‘It probably sits in the same category as the ukelele’
The whistling shrill that opens the film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly would have to be one of the most well-known tunes in cinematic history.
And while many musicians have tried to recapture the unusual instrumentation of Ennio Morricone’s score, few can can lay claim to playing it on a toy piano.
Composer Steve Newcomb will tinkle the tiny ivories to some of cinema’s most memorable soundtracks, including No Country for Old Men and The Proposition as part of Soft Soft Loud: The Antihero Suite at the Fremantle Arts Centre on February 14.
The New York-based musician says while the toy piano is not that “new an instrument” it is yet to feature regularly as a concerto soloist.
“It probably sits in the same category as the ukelele,” he told the Herald.
“For me it is an adventurous move and with each project I take on and write for I’m lucky to have the chance to explore something new and challenge my knowledge and experience.
“The basis for these scores came through discussions with the artistic director for Soft, Soft, Loud as he thought they would act as glue for the other pieces on the program, and add continuity to the whole evening of music.
“They are strong in their mood, and all use simple motifs to portray character. These are the things I borrowed and manipulated.”
Newcomb says reinterpreting the music is made easier by having an orchestra at his disposal to write for.
Led by artistic director Matthew Hoy, Newcomb is backed by some of WA’s finest musicians.
“The toy piano takes on the anti-hero character amidst the drama around,” Newcomb says.
“I think I have written serious music in this case, but yes, there are moments of absurdity and humour as the contrasts take place and references to the movie themes are made.”
Newcomb says ever since he bought the piano from a street sale in New York for $26 he’d thought of ways to incorporate it into his work.
“It’s quite percussive, but soft,” he says. “Clunky at times and the tone isn’t easy to manipulate as far as expression goes. But, like each instrument is different there are things it is great for and its character is unique.”
Newcomb is currently doing his PhD at The Manhattan School of Music. He admits to lingering doubts about how to best re-imagine the cinematic scores. “Every project begins with ‘how on earth is this going to happen?’ but that is the inspiration and the challenge,” he says. “We’ll see how it works.”
The evening will also see Heinz Karl Kruber’s absurd and engaging Frankenstein song by WA baritone James Clayton.
Musical director James Ledger will conduct the ensemble when it tackles English composer Thomas Ades’ adventurous work Living Toys.
Ades’ piece is based on a Spanish tale about a young child dreaming of becoming a superhero.
by BRENDAN FOSTER