performed by Lucy Schwartz feat. David Schwartz) (3:20)
Running Time: 63 minutes 05 seconds
Haiti Symphony Music (2011)
Music composed by Nathan Barr, Tyler Bates, Jeff Beal, Christophe Beck, Bruce Broughton, George S. Clinton, Elia Cmiral, Don Davis, John Debney, Randy Edelman, Andrew Gross, Dave Grusin, Marvin Hamlisch, David Kitay, Christopher Lennertz, Deborah Lurie, Lisbeth Scott, Pete Seibert, Theodore Shapiro, Edward Shearmur, John Swihart, Brian Tyler, Michael Wandmacher, Tim Wynn and Christopher Young. Conducted by Lucas Richman. Orchestrations by Pete Seibert, Andrew Kinney, Pete Anthony, Susie Bench, Richard Bronskill, Brad Dechter, Robert Elhai, Rick Giovinazzo, Penka Kouneva, Abraham Libbos, Dana Niu, Larry Rench, Brandon Roberts, Marcus Trumpp, Timothy Williams and Gernot Wolfgang. Featured musical soloists Mike Lang, Dennis Karmazyn and George Doering. Special vocal performances by Lisbeth Scott and Carmen Twillie. Recorded and mixed by Casey Stone, Alan Meyerson, Robert Fernandez, John Kurlander, Jeff Vaughn, Kevin Globerman, Tom Hardisty, Rich Wheeler, Ryan Robinson, Jay Selvester and Jamie Olivera. Edited by Chris Brooks. Album produced by Christopher Lennertz and Steve Schnur.