[THEATER] David Henry Hwang & Howard Shore
- HOWARD SHORE (Who has worked with David Henry Hwang in M.Butterfly)
From Screen to Stage
Last year, composer Howard Shore reached a new pinnacle of success
with his epic-sized score for The Return of the King, the final
installment in director Peter Jackson's big-screen Lord of the Rings
Among Shore's take for that film: a Grammy, two Golden Globes, plus
his second and third Oscars. But for the 58-year-old Shore, who
began writing music at the age of ten in his native Toronto, the
lure of the concert hall and live orchestral performance beckons.
Shore began his career in 1975, as Musical Director of the first-
ever Saturday Night Live band. Since then, he has created memorable
scores for dozens of high-profile films, including projects by some
of the cinema's most respected directors. During the last two
decades, he has worked with Martin Scorsese (Gangs of New York),
Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs), Tim Burton (Ed Wood),
David Fincher (Panic Room), and fellow Canadian David Cronenberg
(Dead Ringers), to name only a few.
"I was originally drawn to composing for the screen because I was
interested in music and I thought that film work would give me the
opportunity to compose for a lot of different types of subjects,"
Shore explains. "I've been writing music since I was a kid. In a
way, The Lord of the Rings took me 40 years to write. I actually
worked for four years on the score for all three films, but it feels
to me like the culmination of 40 years of work in music."
Shore's music for the blockbuster Rings trilogy won unanimous
acclaim for providing the ideal aural match to Peter Jackson's epic
vision, and for capturing all the power, passion and emotion of
J.R.R. Tolkien's mythical Middle Earth. During that creative
process, Shore turned for inspiration to Jackson's screenplays as
well as to Tolkien's original novels, which include some musical
descriptions in the text. From there, the composer researched the
music of European cultures from thousands of years ago. The
resulting score includes Celtic influences, Middle Eastern
flourishes, and a variety of other folk music idioms, often
performed with historically accurate instruments like the Ney flute,
the Hardanger fiddle, and the Bodhran drum. Shore even wrote choral
portions of the score in Tolkien's invented language of "Elvish."
In addition to verisimilitude, another objective was to utilize the
structure of Wagnerian opera by attaching recognizable musical
motifs to characters and objects immortalized in Tolkien's sweeping
narrative. "Peter and I agreed that we wanted the score to have the
feeling of a classic opera, but I had to do that part of the work
afterward," Shore says. "Once the scenes were filmed and edited, I
had to capture that kind of beauty and emotion."
Now that the Rings trilogy has settled into immortality on DVD,
Shore has focused his attention on his new Lord of the Rings
Symphony, an orchestral work adapted from his music for all three
films in the series. So far, Shore's maiden orchestral effort
which requires over 200 performers has been delighting critics
around the world. "Shore's musical opus is every bit as impressive
as Tolkien's literary one," wrote Jeff Shannon of The Seattle
Times. "It stands on its own as a sweeping, operatic experience,
even when liberated from the majesty of Jackson's trilogy."
"Creating this symphony was initially suggested as a way to preserve
the score," Shore explains. "John Mauceri (Music Director of the
Pittsburgh Opera and Principal Conductor of the Hollywood Bowl
Orchestra) suggested that creating this concert work would allow for
the music to be performed by orchestras and choruses and children's
choirs around the world. So with John's help, I took the full 12
hours of music and created one 2-hour symphony. There are six
movements two for each film in the trilogy but that six-part
structure also relates to Tolkien's books, because that's the way he
organized his original story."
On Mauceri's suggestion, Shore did a test run by adapting his music
from the first Lord of the Rings installment 2001's The Fellowship
of the Ring into a 40-minute concert suite that premiered at the
Hollywood Bowl in 2002. Since then, the composer has given similar
treatment to the entire Rings trilogy, resulting in "a living,
breathing concert piece" that has been attracting enthusiastic
audiences many members of which have never before set foot inside
a concert hall.
