London Contemporary Orchestra – There will be Blood
Paul Thomas Anderson’s brutal, yet strangely beautiful, western – There Will Be Blood – is heading to Brighton Dome this month for a very special screening. The London Contemporary Orchestra will be performing composer (and Radiohead guitarist) Jonny Greenwood’s dissonant and intricately-layered score along with the film, in the most perfect of environments. “There’s no safety harnesses as it were. We’re doing it in the way that silent films would I suppose,” Hugh Brunt, the LCO’s co-Artistic Director and co-Principal Conductor, tells me. “It’s much freer way of working, which requires lots of preparation. Of all the films to watch dozens of times, I’m pleased it’s this one.” He admits he’s seen some parts of the film closer to 100 times, and that it’s quite a challenge ensuring over 50 musicians hit each dramatic point perfectly.
The heightened atmosphere of a live orchestra in full flow is undoubtedly going to further expand a cinematic work so drenched in tension. There Will Be Blood – sees Daniel Day Lewis taking the lead as a ruthless oil man. With little charm and a smaller social circle, there are few depths his character won’t stoop to in his quest for wealth. He comes up against a preacher, who’s only interested in funding the construction of a church. It’s a relationship beset by conflict, distrust, and scheming. Wondrous cinematography, pitch-perfect performances and an incredible score drew a shower of accolades when it was released. Day Lewis himself took home almost every major award for Best Actor from the Oscars, Baftas, Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, NYFCC and IFTA, sealing this stark western’s reputation as a true epic.
The LCO’s relationship with Greenwood began in 2008, when they performed his piece Popcorn Superhet Receiver – itself part of the film’s score. Performing the orchestral elements on Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool album, the LCO worked with him on the soundtrack for Thomas Anderson’s The Master in 2012. “It was around that time that the idea was forming to do There Will Be Blood.” Obviously recording music for a film over a period of weeks in the controlled environment of a studio and presenting its score live as the film plays are two very different concepts…
But this is no ordinary group of artists. Winners of the Ensemble category at the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards 2015, they’ve performed innovative shows across Europe – from tube stations and festivals to the Royal Festival Hall and Secret Cinema interactive experiences. They’re a group of musicians exploring different ways to programme large-scale modern works and developing innovative site-relative presentations. After studying at New College, Oxford, Brunt and his co-Artistic Director Robert Ames founded NCO in 2008, drawing heavily from musicians he’d met in the National Youth Orchestra. Since, they’ve developed a reputation as one of the UK’s leading contemporary ensembles, working with artists like Beck, Goldfrapp, Frank Ocean and Belle & Sebastian.
They’ve also just worked with composer Jed Kurzel on the recent Assassin’s Creed film. Which prompts the question – would Brunt turn his kills to a video game title, given the soaring production values within the industry? “That’s a really interesting part of the industry. There’s some incredible, really creative, video game music being written. It’s one area we’ve not made many in-roads into yet, but I hope we will. There are some really talented composers out there.” The future does again see him working with Kurzel, with some more film scoring projects looming. He tells me that not all LCO’s time is spent on live performance work. “Almost 50% of what we do is in the studio.” His own responsibilities lay heavily in the rehearsal process and the preparations leading up to a performance or recording. He downplays about his onstage duties during the There Will Be Blood scoring, marking it down as ensuring the orchestra is synchronised with the film. “In that respect the conductor is something of a traffic cop. There’s quite a lot going on, but that’s shared amongst the orchestra. It’s not just one megalomaniac at the front…”