Songs of the Sea: The Regatta Suite Composed by Jeff Rona
Wide Blue Sky (2008)
“SONGS OF THE SEA is
unlike anything I have heard from JEFF RONA before. He has delivered
a bold and inspirational orchestral suite that is every bit worthy
of connection to this premiere world event.”
Gold Medal Suite!
Review by Christopher Coleman
"Well, it's grand, epic, melodic and
uplifting...for the most part. Of course an entire concert of that
would be akin to 'Chinese water torture.'"
The spectacle that was the Beijing Olympics of 2008
will hardly be forgotten by anyone who saw the opening ceremonies or the
awe inspiring performances from athletes. While there was ample cable-coverage of the games,
one particular segment of this Olympiad that was sorely under-represented
was that of the Olympic Regatta held in Qindao. Make no mistake. These
sailing events were a big to-do. As with Beijing, Qingdao was in
preparation for these events for years. Included in this preparation came
a special commission from the IOC (International Olympics Committee) for
the composition of a suite of music to represent this Olympic regatta.
Veteran film composer JEFF RONA became the choice of special committee for
this daunting task.
The idea of "water" and Jeff Rona are certainly no strangers. Back in
1996, Rona composed the score for WHITE SQUALL, which was when my eyes
and ears were first opened to his talents. While he has since completed a bevy
of projects, another "watershed' project came with last year's
release of the award-winning documentary, SHARKWATER. As important as
those projects may have been, neither approaches the scope and weight of
writing music for the Olympics.
JEFF RONA has long excelled at delivering scores that trend towards
ambient-electronica experiences or projects that make use of his expertise
with ethnic wind instruments. Admittedly, when I found out that he
was on this Olympic project, I wondered how his talents would translate.
In short, SONGS OF THE SEA is unlike anything I have heard from JEFF RONA
before. He has delivered a
bold and inspirational orchestral suite that is every bit worthy of
connection to this premiere world event. The only tragedy is that the
events which this music represents were so poorly covered that
comparatively few will have little to no knowledge of this project's
Without foreknowledge of what his music was composed to represent, you
might find that there are few moments that
immediately bring thoughts of "water" or "sailing" or even "China" to mind.
That said, placing many of these tracks over some great sailing video
footage or placid seascapes would certainly connect nicely. One of Rona's
own victories here is that he has successfully brought the evocative
nature of film music to this symphonic suite. Throughout, you may
pick up hints of familiarity of some of Hollywood's finest composers such
as: Erich Korngold,
Miklos Rosza, Jerry Goldsmith, Ennio Morricone, Michael Kamen or James
Newton Howard. This he does without crossing the line of compositional-regurgitation.
SONGS OF THE SEA offers us a new, bold, symphonic voice from JEFF RONA; however, it is more likely that this grand voice has been
swimming just below the waterline all along, just waiting for the right
surface and breathe.
There is a decidedly western-bent to this suite. Beginning with an epic
brass-lead piece which serves as the Olympic Regatta's official theme, we
are treated to music that is mindful of some of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's
"sea" works as well as Jerry Goldmsith's memorable anthems.
"The Noble" (2) is slower in tempo but no less poignant as Rona evokes an
adventurous regality through bright brass and languishing strings. This
may be the most "naval" of the entire suite. "Great Journey" (4) and the
climactic "Horizon" (9) are two more sweeping pieces that feature distinct
thematic material and rousing performances that reach, if not exceed, some
of the emotional heights that MICHAEL KAMEN has thrilled audiences with.
SONG OF THE SEA is far from being all high-energy, drama. There are a number of
tracks which are introspective, but are no less entertaining. The pastoral
"Song for the Salmon" features a moving reading of poetry by David Whyte. If any case can be
made for Rona touching on something of John Williams notoriety, it is
here, but not in the manner you may think. With the included monologue,
this piece plays much like a cue from Sony Classical's USA-release of ANGELA'S
ASHES. While the voiceover work in ANGELA'S ASHES distracted from pure
appreciation of John Williams low-key score, David Whyte's poetry plays
very well over light strings and lonely brass here. Track 5 "On the
Open Sea" is another
reflective composition that dances atop great swells of the Pacific Ocean,
much like John Barry's music danced over the green hills of South Dakota.
Now, at the risk of sounding heavy-handed with the high-praise and comparisons,
I'll continue with a few more. In the very next track, "Reflections
for Oboe and Strings" the lead oboe and subtle
accompanying orchestra flows on an undercurrent of Ennio Morricone's THE MISSION. "Fantasy
for Violin and Strings" (8) is a stunning piece that features a wonderful solo performance on violin by
Frank Ge-Fang Yang. This piece is momentarily reminiscent of Miklos Rosza's
classic violin themes or some of James
Newton Howard's recent efforts. Track 10 "Wisdom of Wind" is a beautiful concluding
piece with lyrics by LISA GERRARD and sung by soprano HILA PLITMANN.
With all of the talented sopranos in China, it's a little odd that one
wasn't employed here. Still, PLITMANN'S voice still adds it's own color to the piece and the end result
SONGS FROM THE SEA is truly a satisfying listening experience from start
to finish. Rona has captured the essence of Olympic competition without
making overt nods to the iconic (and well-worn) territory of Leo Arnaud or
John Williams. There is very little this release lacks; however, if I dare
to dig for any sort of grievance, it would have to be that there isn't
more indigenous instrumentation included. With some of the most
unmistakable musical instruments in the world originating in China, their
absence is felt here. While this suite points to where China is...or
is certainly heading, it's a bit shy on recognizing the cultural treasures
that fill it's long history. I do have to note though that it is The
Qingdao Symphony and members of the Beijing Philharmonic perform every
piece with both precision and emotion and do the work proud. JEFF
RONA's latest effort plays more like an epic journey most often affixed to the medium of film,
only this is better than most soundtracks. Every note composed here
had a purpose of its own; independent of the needs and constraints of
film. Every track of SONGS FROM THE SEA has its own personality,
it's own unique offering; making this one of the most well-rounded
listening experiences I have had in 2008. It will be a great surprise (and even greater
JEFF RONA does not find himself expressing this "new voice" for feature
films and beyond in the near future.