"This whole experience has been liberating for me," Shore
says. "Once I started, I realized what a joy it is to actually play
with orchestras in different parts of the world to be able to
present this music live after years of working in the recording
"It's been fantastic to see so many people taking an interest in
Tolkien," he continues. "Anywhere in the world it's been performed
Seattle, Atlanta, Chicago, London, Sydney, Taipei, Seville it's
all been done by local performers. To me, that's the real joy of it
to hear all of these different interpretations." When The Lord of
the Rings Symphony comes to Prudential Hall on December 3 and 4, the
presentation will feature the full New Jersey Symphony Orchestra,
conducted by John Mauceri, along with Broadway vocalist Susan Egan,
the Montclair State University Chorale, and the New Jersey Youth
Chorus. The performances will also incorporate projected images of
original sketches and storyboard art that corresponds to the music.
So now that he's traveled around the world with his first formal
symphony, how does the experience hold up to composing for the
screen? "Composing is quieter and more sedate," he says. "This has
a physical component. A lot of composer-conductors have struggled
with this over the years. It's a constant in the history of music.
Conducting, performing and composing are completely different
undertakings. One requires this quiet, centered aloneness, and the
other involves so many musicians and conflicting schedules and
Jet lag aside, what does the classical music stage provide Shore
that his screen work does not? "Complete control," he says with a
laugh. "I love that purely compositional approach to music. I've
worked on chamber music during the last several years, and that is
the antithesis of the collaborative nature of film and theater. It's
an entirely different outlet that allows me to stay focused on
things that I'm interested in."
In the meantime, Shore continues his work with some of the world's
top filmmakers. At the moment, he is creating the score for
Jackson's latest project, a top-secret remake of King Kong. "I've
never had a relationship like this one with Peter," Shore says. "He
is such a good filmmaker, and he works with me like he would with
another screenwriter. He's with me every step of the way. He's quite
unique, but I think all directors are, actually. They all develop
their own techniques. Cronenberg is a great director, but he's very
different from Peter or Martin Scorsese. Each has his unique way of
working, and they've all been valuable experiences for me."
Now, with the end-of-year award season in full swing, Shore might
find himself in the running again, this time for his work on
Scorsese's highly anticipated The Aviator. In addition to King Kong,
he is at work on David Cronenberg's latest, A History of Violence.
And cinema aside, he's keeping one foot on the performing arts stage
by developing a new opera, based on The Fly not the campy 1958
version, but Cronenberg's viscerally graphic 1986 reworking. This
time out, Shore's collaborators include librettist David Henry Hwang
(M. Butterfly) and, hopefully, Cronenberg himself as director.
"I've been an opera fan for many years and have thought about
working in that medium for a long, long time," Shore explains. "At
this point, it feels natural to me, because opera is such a
collaborative form. It involves orchestra and chorus and soloists,
so it's a natural extension of the work I've been doing."
"After reaching this achievement with The Lord of the Rings, I need
a fresh start again," he concludes. "This feels like an entirely new
Arena Stage is proud to launch its new seasonwith David Henry
Hwang's award-winning M. Butterfly, one of the first works by an
Asian-American playwright to earn wide acclaim.
"Sixteen years ago, M. Butterfly burst onto the scene like a
bracingjolt of salt air. Audiences were abuzz with this play because
it tapped into huge questions of sex and sexuality," said Artistic
Director Molly Smith.
Inspired by the opera Madama Butterfly, Hwang's play examines
cultural and gender stereotypes of East and West. M. Butterfly was
first produced in 1988 and won numerous awards, including the Tony
Award for Best Play of the Year, the New York Drama Desk Award, the
Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Broadway play, and the John
Gassner Award for the season's outstanding new playwright, David
Henry Hwang. Hwang's other work includes the play Golden Child, for
which he received a 1998 Tony nomination and a 1997 OBIE Award. His
remake of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song earned him his
third Tony nomination in 2003.
He is currently represented on Broadway and internationally as co-
author of Disney's Aida, winner of four 2000 Tony Awards. Other
plays include FOB (1981 OBIE Award), TheDance and the Railroad,
Family Devotions, The Sound of a Voice, and Bondage.
He recently adapted Peter Sis' Tibet Through the Red Box for Seattle
Children's Theatre. His opera libretti include three works by
composer Philip Glass, 1000 Airplanes on the Roof (International
Tour), The Voyage (Metropolitan Opera), and The Sound of a Voice
(American Repertory Theatre) as well as The Silver River(Lincoln
Center Festival) with music by Bright Sheng and Ainadamar
(Tanglewood, LA's Disney Hall) with composer Osvaldo Golijov.
