Thursday, September 29, 2011

Film Review: "The Debt" (2010)

"The Debt" (2010, released 2011, English, 113 min) is one of the most gripping films of the past decade, well worthy of an Oscar consideration for its adapted screenplay, as well as additional considerations for three sophisticated performances by Helen Mirren, the beautiful Jessica Chastain, and the intimate Sam Worthington, cinematography, directing & edit, not to mention a very effective score by Thomas Newman, who's once more succeeded in reinventing his sound world. This is an artful film without a dull moment, one with an relentless suspense which has grown out of the necessities of its narrative, and the lives of its characters and their complicated pasts.

The film follows the intense emotional world of three specially gifted Mossad agents, and survivors of the Holocaust, tormented for decades over a lie they once agreed to live. By allowing its characters to express their pains, hopes and desires, the story surpasses a basic narrative of revenge, bringing out their humanity, three people, who seek not vengeance by justice, who struggle to the end not to become the very abhorrent beast whom they've pursued. The attempt at understanding the mindset of the characters has helped the film exceed the ethnic or political boundaries of the protagonists, and explore and relate to broader aspects of human condition.

I have not yet seen the original Hebrew version of the film, but to my recollection, "The Debt" is one of the finest adapted or original thrillers of the past few years, and next to "Munich" (dir. Steven Spielberg, 2005) and "Walk On Water" (dir. Eytan Fox, 2004, Hebrew), one of the three best revisionist films about Israel at large, and its much talked about secretive agency, in particular.

‎"The Debt" (2010, English, German, 113 mins.)
Directed by John Madden, based on Assaf Bernstein's 2007 film in Hebrew, "Ha-Hov"
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast includes: Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Ciaran Hinds, Jessica Chastain, et al.

© 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.
(*) This review first appeared on Payman's Facebook page.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a Los Angeles-based composer, pianist, and piano teacher, covering the greater Los Angeles area. His repertoire includes classical, as well as Persian music. Payman holds an MA and a BA degree in Composition from UCLA. He's currently working on his dissertation toward degree of PhD in Composition. You may contact him by calling (310) 208-2927 [USA].

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Chopin, Harmonic Series, Sympathetic Resonance & the Pedal: A Short Note on Nocturne No. 15 in F Minor, Op. 55/No. 1 by Payman Akhlaghi (2011)

Frederic Chopin, Nocturne No. 15 in F Minor, Op. 55, No. 1
A Brief Comparative Discussion of the Coda by Payman Akhlaghi

The Coda From Chopin's
Nocturne in Fm
The Mikuli Edition
(Click to Enlarge)
The Coda of Nocturne Op. 55, No. 1 is founded on a 13-bar pedal point of an F- major chord, spaced in an open position and sustained in the bass. This passage is of particular significance, given the fast decay of piano sounds.

In the Mikuli edition (left), the bass line is once re-articulated, while in the Joseffy edition (right), as well as in the Paderewski edition (as I recall), these chords are tied together throughout the entire passage without interruption. (NB: In the Mikuli edtion, at the beginning of the third system from the bottom, a Pedal marking is clearly omitted by error.)

The Coda from Chopin's
Nocturne in Fm
The Joseffy Edition
The discrepancy is not a trivium. It seems that Mikuli, in his focus on the theoretical aspects of the instrument, has lost sight of the composer's ingenious calculation of the effects of the harmonic series on the bass line, that is, the sympathetic resonance of the LH open strings with the rapidly ascending F-Major arpeggio of the RH. In practice, as the passage unfolds, the bass line "stays alive" by a succession of rapid notes in the right hand. That is, the arpeggio "keeps playing" the open F-C-A strings of the bass, by reinforcing their upper partials.

If so, the pianist might further consider to experiment with the damper pedal, perhaps avoiding it for the entire passage, partially or altogether, to allow for a more unique and delicate effect a more selective interference pattern, to emerge out of the interaction of the RH arpeggio with the only the three strings remained open (senza sordine, or "undamped") in the bass. Alternatively, and perhaps preferrably, one could also experiment with a gradual release of the pedal, as the diminuendo progresses.

You may notice how beautifully the sustained F-major chord in the left hand starts out, and continues, by "shadowing" the right-hand arpeggio. It's a most subtle effect, which could be easily lost if the sustained F-major chord is re-articulated, or if the passage is over-pedalled.

© 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

1) The Mikuli edition in PDF:
2) The Joseffy Edition in PDF

Payman Akhlaghi is an LA-based composer, pianist and piano teacher. For lessons, covering the Greater Los Angeles Area, please contact: (310) 208-2927.

"Achorripsis" (1956-57): Iannis Xenakis and Stochastic Music

Achorripsis (1956-57)
Iannis Xenakis
Click for Larger Image
The score of Achorripsis (1956-57), ca. 7 mins, for 21 instruments, composed by the Greek French composer and architect, Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001).

This is an example of Xenakis's work in aleatory and stochastic music. The image is taken from the cover of "Music on the Move", a special edition of UNESCO's Courier, April 1986. This issue is of particular importance to me, as its Persian edition, and especially, Xenakis's enlightening interview therein, left an indelible impression on me as a teenager.

Related Links:
(*) Please click on the following links for the entire April 1986 issue of UNESCO's Courier, the magaine, in English, as well as French or Spanish, in PDF format.
(*) You may also listen to a rendition of Achorripsis, accompanied by an analytic animation, by clicking on the following: Achorripsis on YouTube.

© 2011, Text by Payman Akhlaghi.

Payman Akhlaghi is an LA-based Iranian American composer, pianist, and piano teacher. For lessons covering the greater Los Angeles area, please contact the following number: (310) 208-2927.

Film Review: "Love Crime" (2010, 2011 US Release)

Love Crime (2010, French, 104 mins, 2011 US Release)
Directed by: Alain Corneau
Music by: Pharoah (Ferrel) Sanders
With Kristin Scott Thomas, Ludivine Sagnier, et al.

Fortunately, Alain Corneau the co-writer has won over Alain Corneau the director, delivering a more or less satisfying psychological crime thriller, despite demonstrable weakness in his role as the director. I found the film a wonderful pas-de-duex for two gifted actors, as beautiful as talented they are, depicting ages-long fatal games of love and manipulation in a modern corporate setting. The main regret is that this could have been a much more engaging film, had the director not confused the meditative serenity of the likes of Tarkovsky or Rohmer with a disturbingly lethargic mise-en-scène and edit.

The music does add to the narraive in an atmospheric sense. It's largely made up of soundtrack numbers primarily composed for solo tenor saxophone and koto, which according to Ms. Sagnier, was already helping her get into the mood during the shooting. May I add that the use of koto, a Japanese plucked instrument, although geographically remote from the Paris settings of the film, does highlight the masked hypocrisy of the characters by alluding to Japanese Kabuki.

-- Payman Akhlaghi, September 3rd, 2011, Los Angeles

© 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

This short review first appeared on Payman's Personal Facebook Page, on September 3rd, 2011.