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Winter on Fire (Jasha Klebe)

November 26, 2015

Cover_WinterOnFireWINTER ON FIRE

Jasha Klebe, 2015, Lakeshore Records
15 tracks, 39:50

One of the year’s most dramatic scores comes from the hands of Jasha Klebe, who has clearly poured his heart and soul into “Winter on Fire”.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Chronicling events that unfolded over 93 days in 2013 and 2014, “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom” witnesses the formation of a new civil rights movement in Ukraine. What started as peaceful student demonstrations supporting European integration morphed into a full-fledged violent revolution calling for the resignation of the nation’s president. The film captures the remarkable mobilization of nearly a million citizens from across the country protesting the corrupt political regime that utilized extreme force against its own people to suppress their demands and freedom of expression.

Composer Jasha Klebe’s musical upbringing was influenced early in life by his grandfather, Marvin Klebe, a baritone opera singer who once sang with the San Francisco Opera Company.  Following years of classical piano training, Jasha began his film composing career at Remote Control Productions, where he wrote additional music for Hans Zimmer projects such as “The Dark Knight Rises”, “Rush”, and “Captain Phillips”.  He also worked with Lorne Balfe on several TV shows and video games (“The Bible” TV series, “Assassin’s Creed III”, “Assassin’s Creed: Revelations”).  Jasha is currently one of the leading composers at Bleeding Fingers Custom Music Shop (a Hans Zimmer and Extreme Music creative partnership).

What does it sound like?

Evgeny [Efineevsky, director] and the entire Netflix team knew we had something special in front of us,” explained Klebe. “Musically we were all in agreement: emotion, emotion, emotion!  It needed to be raw and hit you just as the visceral images did onscreen.  Although this is a documentary it plays as if it were a suspenseful action movie and I wanted to score it in a way that would leave the audience constantly in disbelief about the real life revolution unfolding on the screen.

The album opens with “Opening Titles”, which revolves around dark string chords and subtle electronic percussion. What elevates this cue to really something special is a menacing three-note motif, first heard on violin and later in the lower registers. Even with those three notes on the violin, it is clear we’re in for a treat, musically speaking, as there is something instantly ‘classical’ about the legato performance.

Whilst “Gathering at Maidan” is an atmospheric cue, it’s absolutely mesmerising thanks to fluttering violin and flute performances. Now that I’ve realised that Klebe works for Remote Control, I might be tempted to say that there’s something “Thin Red Line”-ish about that flute, though it’s more atmospheric and somewhat syncopated.

There’s a wonderful duo for piano and violin heard in “St Michael’s Golden-Doomed Monastry”, which segues seamlessly into “March of Millions”. Here Klebe offers a simple and stoic melody that starts off very gently on a flute, whilst soft strings meander in the background. Gradually it builds to a powerful and memorable theme, though the composer avoids going over the top. It’s too early for that!

I sat down with Egveny and John Battsek and discussed the idea that I wanted to create something of an anthem for the people,” Klebe described. “Throughout the film, from the march of the millions, to the building of barricades, to ultimately the final scene where they achieve the overthrow of Yanukovych, I wanted to create a simple tune that anyone could hum along to; a piece of music that constantly grew, just as the number of protesters in Maidan did, and ultimately conveyed their courage and sense of unity.

What really sets this score apart from its contemporaries is its focus on solo strings (performed virtuously by Edvin Marton, Andrew Smith and Pablo Issar). It provides the music with a timeless, classical feel and infuses it with local colours. Even during the action cues (such as “Bankova Street Attack” or “The Titushky”) solo strings are never far away.

That 3-note motif from the “Opening Titles” returns in “Dictatorship Legalised”, where it is expanded into a mournful theme, with a distinct Ukranian/Russian accent. Staccato strings and woodwinds provide an eerie backing. “Trade Union House Fire” is a mournful cue with solo violin taking the lead.

The album comes to a stunning and poignant close with the joyous “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes!”, which features a powerful rendition of the “March of Millions”-hymn; followed by “End Titles” which features piano and virtuous string performances.

Is it any good?

Jasha Klebe’s “Winter on Fire” is a poignant and stoic work. Haunting at times, absolutely beautiful at others. Whilst it relies a little on familiar Western chords and subtle electronics, it really stands out for its virtuous string performances. Themes and action cues alike are enriched by the presence of a solo violin, viola or cello, which give the score a classical tinge. It also roots the score firmly in the Ukraine. Klebe has achieved a fine balance; and has delivered a beautiful work.

Rating [4/5]


01. Opening Titles (1.52)
02. Gathering at Maidan (2.02)
03. The Berkut (1.56)
04. St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery (1.11)
05. March of the Millions (4.00)
06. Bankova Street Attack (2.03)
07. Building of the Barricades (3.20)
08. Dictatorship Legalized (3.08)
09. The Titushky (2.20)
10. Peaceful Rally to Parliament (1.55)
11. Retreat to Maidan (2.57)
12. Trade Union House Fire (2.42)
13. Sniper Attacks (2.30)
14. Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes! (3.53)
15. End Titles (4.01)

Composer’s quote and synopsis courtesy of Lakeshore Records.

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