Max Richter – Exiles
In response to the tragic sinking of a ship off the coast of Libya that killed over 800 refugees, in 2015 Max Richter composed his piece for ballet at the Nederlands Dans Theatre, Singuliere Odyssee (choreographed by Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot), performed in 2017. A newly orchestrated rendition was created for his album of the same name, Exiles, recorded in Estonia in 2019.
The oeuvre is conducted by Kristjan Jarvi and performed by the Baltic Sea Philharmonic – comprised of international musicians hailing from ten nations. The theme of working together as a global community is essential to the record’s purpose, and it displays a brilliant progression of Richter’s trailblazing post-minimalist style and what he refers to as “activist music”, inspired by the migrant crisis.
Opening track Flowers of Herself is a dynamic arrangement with complicated rhythms. Written for Woolf Works (the Virginia Woolf inspired ballet) and based on a concept of 1880s London, the composition also soundtracked Fendi’s couture show in Paris. Here, bell-like tones initiate a rising tension, as if waking up in a mysterious landscape (perhaps The Little Prince on his planet). Sweeping strings and soft piano echoes conjure shimmering flashes of sun on a bucolic river.
On the Nature of Daylight – Orchestra Version is solemn, spiritual, like a majestic sunset on a boundless vista, conveying a sense of compassion and invoking visions of an ocean voyage by migrants. One of Richter’s better known works, it originates from his second album The Blue Notebooks (2003), a poignant answer to the war in Iraq (also utilised in TV and film in The Handmaid’s Tale and Shutter Island). While the earlier edition uses five stringed instruments, the current track employs over 65.
With a sombre start and a contrast of rising strings, The Haunted Ocean – Exiles Version again evokes refugees on a ship at early dawn. Originally the soundtrack to the 2008 film Waltz with Bashir, it was written as a depiction of war trauma (1982 Lebanon War). Infrared5 – Orchestra Version has a filmic style. Grave yet dynamic, with deep bass, violas and cellos weaving rhythmically, the piece was initially intended for five strings and made as a contemplative reaction to the 2005 London terrorist bombings.
Sunlight – Orchestra Version (from the record Songs from Before – a favourite of David Bowie’s) is gentle, soft and hopeful, with an exquisite violin solo. Subtle, muted piano introduces the final title track, followed by quietly ascending violins, growing louder, increasing in intensity, reaching a crescendo of power, then releasing it with gently fading piano and strings.
Thought-provoking, emotionally rich and beautiful, Max Richter’s Exiles is a superb achievement. The work is written with palpable empathy and benevolence and exquisitely performed – it is a gem that resonates viscerally with current humanitarian issues.
Exiles is released on 6th August 2021. For further information or to order the album visit Max Richter’s website here.
Watch the video for On the Nature of Daylight here:
Watch Max Richter discuss writing for ballet and his new album Exiles here: