The Beautiful Music of Still Alice: A Q & A With Composer Ilan Eshkeri

Awards season 2015 has just begun and already Julianne Moore has been nominated for dozens of well deserved awards in the Best Actress category for the film Still Alice, which is released widely on Jan.16th.

I was fortunate enough to see this film in early December in Los Angeles with Moore herself doing a Q & A with the audience afterward. During this Q & A, she complemented Ilan Eshkeri's music, truly one of the year's most sublime and distinctive scores.

Eshkeri's BAFTA nominated music has breathed life into the films The Young Victoria, Kick-Ass, Coriolanus, Stardust, Layer Cake, 47 Ronin, The Invisible Woman, among many others. He has also worked with a who's who of rock artists including Coldplay, Annie Lennox, David Gilmour, Take That, Ash, and Sinead O'Connor.

It was a great pleasure to speak with one of Britain's best film composers about his work, and the process of writing the haunting score for Still Alice.

Xaque Gruber: How did this project find you? And what about it said to you "I want to do this."

Ilan Eshkeri: I was called about working on this film when I was already very busy. I didn't think I would have time to do it, but after talking to (directors) Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer and seeing the trailer and the extraordinary performances I knew I had to do it. Alzheimer's is close to my heart. Two very good friends of mine lost their fathers to the disease; one, a director, made a film and another, a musician, made an album, together we also worked on and supported the UK Government's dementia campaign last year. So in many ways this was a culmination of an artistic expression of something that has deeply touched me.

XG: How did the disease itself play into the creation of the score? I imagine Alzheimer's and the whole theme of the mind fading away would be a rich area for musical themes.

IE: Sometimes I like to think up concepts as a starting point, like an artist who decides to only work with certain colours. I don't always follow the rules but it is good to have something to creatively push against. In this instance I wanted to use string trio as it's notoriously hard to write for because with only three instruments, each one always has to be playing a different note in order to make a complete chord. The challenge of that, the idea that sometimes I might be forced into incomplete harmony where something is missing, to me represented the disease in some way.

XG: Is there an instrument that for you personifies Alice and her journey?

IE: Piano was important for me, because Alice is very much about her family, and piano is an instrument of the home, many families have them in their living rooms. But Alice's character is complex and her journey multi-faceted, so there was a need to express the different sides of her personality and what she goes through with different instruments.

XG: As a huge Annie Lennox fan, I need to ask you about working with her. I saw her mentioned in your Bio. On what project did you work with her -- and what did you learn from working with her?

IE: I did orchestral arrangements of her songs for a concert that was a radio broadcast she did on BBC Radio 2. She is a very wonderful and warm person and it was really fun being creative with her. Working out how to write Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) was the most challenging, it has multiple layered bass lines and trying to notate that was hard. When I finally did it and played it to Annie, she started to sing along, just me and her in the studio and at that moment in the presence of that voice I was suddenly completely star struck, legs to jelly kind of star struck! I learnt from her that warmth kindness and generosity of spirit are the best ways to achieve great results and that working with the best people is not about their skills and achievements but about who they are.

Ilan Eshkeri's collaboration with Annie Lennox for BBC Radio:

For more about this marvelous composer, please visit here.