Sweeping you into the film

Howard Shore on François Girard, Judith Clurman, and recording the score for The Song Of Names

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Howard Shore on Judith Clurman and the Juilliard connection in casting Daniel Mutlu as the cantor in The Song Of Names: “He was able to learn the new piece and create the role with Judith's help. She was really instrumental in creating that scene. And particularly the congregation, so that the response was accurate.”
Howard Shore on Judith Clurman and the Juilliard connection in casting Daniel Mutlu as the cantor in The Song Of Names: “He was able to learn the new piece and create the role with Judith's help. She was really instrumental in creating that scene. And particularly the congregation, so that the response was accurate.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

In the second half of my conversation at Sony in New York with three-time Oscar-winning composer Howard Shore, we discussed what director François Girard wanted for the Paganini battle of the violins in The Song Of Names, performed by the 'great virtuoso' Ray Chen, the help from Brooklyn Heights Synagogue conductor and choral director Judith Clurman in the casting of the cantor played by Daniel Multu, and where in the film Shore used a chamber orchestra with ten male singers when he recorded the score with the Orchestre Métropolitain in Montreal.

Dovidl (Luke Doyle) with Martin (Misha Handley) and Martin’s father (Stanley Townsend)
Dovidl (Luke Doyle) with Martin (Misha Handley) and Martin’s father (Stanley Townsend) Photo: Sabrina Lantos

The Song Of Names, produced by Robert Lantos, Lyse Lafontaine and Nick Hirschkorn, is based on the novel by Norman Lebrecht, screenplay by Jefferey Caine, and stars Tim Roth and Clive Owen with Catherine McCormack, Jonah Hauer-King (Prince Eric in Rob Marshall’s upcoming The Little Mermaid), Luke Doyle, Gerran Howell, Misha Handley, Schwartz Zoltán, Marina Hambro, Stanley Townsend, Jakub Kotynski, and Eddie Izzard.

Luke Doyle, who plays little Dovidl Rapoport, is himself a violinist who never acted before this film. In a scene taking place during the Second World War, he and his musical nemesis, another prodigy, Jozef Weschler (Schwartz Zoltán), give an impromptu concert in an unexpected place.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Tell me about the battle of violins that you staged in the bomb shelter!

Martin (Gerran Howell) with Helen (Marina Hambro) and Dovidl (Jonah Hauer-King)
Martin (Gerran Howell) with Helen (Marina Hambro) and Dovidl (Jonah Hauer-King) Photo: Sabrina Lantos

Howard Shore: During the war, yeah, that's Paganini. Caprice No. 24. François, he did the research on that. He chose that piece and I helped him edit it. So it had that dual aspect to it. The violin music is performed by Ray Chen, who's a great virtuoso.

AKT: He performed all of it, right?

HS: Yes, all of the violin music is Ray Chen.

AKT: So he has this battle inside of him.

HS: One interesting thing when we did that scene, is that Dovidl [Luke Doyle], he is about eleven in that scene. So he plays a smaller violin, a 3/4 size violin it's called. So for authenticity, François wanted Ray Chen to play Paganini on a 3/4 violin, as if it wasn't difficult enough.

It's one of the most difficult pieces for the violin and he performed that on a 3/4 violin. Then the other violin that was used in the duel was Ray playing a different violin, a full-size one.

Dovidl (Luke Doyle) with his father (Jakub Kotynski)
Dovidl (Luke Doyle) with his father (Jakub Kotynski) Photo: Sabrina Lantos

AKT: The film starts with thunder and rain. Is there music at the beginning and I didn't realise it?

HS: That's interesting, because I like at the beginning of a film the lights in the theatre come down and on screen you start to see the imagery. In this case you are hearing the thunder and the rain and then the music comes right in with the thunder and the rain.

But it happens in a way, I hope, and I think we were successful, where it transports the audience into the first concert scene. So you're kind of swept up in the imagery. There's voice-over, there's music and it's sweeping you into the film.

AKT: It did sweep me in and that's why I couldn't tell.

HS: That's good.

Jozef Weschler (Schwartz Zoltán) in the bomb shelter battle of the violins
Jozef Weschler (Schwartz Zoltán) in the bomb shelter battle of the violins Photo: Sabrina Lantos

AKT: Sometimes it's good when you don’t notice the craft. I talked about this with Ann Roth on costumes as well. That you are not aware and it's just part of the big picture.

HS: Exactly. In that case you wanted to bring the audience into the world of the film.

AKT: In Treblinka, when they visit the memorial, my mind also wasn't with the music. Was there music for those scenes?

HS: After we recorded all the on-screen music, I wrote a score for the film. It's recorded by the Orchestre Métropolitain in Montreal. It's a chamber orchestra and I added ten male singers. And they're humming in Treblinka, so you're hearing them; it's wordless. You're just hearing a melody that I wrote for them to hum and you're hearing Ray Chen on the solo violin as if it's off in the environment.

AKT: Off in the woods?

HS: In the woods, surrounding the field, yes.

Jonah Hauer-King as Dovidl in The Song Of Names
Jonah Hauer-King as Dovidl in The Song Of Names Photo: Sabrina Lantos

AKT: Did you go there?

HS: I didn't on this film, no.

AKT: There are six actors playing two characters. Did the ageing play a part in your work?

HS: Of course. I helped with some of the casting. Not so much the violinists, because François was working with them. They had to be actors and violinists, a tricky combination. But I was casting the cantor for the synagogue scene and we had to find Daniel Mutlu who played that scene, and that took quite a bit of research.

We looked around for somebody who could be a cantor from 1951 but also act in that scene and learn a piece of music that was new to them in the tradition but they had to be able to create something that was part of the film. It was difficult to find, because that scene was recorded live. Daniel Mutlu, who plays the rabbi, he is singing that.

AKT: Everything is contained in this moment. It's the heart of the film.

HS: Exactly. Finding him was essential.

AKT: How he is found within the film contains a lot of fate. There's timing and shame, and falling asleep. First betrayal, then sleep, and then fate kicks in. So where did you find him?

HS: Judith Clurman, who was one of our consultants, she was at Juilliard. And Daniel was at Juilliard as a voice student. He is now a cantor in a Reform synagogue In New York. So he was able to learn the new piece and create the role with Judith's help. She was really instrumental in creating that scene. And particularly the congregation, so that the response was accurate.

Read what François Girard had to say on the energy and soul of the actors, starting with Clive Owen and Howard Shore’s score for The Song Of Names.

Read what Howard Shore had to say on researching history for The Aviator, A Dangerous Method and The Song Of Names.

Coming up - a conversation with The Song Of Names producer Robert Lantos.

The Song Of Names opens on December 25 in the US.

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