By Alix Norman
I watched most of Star Wars on mute. Ditto Jaws. And large parts of Indiana Jones. But Chariots of Fire, and JurassicPark and Back to the Future were played at full volume. Why, I hear you ask, do I have this strange relationship with my remote control… is my television broken? Have I perhaps embraced selective hearing? Or am I just contrary for the sake of it? Well yes, at times, but that’s not the point. The point is that a powerful soundtrack can either make me swing from the chandeliers or scare me under the sofa; it’s the music, in my mind, that makes or breaks the film.
Now, while there’s certainly an argument that film music should remain in the background, discreetly supporting the visuals, I much prefer a soundtrack that is so memorable it can work independently of the images. And I’m thrilled to find one of Britain’s foremost media composers, agrees: “I prefer the John Williams school of thought,” says Chris Nicolaides. “A soundtrack should enhance and support, but if you take away the picture the music can stand on its own.”
In fact, Chris, a London Cypriot who has been the lead composer for the BBC Arts Department since 2008, has just released his first album on the strength of this premise: the idea that the music we hear in films is an entity in its own right. Entitled Revealing Beauty, and recorded with the Budapest and Macedonian Concert Orchestras, the album features themes from many of the major BBC series he has scored in recent years – Francesco’s Mediterranean Voyage, Shakespeare in Italy, The Manor Reborn and Britain’s Great War, to name just a few – and has been released because people like me can’t get enough of a jolly good theme.
“Revealing Beauty was mostly prompted by public interest. People who’d heard my work on various programmes tracked me down, emailing to ask where they could buy the music,” he says, seemingly astonished that his work should be the recipient of such acclamation: “I was always the person who heard other people’s compositions and never thought I could do anything like it,” he adds.
A fascinating and highly intelligent man, Chris is one of the talented few who can marry creativity and logic (I’m astounded to find that many of his orchestral masterpieces have been completed in his home studio, on the computer), talking constantly of ‘wonderful orchestrators’, ‘amazing colleagues’, and ‘lucky breaks’. In fact, despite his musical upbringing (both parents played instruments, piano lessons were encouraged, and his earliest memories are of listening to Humperdinck, Vangelis and Theodorakis), his entire career, he suggests, has been based on fortuitous events…
“My two passions were always cars and music; my Masters was in Automotive Engineering and I actually had a garage business for a while. But,” he laughs, “I soon discovered I just wanted to drive cars really quickly! So I did a bit of racing to get that out of my system, and then began to focus more on the music…
“At the time, my uncle was a highly experienced BBC cameraman, and I’d set up a small studio with his son dabbling in instrumental and cinematic music. One day, my uncle had a producer colleague round, and he rather liked what he heard. Out of the blue, he sent us a script for Mulberry – an upcoming BBC series – and asked us to compose something for it. So we did. And they liked it. And we ended up scoring the music for a major BBC series just like that! Talk about a baptism of fire!”
A chance meeting, then, that has given us one of the greatest media composers of our time, and taught Chris never to discount working with anyone, or pass up any chance. “Once,” he continues, “I advertised a superfluous hard disk case in the paper and the buyer introduced me to a composer friend of his who was looking to shift from his Atari to a PC. I played the friend some of my stuff – he didn’t seem that impressed, and rightly so, because I wasn’t very good – and he told me he’d just finished scoring Othello with Lawrence Fishburn! Of course I immediately said ‘if you ever need any help…’”
Chris was taken up on his offer, assisting on a number of projects both cinematic and commercial, and ended up contributing to the score of the acclaimed Miramax adaption of The Importance of Being Earnest, starring Reese Witherspoon and Rupert Everett. “Then I scored part of The Impressionists. And the next thing I knew, I’d been recommended to another producer, and then another… then I got the gig to compose for Francesco’s Mediterranean Voyage and eventually ended up as Lead Composer for the BBC Arts Department!”
A breath-taking journey indeed, though one can’t help but feel that Chris vastly understates his talent; his work speaks of a musicality significantly beyond his modest claims. Not only has he worked with global pop stars such as Chesney Hawkes and Mika, he’s contributed to the number 1 album by Rebecca Newman – with whom he continues to collaborate – and has been invited to have his work performed by a number of well-known orchestras. All while finding the time to indulge his love of cars (his expertise when it comes to engine sound is a whole article in itself!), planes and even table tennis.
And, of course, there’s Revealing Beauty, Chris’ newly-released album, described as “expressive, emotive and passionate”. Three words, I feel, that not only define Chris himself, but also engender everything a film soundtrack should be. Because if, like me, you’ve ever toyed with the mute button, you’ll always be immensely grateful to our talented composers: without the music, Darth Vader would be a rather pedestrian villain in black plastic, Jaws a somewhat trivial parody of Shark Week, and Chariots of Fire a film about a race. On a beach. In slow motion.
Think about it…
Revealing Beauty by Chris Nicolaides
Featuring music from a number of well-known series, such as The Queen’s Palaces, Francesco’s Mediterranean Voyage and The Seven Ages of Britain. For a sample of the music, visit http://youtu.be/B3eGn_-tR5c (or type ‘Revealing Beauty’ into YouTube). Both the album and individual tracks are available for purchase through Chris’ website www.chrisnicolaides.co.uk and through iTunes at a cost of approximately €10