×

‘Colette’ Opens Door to Film Scoring for Esteemed U.K. Classical Composer Adès

Thomas Adès has had years to complete some of his opera or concerto assignments. With "Colette," he'd hear the film needed a major piece of music next week.

One of England’s most distinguished concert composers tried his hand at film music for the first time this year, and the result was the charming and period-appropriate music for Keira Knightley in “Colette,” about the turn-of-the-century French novelist.

Thomas Adès is well known in the U.K. for his operas “The Exterminating Angel” and “The Tempest,” as swell as his orchestral piece “Asyla” and his violin concerto “Concentric Paths.” But “Colette,” he tells Variety, “is my first foray into this world. I love film, and I’m fascinated by the art of scoring, so it felt quite natural to do this.”

Adès’ involvement was prompted by an innocent query from his friend, director Wash Westmoreland: “1890s Paris… was that an interesting time for classical music?” His response —that it’s among the two or three most exciting periods in music history, along with a list of 40 key works — led to the inevitable “Do you want to score it?”

“I’m at home with the period,” Adès explains. “The material I’m using, the tunes and the harmony, would be possible in an 1890s context. Once I found a style and some material, we started talking about how it could reflect the drama. You can follow the emotional contours of the story, and each of the characters’ development, through the music.”

Colette — who struggles to be recognized as a writer, defying not only her husband Willy but also societal conventions — has “a number of themes and musical ideas,” says Adès, often voiced by the harp (“when she’s very young, experiencing something”) and piano (“when she re-creates that experience, writing or thinking about it, as it becomes a part of her art”). Husband Willy is often heard via French horn, and friend and lover Missy is often played on the clarinet.

Adès even wrote his version of the real-life “Dream of Egypt” number that, when performed on stage by Colette and Missy in 1907, caused a riot when the two women kissed. The composer laughs when recalling Westmoreland telling him that he’d need the piece the following week for shooting.

“That was the moment when I realized I’m very much not in Kansas anymore,” Adès says. “In the opera world it would be at least two or three years.” But, he says, he had “real fun with that. It’s the moment where you really want to hear the eruption of the 20th century. Modernism was just around the corner, so I wanted the music to have a slight edge.”

Adès played piano and conducted a small ensemble of just 15 musicians in his hour-long score. It was written over two months in New York late last year when he was conducting “Exterminating Angel” at the Metropolitan Opera. He also chose most of the period classical works and even arranged pieces by Debussy, Satie and Saint-Saens for the film.

Will he do another film? “I never say never,” Adès responds. “If anybody’s interested, go ahead and ask.”

More Film

  • UglyDolls

    STX Tries to Put Flops Behind It As It Searches For Star Executive, Fresh Capital

    After a series of film flops and an aborted initial public offering, STX Entertainment is battling mounting skepticism that it can survive in an increasingly unforgiving movie business. As it hustles to find $500 million in fresh capital, the company, which operates in the red according to financial disclosures, is simultaneously hoping to attract a [...]

  • Ryan Simpkins

    Ryan Simpkins Joins Fox-Disney's 'Fear Street' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Ryan Simpkins has joined Fox-Disney’s second installment of 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment’s “Fear Street” trilogy, based on the novels by R.L. Stine. Leigh Janiak is helming all three films. Previously announced cast includes Gillian Jacobs, Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, McCabe Slye, Kiana Madeira, Olivia Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Ashley Zukerman, Fred Hechinger, Julia [...]

  • MPAA Logo

    Motion Picture Association of America Hires Emily Lenzner as Communications Chief

    The Motion Picture Association of America has appointed veteran public relations executive Emily Lenzner as its executive VP of global communications and public affairs. She will report to Chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin and oversee the trade group’s communications team in the U.S. and internationally. Lenzner will start Aug. 1 and be based at the MPAA’s [...]

  • 'Cats' Teaser Trailer: See Taylor Swift

    Taylor Swift Unveils Feline Moves in 'Cats' Behind-the-Scenes Teaser

    Taylor Swift fans finally get to see some of the results of all those years spent studying her roommates Meredith and Olivia — and also, not incidentally, some time with a choreographer — in a new behind-the-scenes teaser for the movie “Cats.” The three-and-a-half-minute featurette has footage of Swift striking crouching feline moves as well [...]

  • CGR’s Immersive Premium Format Set for

    Immersive Theater Technology Set for US Debut in Los Angeles

    French multiplex company CGR Cinemas has selected the Regal LA Live as the first U.S. theater to use its Immersive Cinema Experience technology. The ICE format will be unveiled in the fall at the downtown location in a partnership between CGR and AEG. The companies made the announcement Wednesday but did not reveal which title [...]

  • Amazon Developing Original Series Based on

    Amazon Studios Buys 'Selah and the Spades,' Will Develop Original Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Amazon Studios has acquired worldwide rights to “Selah and the Spades,” a gripping look at a prep school drug dealer, Variety has learned. The film marks the feature debut of writer and director Tayarisha Poe and had its world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival where it was a favorite with critics. Amazon has [...]

  • The Ultimate Guide to 2019 Comic-Con

    The Ultimate Guide to 2019 Comic-Con Parties and Activations

    Hollywood is heading down the California coast to San Diego because It’s time for 2019 Comic-Con International. The annual cosplay celebration officially kicks off tomorrow, July 18, with a preview happening tonight. Here, Variety gives you a guide to this year’s parties and activations. Make sure to check back for updates. Wednesday, July 17Amazon Prime [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content