Leave it to British composer Max Richter to find a way to apply the language of classical music to today’s most compelling human concerns.
“All Human Beings,” released today, is the first track off his new Decca album “Voices” (due July 31). It opens with the voice of Eleanor Roosevelt reading the preamble to the United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, then segues to actress Kiki Layne (“If Beale Street Could Talk”) intoning: “All human beings are born free and equal, in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of community. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or other status… nEveryone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”
Richter backs this with a quietly inspirational symphonic and choral backdrop and the voices of dozens of people from around the world, reading excerpts from the Declaration as part of a crowd-sourcing initiative that supplied many of the sounds heard throughout the rest of the album.
Says Richter: “I like the idea of a piece of music as a place to think, and it is clear we all have some thinking to do at the moment. We live in a hugely challenging time and, looking around at the world we have made, it’s easy to feel hopeless or angry. But, just as the problems we face are of our own making, so their solutions are within our reach, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is something that offers us a way forward. Although it isn’t a perfect document, the declaration does represent an inspiring vision for the possibility of a better and kinder world.”
“All Human Beings” is accompanied by a music video, also released today, by Richter’s creative partner, artist Yulia Mahr.
“Voices” debuted in live concert form in London in February, with a 60-piece “upside-down orchestra,” a modern re-thinking of the traditional symphonic array. “It came out of this idea of the world being turned upside down, our sense of what’s normal being inverted,” Richter says, “so I have turned the orchestra upside down in terms of the proportions of instruments.”
That meant 12 double basses, 24 cellos, six violas, eight violins and a harp, plus 12-voice wordless choir, soprano, a violin soloist and Richter on keyboards.
Richter has in recent years emerged from the classical avant-garde to become one of the concert world’s most influential figures. His 2004 album “The Blue Notebooks” was the source of “On the Nature of Daylight,” which became beloved by filmmakers and wound up in numerous films including “Arrival” and “Shutter Island.”
His eight-hour 2015 work “Sleep,” acclaimed as a landmark ambient album, has frequently been performed live in venues large enough to accommodate dozens, sometimes hundreds, of beds for listeners. It has earned more than 450 million streams. Richter has recently developed a “Sleep app” that, he says, “conveys the spirit of the music in a completely new way.”
Richter has also written numerous film and TV scores including the recent “Mary Queen of Scots,” “Ad Astra” and the HBO series “The Leftovers” and “My Brilliant Friend.”