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John Powell Plans Sabbatical From Movie Music

After “How to Train Your Dragon 2” opens in June, composer John Powell will take an extended break from films in order to pursue his dream of creating music for the concert hall.

“It’s time for me to try and find my voice in a purely musical sense, rather than my voice in the context of a film to see if I can create something that would be unique,” he says. “All I can do is follow the fetishes of my taste. So it may not be radically unusual or different, but it will hopefully have a voice.”

Powell will spend the next several months writing a 45-minute oratorio to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of World War I. It’s called “Moltke,” about the aide-de-camp to Prussia’s Kaiser Wilhelm II who was instrumental in making crucial decisions, with disastrous consequences, before and during the war.

“It’s about our own pride, anyone’s pride, and the destruction that it can wreak on your life,” says Powell. “Helmuth von Moltke came from a military family. His uncle was a famous general. Just before the war, when everyone suddenly realized what was about to happen, he basically said to the Kaiser, ‘If we don’t go now, we will be lost.’

“That, basically, was the fall of the 20th century — one man’s moment of hubris. I want to write a piece that is about how any of us could have done that.”
With a libretto by artist-writer Michael Petry, “Moltke” is expected to premiere in January at London’s Westminster Cathedral with the Philharmonia Orchestra.

Powell is also expanding a piece he wrote in early 2012, this time for Petry the artist. He and fellow composer Gavin Greenaway wrote choral pieces for a Petry installation at the Palm Springs Art Museum called “The Dilemma,” about the biblical history of men and women.

Powell plans to take his half — women’s voices singing, gospel-style — and add orchestra to make an 18-minute piece. Jose Serebrier, the celebrated Uruguayan conductor who recently conducted the “Rio 2” score for Powell, has expressed interest in conducting it.Still in the developmental stages is “Symphony of the Heart,” which will take as its starting point a website where physicians can listen to recordings of heart rhythms whose slight differences reflect stages of illness and well-being.

Says Powell: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to write a symphonic work that was all about the heart, the fun you have with it, and saying thank you to it for the shape of one’s life?”

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