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Equus: The Movie

March 14, 2012 at 6:55 am UTC

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Equus was originally written in 2000 for wind ensemble, and I distinctly remember spending hours and hours agonizing over the orchestration. I had a cinematic sound in my mind, but of course there are no strings in a wind ensemble, so I found myself trying everything I could think of to approximate a big Hollywood orchestra: tubas playing staccato with bassons and bass clarinet to make a double bass section, for instance; trumpets, clarinets, and oboes all in unison with flutes up an octave to sound like violins; etc. When I was finished, the piece definitely had the visceral impact I was hoping for (how could it not with SIX percussionists), but I still missed that lush, epic sound, the sound you can only get from a big string section.

As my manager Claire Long and I began discussing which pieces we would like on my second album with Decca, we realized we already had three pieces that could use strings: The River Cam, Goodnight Moon, and the string orchestra transcription of Water Night. Why not add Equus, she suggested, only this time with full orchestration? I couldn’t stop smiling. I loved the idea and told her that it would be relatively easy – I just needed to replace some of the wind parts with string parts and we were good to go.


As it turns out, it was a pretty massive undertaking. No real digital file existed of the original score, so we had to rebuild one. (A total pain; there are something like 75,000 notes in Equus). And as I began to re-orchestrate I realized that the Equus for wind ensemble was just that: for wind ensemble. The registers, doublings, articulations, everything was designed to be played by a group of winds, brass, and percussion, one on a part. I would casually replace a tuba/euphonium line with cellos and the whole structure would unravel, suddenly top-heavy and unbalanced. In the end, I basically threw out most of the original wind ensemble orchestrations and rebuilt the piece from the ground up. Way more work than I had predicted, but in the end, totally worth it. Now it sounds to me like Equus: The Movie, just like I always dreamed. And conducting it with the incomparable London Symphony Orchestra? Easily one of the most thrilling moments of my career.




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