Dealing with a full deck

Composer Jeff Beal conducts House of Cards in Concert.

By
August 30, 2017 17:01
4 minute read.
House of Cards concert at the Kennedy Center, July14 2016

House of Cards concert at the Kennedy Center, July14 2016. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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The problem with writing the soundtrack for a blockbuster TV series or movie is that people tend to associate the score with the onscreen entertainment forever more. Jeff Beal says he always set out to create a work that could stand on its own fine two legs.

Beal is a highly successful composer and musician who was entrusted with penning the musical backdrop to the American TV series House of Cards, about wheeling and dealing in the corridors of power in Washington, DC.

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Next Thursday, Beal will occupy the conductor’s podium at the Jerusalem International Convention Center (ICC, aka Binyenei Ha’uma) when he fronts a mammoth complement of 70 orchestral players from the Israel Camerata Jerusalem and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra with House of Card in Concert.

The program also features vocalist actress Joan Beal, the conductor’s wife, and the onstage action will be augmented by excerpts from various episodes of the first four seasons of the TV series, shown on a huge screen behind the musicians.

Anyone who has watched House of Cards will have noted the poignant musical enhancement with the opening and closing credits and at various junctures in the episodes. Given the gripping and sometimes stark nature of the storyline, it is not surprising to hear the music take on a similarly powerful ethos.

“This is not a low-key drama in any sense of the word,” Beal notes with a chuckle.

In the series, the Machiavellian machinations of Frank Underwood and his wife, Claire, are played superbly by Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright.

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“When I designed this production, I really wanted to make the kind of concert that would appeal to people who have watched all four or five seasons, who don’t know the whole story,” Beal says. “It’s almost like a nonlinear poetic trailer for the world of the show. That was part of the intent.”

Beal is also keenly aware of the evolution of his craft and also seeks to combine the interdisciplinary attributes for the good of his audiences.

“We have to think about the canon of the music that’s played.

My passion, as someone who works in film, is to bring the music to the concert hall from popular culture when, hopefully, it is deserving of that sort of format,” he says.

Rather than dumbing it down, the 54-year-old composerconductor- trumpeter believes that presenting music that has already been “promoed” through a more popular-commercial media offers an opportunity for spreading the classical musical net farther and wider.

“When we premiered this concert at the Kennedy Center [in New York] last summer, a lot of folks had probably never been to hear the National Symphony [Orchestra], but they came to it because of House of Cards, and I was just thrilled. I felt like a bit of an evangelist,” he says.

This is not a matter of aiming for the lowest common denominator and pulling out all the stops, making compromises along the way, just to pack ‘em in.

“It’s not dumbed down or trying to be popular for its own sake. This offers people a way in to the story and to what they’ve been hearing,” he explains.

What they’ve been hearing feeds off a range of musical sensibilities, including classical music and jazz, and some definitively nonmainstream sonic avenues.

“There’s a whole movement in the concert, which is called ‘Russia.’ There are some wonderful storylines that take place there,” says Beal. “It’s sort of my own homage to the Shostakovich canon and some of the Russian music I love.”

As he is a devoted fan and purveyor of jazz, it is not surprising to find that Beal’s score contains elements that tend towards the improvisational side of the sonic tracks.

“Although I am classically trained, jazz is very much part of my soul,” he states. “Jazz is in the fiber of everything I do. That gives me a sense of improvisation and a sense of harmonic language that I just love. It is definitely part of my voice.”

That informed Beal’s approach to the House of Cards project, too.

“When I was reading some of the early scripts, like that episode in the pilot, for example, when Underwood comes home after not getting the job [of secretary of state] and smokes a cigarette, in a scene of about three minutes, there’s a cue in there that is dark and sort of romantic. It is a jazzy atmosphere with that harmonic language. I love that aspect of our show. I think it has this sophistication in the way it is written and the way it is acted that sort of lends itself to that kind of [musical] space,” he says.

True to his jazzy spirit, Beal is a fan of the unexpected.

“With some series and movies, I feel that the storyline and the music can be predictable. That doesn’t provoke an audience. I think the thrill of writing a composition is to constantly push and pull with that sense of expectation but also to surprise an audience and make them sometimes take a left turn,” he says.

Ahead of his Jerusalem date, Beal says he is champing at the bit to hit the stage with such an expansive set of players and create a sweeping soundscape swell.

“It is like driving the ultimate Ferrari,” he enthuses.

Get ready to floor it at the ICC next week.

For tickets and more information: 1-700-552-000 and www.jcamerata.com

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