The film The Soloist, a true story based on the book of the same title by L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez, chronicles his tumultuous relationship with a mentally challenged but artistically gifted street musician named Nathanial Ayers. In his column, Lopez waxes poetic about Ayers, whom he discovers near a bronze statue of Beethoven in inner-city L.A..
Ayers makes his bed surrounded by pimps, hookers and misguided vagrants. Dressed in tatters, he clutches a two-stringed violin and talks incessantly about his passion for Beethoven, The Julliard School and often about nothing coherent. Lopez becomes entrenched in Ayer’s labrynith, and the story begins.
The soundtrack, created in accordance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, features the talent of cellist Ben Hong, highlights the key plot points in the film and uses music of the masters, in particular that of Ludwig von Beethoven (Ayer’s muse). Its original compositions volley between solo string pieces and complicated and cacophonous contemporary works.
Two pronounced string-based works spearhead the soundtrack. “Paper Mache World”, a short, somber cello solo piece, borders on dissonance and seems written to swathe us in the inner-disturbance of the imbalanced mind. “Crazy about Beethoven”, predictable as a string-centered tableau, gives a nod to Beethoven’s infamous sweeping phrases, punctuated orchestral stabs, lush texture, immense chords and surging-melodic jumps.
“A City Symphony” butts ambient street noise against lavish string quartet n.15, op.132, 3rd mov. Liner notes indicate this excerpt “encourages meditation of various kinds on the schizophrenic nature of our society.”
“This is My Apartment” swaddles Sonata no. 4 for Cello and Piano and corresponds to the scene where Nathaniel, in a state of dis-equillibrium, faces the notion of independent living. “Falling Apart” further explores the sinister, unrelenting dark tone encapsulating Ayers, as he straddles lucidity and haywire functioning. In keeping with this trajectory, “Nathaniel Breaks Down” explores the fiber of emotional fragility using vocal strains as a pin cushion.
In contrast, “Four Billion Years”, is sweet, strong and heroic resounding in pre-emptive resolution—another hallmark of Beethoven. The stirring composition “The Accordion Interlude” provides some momentary relief from the string-based tour-de-force while “The Lord’s Prayer” serves as an expansion of a musical fragment from a string quartet and sheds pastoral light on an already highly textured palette hinging on hope with a searing-melodic vibrancy.
“The Voices Within”, is aptly articulated, contrapuntal and clean; it closes with muted-unison and begs the question: Is it conceivable that not all voices within are tinged with instability? Evocative of a higher state, “Sister” is extracted from Triple Concerto Op.56, 2nd mov. It undulates, recapitulates and soars – briefly allowing arpeggios to enter personal space.
As the penultimate track, “Cello Lesson” offers risk and effusive fugue in its a capella nakedness, which serves as one of the soundtrack’s most revealing and rewarding moments.The topper and closer, “Mr. Ayers and Mr. Lopez” stands out as a cerebral-and-anthemic culmination that benefits from its brilliant placement.
If some of the motifs sound familiar, then it’s because they have been interspersed with excerpts of some of Beethoven’s top hits back in this romanticist’s heyday, i.e., Symphony No. 3 (Eroica), which Napoleon Bonaparte originally inspired. However, once Beethoven realized Bonaparte would serve as Emperor, he literally changed his tune, fearing Bonaparte would assume larger-than-life control over the common folk.