May 22, 2014

Dream Worlds: Lior Rosner's Awake and Dream

Lior Rosner

Lior Rosner

Since moving to Los Angeles from his native Israel, Lior Rosner has made a name for himself as a composer of rare versatility. He's worked in film (ValkyrieX-Men: Days of Future Past), TV (The Ellen Degeneres Show theme) and video games (Socom), and scored trailers and commercials for huge projects and brands. But concert music has always been dear to Rosner's heart, and his artistry is on full display on his new collection of vocal and instrumental works, Awake and Dream. A few days after the album's official release, Rosner spoke to us about the genesis of the music on the album.

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The three violin pieces on Awake and Dream experiment with different structures, styles and instrumentation. Did you know how you wanted each piece to proceed before you wrote it? Or did they only take shape as you were composing?

I probably had the idea in mind that all three compositions were going to be in a single movement form. As for the process and how much of it was planned in advance, I think I had a concept for each piece and a general message I thought the music should carry.

Both “Innerscape” and “G-Pull” started with exploration of a single chord and its transpositions, based on a system that Stravinsky used in his late music. The original material for “Awake and Dream” was more spontaneous, and there was no pre-planned idea other than that I wanted to write a piece that harmonically was inspired by jazz composers such as Johnny Mandel and composers that were influenced by jazz such as Henri Dutilleux. Also, it was important for me to have very lyrical and long, singing melodic lines.

In regard to the structure, only after coming up with a solid exposition do I see where I can take the piece - actually, where the material takes me.

Your gorgeous Three Songs by Sappho reminds me of some classic examples of the orchestral song cycle - Strauss's Four Last Songs, Ravel's Sheherezade. What moves you about this genre, and did the three songs challenge you in unexpected ways?

I think that working with poems can be very powerful and evoke an immediate emotional connection with the listener. I also like the opportunity to create a sound world specific to the poem or set of poems. Once I find a text that I connect to, I feel like the piece - or at least the melody - comes to me very naturally. I get a very strong sense of what's going to sound right. The part that is more time-consuming is creating the accompaniment.

The Sappho fragments are mostly short, so one of the challenges was how to create a musical form that will both accommodate the short text, and at the same time, be long enough to tell a musical story that will convey the emotional weight of the story within each of the poems.

Langston Hughes had a long history with music, but your settings of his poems are far removed from the "jazz poetry" that he pioneered. How did you determine how to approach the music for the In Time of Silver Rain cycle?

My initial musical concept for this piece was to approach it with this question in mind: "What would it sound like if a composer such as Aaron Copland or Samuel Barber or one of their contemporaries composed music to Langston Hughes's poetry?" From there, things started taking shape and form and evolved into what ended up as a 20-minute song cycle featuring poems that were written during different periods in his lifetime.

Although the form and texture are in a concert music context, I do feel that there is a lot of jazz influence in the harmonic language that this piece is written in. This is what connects it back to the sound world we associate with Hughes's poetry.

The orchestra, studio, music preparation, etc. for Awake and Dream couldn't have come cheap. What advice could you give to other composers who are looking to fund their own classical recording project?

I think that if you have something to say you can say it with a small group of musicians. You don't need a 70-piece orchestra necessarily. I recorded the orchestral pieces with a small chamber orchestra of mostly strings, and the rest of the project is duos and a solo piece.

The key is to find the best musicians you can find that are also excited about your music and are interested in getting a great performance. I was really lucky with both [vocalist] Janai Brugger and [violinist] Katia Popov, because they were really committed to making the best possible performances.

Do you consider your music for screen and your classical compositions as equally essential parts of your music career? How would you say they impact one another?

Yes, I figured out in recent years that although I enjoy and feel blessed to be able to work as a film and television composer, I also need a place where I can both create and be the one who makes the final decisions regarding my music. I also find that writing concert music makes you flex muscles that are not in use that often when writing for media. It's making me a better composer, which makes me a better film composer as well, so it's really a win-win situation.

How has being an ASCAP member made a difference in your music career?

From the time I was a participant in the ASCAP TV & Film Scoring Workshop, the team at ASCAP always made me feel like I am part of a family. There is always an open door to come and discuss any issues or get career advice. I see my relationship with the team at ASCAP as a crucial part in facilitating my development as a composer in the industry.

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Visit Lior Rosner on the web at rosnermusic.com.

Awake and Dream is now available on Bridge Records. Get it from Amazon, iTunes or ArkivMusic.