The stage opens in complete darkness aside from a single light on frequent film conductor and arranger Hugh Brunt. He is surrounded by three black panels to give the illusion of nothingness. The rustling in the audience stops and a single oboe is heard. The piece continues, and lights begin to flash on the stands of musicians, and with it, a collective note is played without Brunt’s instruction.
The sheer anticipation of music among the silence in Grammy, Emmy, and Academy Award-winning composer Hildur Guðnadóttir’s “Under Takes Over” keeps the audience on the edge of their seats, waiting for the next note despite the overall minimalism within the piece itself. The disjointed notes begin coming together into a melody that begins with harmony, then dissonance, and leads into “Main Theme” from “The Revenant,” as an icy chill blows through the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
As the Los Angeles Philharmonic finishes their first two pieces, Guðnadóttir steps on stage as the first in a series of concerts titled “Reel Change” dedicated to the new generation of film composers including Kris Bowers and Nicholas Britell. According to Guðnadóttir, the program for the night not only included her work and other film music, but consisted of several works that inspired her and others in her generation. Through this, she expresses how this was meant to be a chance to “open up the gates” between classical music and film.
The program is built on contrast. As Guðnadóttir describes during the concert, it ranges from the most “microscopic to monolithic,” and even delves into the realm of the “raw” and “animalistic.” These characteristics contribute to Guðnadóttir’s intention with the concert: “shifting the way we listen and our perception.”
She follows this with “Silver Streetcar” by Alvin Lucier, in which, to quote Guðnadóttir, examines the “spaces we don’t pay much attention to,” and creates, “a universe of sound from the most mundane objects.” Specifically, the triangle, performed by Robyn Schulkowsky. Through all 10 minutes of the piece, Schulkowsky never stops ringing the triangle, and through it, the audience is left stunned, as the air around them bends and a new experience is heard in the triangle’s vibrations. The pulsating of these sounds morph, and an entire orchestra is heard from the unassuming instrument.
As the program continues, the audience is met with more work that contrasts beauty and haunting tones, with Mica Levi’s “Love” from the film “Under the Skin,” and Kaija Saariaho’s “Nymphéa Reflection: Feroce.”
The first half of the program ends with what Guðnadóttir calls the complete opposite of “Silver Streetcar” as the orchestra moves out of minimalism into the grandiose. The orchestra thundered in Henryk Górecki’s Fourth Symphony, playing a repeated melody that grows and grows and becomes more and more distorted the more instruments enter. Then, it cuts out, and intermission begins.
Post-intermission, the orchestra continues this exploration in, “deep, focused listening,” with Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres” and György Ligeti’s “Atmosphères,” leading to Guðnadóttir’s latest work on the 2021 video game, “Battlefield 2042.”
Guðnadóttir and Sam Slater, her partner and collaborator, establish a mood that utilizes minute thinking on a work monumental in scale. Rather the dark dissonance, scraping gongs, and “lion’s roar” percussion instrument mix with electronic music, setting an atmosphere. With headphones plugged in, the orchestra recreates the sounds of sirens and war in a piece of epic proportions. It recreates the marching of troops as the piece settles into a groove that feels haunting, ordered, and tactical.
Finally, Guðnadóttir ends the program with a piece from her Oscar-winning score for “Joker,” and the iconic “little dance from the bathroom” concludes a night of deep, provocative thought coupled with juxtaposed music that reflects on both the dark and the light.
It is apparent through this program of dreamlike, transformative music that Guðnadóttir’s insight and unique vision for the art will continue making a tremendous impact in the world of film, television, and now, video games. The composer named “War, Daughter of God” will inspire a world of mythological sound that will reach ears across the globe.