'There Will Be Blood' thrills Festival Hall audience at David Byrne's Meltdown

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Jonny Greenwood joined the London Contemporary Orchestra and Hugh Brunt for a sell-out live screening of Paul Thomas Anderson's Oscar-winning film, There Will Be Blood.

The Radiohead guitarist was (literally) centre-stage, performing on ondes Martenot in his haunting and acclaimed score which has now had five live performances in London and New York: 

'The sprawling films of Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master, Inherent Vice) tend to divide audiences, but few would dispute the director's skill at employing music to create a powerful mood.  This is most vividly illustrated in There Will Be Blood - his strange 2009 portrayal of a monstrous oil mogul amid the parched landscapes of early 20th-century California - where the mournful soundtrack of Jonny Greenwood is almost a star in its own right.

Greenwood, Radiohead's guitarist, has long been building his credentials as a composer of contemporary classical music, and his string-heavy score - all austere threnodies and ominous string-plucking - is as essential to the film's sense of dread as the music of Gyorgy Ligeti and Krzysztof Penderecki is to Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.

the effect was superb.  Scenes of an oil well exploding were heightened by dramatic percussive beats and squalls of strings; later, during a piece titled Proven Lands, double basses were slapped and violins strummed and plucked in groovily avant-garde fashion.'
The Times (James Jackson), 20 August 2015

 

'Part of the Meltdown festival, the occasion was a screening of the 2007 film There Will Be Blood, with a live performance of Greenwood’s music for the film.  It is a highly praised score, revelatory of the Radiohead guitarist’s talent for modern classical composition.  But there was a problem.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic account of the rise and fall of a 1900s American oil prospector is almost 160 minutes long.  The soundtrack, which includes pieces by Arvo Pärt and Brahms, as well as Greenwood’s work, takes up scarcely half an hour.  For long periods of the evening the orchestra was inactive, as though in limbo between cinema and concert hall.

But doubts were quelled as the film unfolded.  Witnessing the orchestrations come to life, conducted by Hugh Brunt, illuminated the vital importance of music to There Will Be Blood.

The story is about what lies beneath the surface — both the oil that Daniel Day-Lewis’s protagonist Daniel Plainview digs from the ground, and the repressed emotions that have turned him into a violent misanthrope.  The soundtrack hints at the inner life that Plainview tries to reject.

“I don’t like to explain myself,” he announces in one scene. At that point the orchestra stirred itself to action with a low swirl of violin tones, forces roiling in obscure depths. An anxious outbreak of percussion during a drilling disaster resolved into a steady beat, underlining the extent of the oilman’s greed. Dread-filled violins, climbing in pitch before vertiginously falling, conveyed a world out of kilter. The influence of Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 classic 2001: A Space Odyssey and of the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki was sublimated into a pitch-perfect accompaniment for the onscreen action.

… the sight of Day-Lewis entering scenery-chewing mode had an advantage at the Royal Festival Hall.  It brought home the contrasting subtlety of Greenwood’s music, and the restrained power with which the London Contemporary Orchestra played it.'
Financial Times (Ludovic Hunter-Tilney), 21 August 2015

 

'It was this film, released in 2007, that served notice of the credentials of Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood as a soundtrack composer. He was already gaining a burgeoning reputation within contemporary classical music for Popcorn Superhet Receiver, his first large scale orchestral work, but There Will Be Blood began a fruitful musical relationship with Anderson that has extended to two more films to date, The Master and Inherent Vice.

Yet one of the most striking features of this film showing was the long periods of silence, where Greenwood and Anderson had opted against music. It is almost 15 minutes before there is any meaningful speech in There Will Be Blood, and this time is very carefully managed, the music limited to percussion – the chips of a pick, the rumbling of the earth and the cry of a baby. Gradually the music makes itself known in unsettling discords, all the while working its way around to the main theme.

This is one of the most distinctive parts of film soundtrack writing this century, a tune with an upward curve that in an instant evokes the vast Californian plains over which the film takes place. Once heard, it casts a spell over the rest of the picture, offering an escape from the greed and oppression that ultimately does not materialise.

The London Contemporary Orchestra, conducted by Hugh Brunt, were superb in their evocation of the picture, shading their contributions carefully as the film progressed. The balance here ensured Greenwood’s own contribution, on the ondes martenot, could be clearly heard. The unusual instrument added an eerie lacy effect to the top of the texture.

As well as Greenwood’s evocative score, with its echoes of Bartók, Lutoslawski and Xenakis, we heard Arvo Pärt’s extraordinary Fratres, coming at the point in the film where Daniel Day Lewis’ adopted son, known as H.W., loses his hearing. Cellist Oliver Coates deserves credit for mastering the threadbare arpeggios. We also heard the finale of Brahms’ Violin Concerto, its happy bluster somehow enforced on us and totally inappropriate, especially at the end of the horrible bowling alley scene with which the film ends…

With the Royal Festival Hall effectively turned into the National Film Theatre for the night, this was an effective and moving experience, the audience often reduced to the same levels of silence as the film. Yet the sparing use of music ensured Greenwood’s score, when it was heard, was all the more memorable, painting as it does the story of greed and obsession blighting the lives of innocent men.'
MusicOMH (Ben Hogwood), 19 August 2015