My guest for this edition of duologues is award-winning composer Jane Antonia Cornish who grew up in England and is currently based in New York City. In addition to composing scores for the acclaimed documentaries, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood and Citizen Jane: Battle for the City as well as the drama Fireflies in the Garden, (starring Julia Roberts, Ryan Reynolds and Willem Dafoe), Cornish was the first female in history to win a British Academy Award (BAFTA) for music in 2005. In that same year the UK Film Council also honored her with a Breakthrough Brit in Hollywood award. Most recently she has released her third solo album Into Silence, an exquisite, intimate, and deeply affecting work that ICON Magazine called “A virtual blessing in a world gone mad”, a sentiment with which I would wholeheartedly agree.
When you won the inaugural Anthony Asquith Award for Best New British Composer in 2005 you became the first female composer to ever win a BAFTA for music. Twelve years later, what is your assessment of the landscape for female composers in film & television?
We still have a long way to go. Right now there’s a strong movement towards recognizing the under-representation of women in the film industry, which is great. People are speaking out and, as a result, change is happening. It is absurd to me that in 2017 we still have so few women composing scores to films, but I hope that as more women are hired to direct, more opportunities will be created for women and the balance within the industry will become even. The attitude of people in power has to shift. That’s when a change will happen.
There are some great talents working today in film music. It was so great that Mica Levi was recognized by the Academy for her beautiful score to “Jackie“. I hope we start to see more women composers recognized for their work.
Your first solo album, ‘Duende’ (Delos, 2014), came out in 2014 soon to be followed by ‘Continuum’ (Innova, 2015) and now ‘Into Silence’ (Innova, 2017). Was there any particular catalyst to your adding this aspect to your career?
I’ve always written music separately from films, and got to a point where I felt compelled to release an album. There was a catalyst, yes, a commission by The Lee Trio. I wrote a piano trio for them called ‘Duende’, and it was premiered at the Chelsea Music Festival in NYC. They are incredible musicians, and I love their interpretation of the piece, so I decided to have it recorded. This lead to recordings of ‘In Luce’ and ‘Clair Obscur’, and those three pieces became my first album.
I know I am far from alone when I say I find the music on ‘Into Silence’ profoundly beautiful and deeply affecting. What do you hope listeners will take away from the experience of listening to the album?
Thank you! That’s exactly what I hope listeners will take away from the album. My aim was to create a deeply contemplative experience for the listener. Music is such a powerful art form, it universally affects individuals in such a profound way. Like so many people, I’ve been affected by all that’s going on in the world. I want to contribute positively to the world, and this is one way I hope to do that, by creating music that is, I hope, transcendent and reflective, music that will affect people’s lives positively in some way.
The more I listened to ‘Into Silence’, the more it became apparent that the sonorities were as important as the notes. Is that something you have a vision of in advance as you are composing or does that develop in the process of bringing the music to life?
Absolutely. I’m intrigued by silence, by stillness and contemplation through music. How space and quiet within music is as important as sound. I was so fortunate to work with a great recording and mixing engineer, Dan Bora, on this album. He helped realize my vision so beautifully, creating a sound world where the notes ring out into the distance, so the listener’s ear is following the echoes of the notes as they disappear into silence.
You collaborated with New York City Ballet principal Ask la Cour who choreographed the pas de deux associated with the title piece. How did the aspect of dance enter into your approach to the composition?
I’m very drawn to dance as an art form and find ballet and particularly modern choreography incredibly inspiring. I’d been chatting with Ask la Cour, the choreographer and NYC Ballet principal about another dance project over the past year and we had become good friends.
I was imagining the title track, Into Silence as a pas de deux, so I sent the music to Ask. He told me that as he listened for the first time he also had images of a pas de deux and was choreographing ideas. So we decided to create this as an accompaniment to the album, and have it filmed. Ben and Adam Toht from the Saline Project created the beautiful film, and shot it in black and white. The cinematographer, Ed David was running around the dancers with a steadicam during the shoot, which created this gorgeous seamless balletic visual and makes the viewer feel like they’re a part of the dance. It was really quite an emotional moment to see Ask’s interpretation of the music, to see him perform with Sara Michelle Murawski who is such an exquisite dancer. I’m so glad we were able to film it and have it a part of the album release.
Any new projects in the works solo or otherwise we should be looking out for in the near future?
I’ve just completed writing my 4th solo album, and will be recording that in December. It’s a natural progression from ‘Into Silence’, a similar ensemble with a little more of an electronic component. That’ll be out next year. I also have a film I scored premiering in November, a fascinating documentary about Scotty Bowers called Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood Another film I am involved in called Until There Is Peace will be released next year. It’s a beautifully shot and an extremely powerful film about United Nations peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. My music from all three solo albums, ‘Duende’, ‘Continuum’ and ‘Into Silence’ provide the soundtrack to the film.