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Iryna Orlova
TWO JACKS


How did you become involved in film?

   One of the days of autumn 2010 we received a call inviting us to participate in the production of Bernard Rose's new film, "Two Jacks". Since the film was to be based on Leo Tolstoy's short story "Two Hussars", Bernard had a notion to include in it, some Russian music. Vernon made arrangements for us to meet Bernard and Julia, to introduce ourselves and our music to them. We met at the beautiful and cozy house on Kings Rd. and played a few arrangements from our repertoire. We wanted them to get a clear impression of the special character of our Russian folk instruments and their expressive potential. Though Bernard was busy filming us as we played, we could see from his reaction that our performance was having an impact.
   After our "audition" we talked about Leo Tolstoy and Bernard's trip to Tolstoy's estate Yasnaya Poliana in rural Russia. From our short conversation we were impressed by Bernard's knowledge of Tolstoy's works and what a deep affinity he has for Russian culture.
   We immediately felt connected to Bernard's desire to place "Two Hussars" in a modern setting and bring the story to a new audience. Bernard told us that he would like to attempt a sound track scored and performed on our Russian instruments the domra, balalaika and bayan.

How did you come up with the Music on "Two Jacks"?

   Movie scoring is a different process then writing compositions for performance on stage. Music for film is always programmatic, designed to illustrate the visual and dramatic events on the screen. Film music helps the director emphasize and compliment the specific emotions he wants to evoke in a scene whether the scene has dialog or not. Music can be a very fine tool used to shape the final form of a movie, to give it balance and form, like good sculpture or painting.
   Work on music for a film should start, in my opinion, from an understanding, the director's vision of the personality of the cast of characters. We started by re-reading the original Tolstoy short story "Two Hussars". We looked for all the clues that Tolstoy gives to describe the characters: Count Turbin Sr., Zavalshevsky Anna Fiodorovna, Count Turbin Jr., and many others. Then we watched Bernard's version more times than we can remember. We referred back to some specific ideas Bernard had for the score. He had told us that some of the music for "Two Jacks" should be based on famous Russian songs and compositions. The balance of the music, he suggested should be original music written for the traditional Russian instruments in our Quartet "Firebird". Two compositions, "Dream Waltz" and "Polonaise" by the 19th century composer, Vasiliy Andreev are used in the film. Andreev was one of the first famous balalaika players in Russia and the founder of the Russian Imperial Balalaika Orchestra. He lived at the same time period Leo Tolstoy wrote his most famous books. We know that Tolstoy admired the Russian balalaika, so it is a possibility that Tolstoy and Andreev met in Moscow or St. Petersburg. Because, of this historical connection, we felt it would be a great idea to use Andreev's music performed by Los Angeles Balalaika Orchestra to create the bridge between Russia of Tolstoy's time and Hollywood today.
   We also saw a parallel between Andreev's life and that of the character Jack's Sr. While Andreev was devoted to his artistic projects, his orchestra and his conducting, he also spent a fair amount of time making the social rounds raising money to finance his dreams.

How did you come up with ideas from themes for the different characters?

   Some ideas came to us from the story itself. For example, Jack Sr. has a whole variety of characteristics. He is noble, brave, truthful, energetic, extroverted, a party-boy, also caring and loving. He never compromises his artistic standards regardless of the consequences. There are many different emotional shades in this one character!
   Some ideas came to us after seeing the movie. For example, our "La Dolce Vita" theme for the after-party scene, or Jack's "Nocturne", was influenced by the wonderful image of night in the Hollywood hills filled with stars, crickets, night birds, and the sparkling lights of the city in the background. Sienna Miller's stunning beauty and acting inspired our idea for "Diana's theme". Izabella Miko's fiery dance inspired us to write an arrangement of one of the most famous Russian songs "Dark Eyes" that needed to be improvisational and hot blooded.

What are the principle themes in Two Jacks and how did you emphasize this musically?

   There are a couple of principle musical themes we developed from the major characters in "Two Jacks". They are like leitmotivs in opera, and are repeated throughout the film. These themes are "Diana's Theme" and "Love Theme". "Diana's Theme", like "Laura's theme" in "Doctor Zhivago", is an emotional center for the film. Our "Love Theme" is based on the Russian romance "I Met You" and becomes a reflection of the beautiful relationship between Jack Sr. and Diana. They spent only one unforgettable night together, but the emotion is so powerful that Diana feels it strongly even 20 years later. These two themes then, help to create a bridge, a rainbow between past and present, the two time periods in the movie.

How did you create the two different time periods in "Two Jacks"?

   I think, that Bernard's idea of using different visual qualities for past and present scenes made it logical to use different styles of music for two the periods. We were involved in the music covering the 70's and for the flashbacks. Billy Morrison did a wonderful job arranging music for the second part of the film in rock-n-roll style. It is very interesting to hear the same melodies transformed in style, but reflecting very similar feelings and emotions. As life moves faster and becomes more stressful and demanding, so is music. I would like to add that both styles of music used in "Two Jacks", Russian Romantic and Rock highlight an important recurring theme in Russian: the relationship between "Fathers and Sons".
   I also would like to say that the costume designers and stylists did an amazing job creating two time periods in the movie.

Where there any particular challenges you had to deal with?

   In Russian movies, folk instruments are often used in a stereotypical way, in connection with scenes of nature or village life. In the "Two Jacks" score, we were challenged to break this stereotype and create original music to support and illustrate characters not connected at all with a Russian pastoral. Our traditional instruments had to speak truthfully about an urban landscape and hard-edged Hollywood types and help to express a whole range of powerful human emotions. We were challenged but happy to say that we feel the domra, balalaika and bayan rose to the challenge.
   This is the first time a non-Russian movie has featured a sound track scored for and recorded on the domra, bayan, balalaika and contra-bass balalaika. Almost everyone knows the iconic triangular three-stringed balalaika. The domra is less well known by the general public. It is a stringed instrument similar to the mandolin and capable of producing a unique sound with broad dynamics ranging from subtle pianissimo to powerful fortissimo. The bayan is a complex Russian version of the accordion. It has buttons on both sides and many registers, which allows it to change timbres and colors. The bayan's keyboard design is a great advantage in performing technically difficult music.

Talk about the main instruments used in the film…

   We are thankful that Bernard is open to new and fresh ideas. He was a first one to film "Anna Karenina" in Russia after perestroika time. And filming "Two Jacks", he comes to an idea to use Russian music performed on Russian instruments. These instruments have been used in other "Hollywood" movies such as: "Doctor Zhivago", "At the Balalaika", "Taras Bulba", and "Love and Death".
   The contra-bass balalaika is a grand thing; a huge, sonorous instrument that looks like it could fly. People are often amazed by it's appearance and deep voice which is a little like that of a great bell. Another instrument used in our score is the Russian gusli, which is like a large zither. We also included a big variety of standard percussion.

What does the film say to you in terms of themes etc?

   Two themes had a strong impact on me. First, the Jack Sr. character is a rare breed. Uncompromising individuals don't show up regularly in our lives. They are usually difficult, and often leave a wake of hurt feelings as they barrel along on their single-minded mission. They can also be the unstoppable force required to bring great ideas and art into being.
   Second, the influence of a lost father or other ancestor can be expressed through us in ways we may never be fully aware of. This is a mystery that can allow us to live a life larger than the one we may have imagined for ourselves.

Anything else that would make a good story?

   Another small but, for us, a precious mystery. Anatoliy and I are here in Southern California, thousands of miles from our homeland, channeling the spirit of Leo Tolstoy!


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