Hwang penned the feature films M. Butterfly, Golden Gate, and
Possession (co-writer), and co-wrote the song "Solo," released on
the album Come by composer/performer Prince. Upcoming productions
include the book for a new Broadway musical, Disney's Tarzan, with
music by Phil Collins, and an opera based on David Cronenberg's The
Fly with music by Howard Shore.
From 1994-2001, Hwang served by appointment of President Clinton on
the President's Committee for the Arts and the Humanities.
Currently, he sits on the Council of the Dramatists Guild and the
board of Young Playwrights Inc.
Arena Stage and the Smithsonian Institution's Asian Pacific American
Program join forces to present a Think Tank in conjunction with
Arena's production of M. Butterflyby David Henry Hwang. The 90-
minute panel discussion examines the challenges and rewards that
face artists of this culture today. Panelists scheduled to
appearinclude playwrights Hwang, Julia Cho, Randy Gener and Chay
Yew; Terry Hong, Media Arts Consultant for the Smithsonian's APA
Program, will moderate.
CRONENBERG GETS THE OPERA BUG
Scott W. Davis on Friday 4th Mar @ 5:10AM - COMMENT
This is one of those wacky stories that I would really like to see
happen. The people involved are extremely talented, and the idea is
so out there that I don't think it could possibly tarnish the
original. What am I talking about? I'm talking about THE FLY... as
Fangoria reports that the horror icon will be brought to the stage
as an elaborate opera in 2007. The man behind it is none other than
David Cronenberg himself, working in conjunction with Henry Hwang.
Cronenberg actually directed a film version of Hwang's brilliant
play, M. BUTTERFLY.
Since Cronenberg is involved, the opera will likely use his 1986
remake as source material and not the original Vincent Price film.
It is unknown exactly what route they will take with the production,
but it is set to premiere at the Los Angeles Opera.
The opera will be composed by Academy Award winner Howard Shore, who
has been a longtime collaborator with Cronenberg. In addition to
Cronenberg's films, Shore has composed such incredible film scores
as the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, ED WOOD, PHILADELPHIA, SINGLE
WHITE FEMALE, SEVEN, GANGS OF NEW YORK, THE AVIATOR and THE SILENCE
OF THE LAMBS. Current projects in the works include the score for
Peter Jackson's KING KONG.
Horror and musical theatre have had a traditionally tricky
relationship. The biggest successes come with the adaptations of
classics such as PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and JECKYLL AND HYDE (although
the latter was a horrible play, it did bring in tickets). Modern
horror typically has not fared as well, the most notorious example
being the Broadway bomb, CARRIE: THE MUSICAL. Exceptions to this
rule include the musical comedy, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, which used
a Roger Corman film as its basis.
David Henry Hwang was awarded the 1988 Tony", Drama Desk, Outer
Critics, and John Gassner Awards for his Broadway debut, M.
Butterfly, which was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. For his
most recent play, Golden Child, he received a 1998 Tony" nomination
and a 1997 OBIE Award. His new book for Rodgers & Hammerstein's
Flower Drum Song premiered at Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum, and is
currently playing on Broadway. He is also represented on Broadway
and internationally as co-author of the book for Elton John and Tim
Rice's Aida, winner of four 2000 Tony" Awards. Other plays include
FOB (1981 OBIE Award), The Dance and the Railroad, Family Devotions,
The Sound of a Voice, and Bondage.
In opera, he has written libretti for two works by composer Philip
Glass, 1000 Airplanes on the Roof (International Tour) and The
Voyage (Metropolitan Opera), as well as The Silver River (Lincoln
Center Festival) with music by Bright Sheng, and The Scarlet
Princess (Canadian Opera Company) for Alexina Louie. Hwang penned
the feature films M. Butterfly, Golden Gate, and Possession (co-
writer). He also co-wrote the song "Solo" with composer/performer
Prince. Upcoming productions include the books for two new musicals,
Largo (Trinity Repertory Company) and Disney's Tarzan with music by
Phil Collins, as well as a new Glass chamber opera, The Sound of a
Voice (American Repertory Theatre).
Hwang serves on the Dramatists Guild Council and was appointed by
President Clinton to the President's Committee on the Arts and the