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AAA Music | 25 May 2024

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Max Richter: Waltz With Bashir – Live @ Royal Festival Hall

| On 17, Jun 2014

Max Richter - Meltdown

Sunday 15th June, London

More than 30 years have passed since the tragic events of the First Lebanon War and the bloody Sabra and Shatila massacre, while over five have passed since the movie Waltz With Bashir was distributed. However, the documentary and the dramatic circumstances that inspired it are still as relevant today as they were in the past. They are still powerful images of a never-ending conflict; of a rift that cannot be healed.

Everything which is related to that sensitive topic has a strong emotional power and can easily play with feelings. But, sensationalism wasn’t the aim of Ari Folman when he filmed this, his fourth work, back in 2001. Waltz With Bashir bluntly recounts the direct experience of the filmmaker as an Israeli soldier during the war, an Israeli soldier who has had a direct experience of the massacre too. The opera is, without a doubt, one of the most important testimonies on the Lebanon War, thanks to its evocative illustrations; to its analytical and descriptive ability, and thanks to the surreal, imaginative and wild-eyed portrayals of real life memories.

But, the astounding cinematic effect that the movie creates would be undone without its soundtrack. Music is – here more than ever – a crucial part in the economy of the film. As Folman and Max Richter (the composer of the soundtrack) recount, the plot influenced the music, but then the music influenced the animation of the plot. The process of cartooning the script indeed followed the guidance given by Richter too, and the result is a sublime cooperation between artistic expressions.


The latest challenge that the composer, and consequently the director, have undertaken is to give life to the masterpiece. To “perform” the full movie – screening and accompanying it with an orchestra. This second and latest occasion finds its home at the Southbank Centre and its annual Meltdown Festival (curated, this year, by Mo’Wax’s James Lavelle).

In the elegant frame of the Royal Festival Hall, the Philharmonia Orchestra, led by André de Ridder with the outstanding piano soloist Kirsteen Davidson Kelly, is called on to reenact the musical score of the movie and this new embodiment, despite not adding anything concrete to the opera, gives it a stronger impact. The addition of the orchestra is able to quicken and arouse the scenes, to further harmonise the action. Although it doesn’t give life to the images, it deftly moves in the opposite direction – it draws the audience into the screen, closer to the protagonists.

Most of the credit has to be conferred to the musical score eclecticism. What makes the Waltz With Bashir soundtrack unique is its heterogeneous identity; its ability to lead emotions from the electronic “overture” of ‘Boaz and the Dogs‘, to an ‘80s floor-filler like ‘Enola Gay‘. From Chopin’s Waltz in C Minor, to the post-punk singsong of John Lyndon and PiL in ‘This Is Not A Love Song’.

The rise-and-fall feelings are revived, even boosted by the live performance. The orchestra, despite the challenging task of recreating a continuous emotional and stylistic shift, further emphasises the inner struggle characterising the opera. A struggle which, inevitably, involves the spectators and gives the coup de grace to their “quiet life”. The audience cannot avoid participating in the drama; cannot avoid sympathising with the protagonist, wondering about what really happened during that war.

Marco Canepari

Check out our interview with Max Richter, where he discusses this particular project…