Max Richter: Voices

Nenad Georgievski By

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Max Richter: Voices
Music is one of the most powerful means of expression. Artists have always been able to express and channel their innermost thoughts and emotions into their music. Regardless if it's a protest, a response to racism, civil rights songs, debate, speaking truth to power or a universal plea for peace, the artists have been channeling these notions and emotions into their creations to use them as a means to raise awareness and inspire change for the better. As singer and activist, Nina Simone once said, "An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times." And in these dark socio-political times, more and more artists have been voicing these issues in their music. Composer Max Richter is someone who has voiced his protests and expressed his humanitarian views in his music as early as his debut Memoryhouse (Late Junction, 2002), about the wars in the Balkans, The Blue Notebooks (FatCat Records, 2004), about the war in Iraq, or Infra (FatCat Records, 2010), about the subway bombings in London in 2005. His latest work, titled Voices (Decca Records, 2020) tackles the issue of human rights as his work has been inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the first international agreement on the basic principles of human rights. As a document, it outlined the rights and freedoms everyone is entitled to. Furthermore, almost every state in the world has ratified it and it has inspired many international conventions, treaties, and domestic laws. The Declaration not only serves as a foundation for the International Bill of Rights and several other crucial human rights agreements but it's also a flexible foundation for a continued broadening and deepening of the very concept of human rights.

Motivated by today's political destabilization, turbulent times, and the abuse of human rights, Richter brings to light 10 compositions written and recorded over a period of 10 years. Far from interpolating all-too-familiar slogans from a political rally, the composer uses segments from the Declaration read in various languages and most often places them at the center of each composition. The approach is multi-layered where the combination of a variety of female and male voice in various foreign languages are carefully interwoven in the music or sometimes resemble a radio station where various voice segments seem to overlap each other. Most of these voice samples sourced from various archival recordings or by inviting people from social networks to take part by reading pieces from the Declaration. One of the readings is in Macedonian language, also the mother tongue of the author of this article. This language is spoken only by 2 million people and it can be heard on a track called "Journey Piece." And these are the "voices" outlined in the main story. On top of that is the reading by Kiki Layne, whose gentle and hypnotic voice reads the segments in English, taking the center and providing focus. Surrounding and outlying the voices is Richter's breathtaking, emotional score.

Richter has scored many films and as a result, his compositions tend to evoke strong emotions. The passages and the evolving themes are like canvases that are capable of absorbing and reflecting emotional, spiritual, and mundane concerns, and to unearth feelings. He is led by his heart and is elegantly guided by his refined musical intelligence. All of these samples of speeches, experiments in form, and content converge beautifully across these 10 compositions, which are devastating in their emotional scope and sense of arrangement and location. The compositions are carefully constructed with enticing melodies that cascade in and out of subtle and enveloping ambiances. The strings ebb and flow with the grace and intensity of the emotions they represent. And the result is a hypnotic concoction of music and dialogue that is both ethereally beautiful and deeply evocative. It truly feels like the music is searching and striving to uncover a place of solace and higher knowledge.

And this record comes out truly when it is needed. On top of the global political destabilization, there is a global health emergency caused by the coronavirus crisis which exposes the broken political and social systems and the inequality gaps. Furthermore, the health crisis is the perfect storm for some political leaders and centers of power to advance their narrow interests and they do so by brushing aside all principles of human rights, rule of law and democracy. For many, including the composer, promoting human rights will help societies to function better and to emerge more resilient from the pandemic and the political and financial turmoil.

Creatively, Voices is Richter's perfect storm. Even in his already formidable body of work, it stands out as an album that not only deserves to be heard but needs to be listened to. An understanding of the messages this monumental work is presenting here with such musical brilliance is liable to change hearts and minds for the better.

Track Listing

All Human Beings; Origins; Journey Piece; Chorale; Hypocognition; Prelude 6; Murmuration; Cartography; Little Requiems; Mercy


Max Richter: keyboards.

Additional Instrumentation

Keyboards, Piano: Max Richter; Spoken Word: KiKi Layne; Violin: Mari Samuelsen;Double Bass: Andy Marshall; Violin: Ani Batikian; Cello: Ashok Klouda; Cello: Ayako Halder; Double Bass: Beth Symmons; Double Bass: Beverley Jones; Viola: Bruce White; Harp: Camilla Pay; Cello: Chris Allan; Cello: Chris Worsey; Violin: Claire Kohda Hazelton; Viola: Clifton Harrison; Violin: Daniel Bhattacharya; Cello: Dave Daniels; Cello: Davina Shum; Viola: Elisa Bergersen; Violin: Elspeth MacLeod; Viola: Emma Sheppard; Violin: Eva Thorasrinsdottir; Violin: Everton Nelson; Cello: George Hoult; Violin: Gillon Cameron; Violin: Hazel Correa; Cello: Heeyeon Cho; Cello: Helen Rathbone; Cello: Ian Burdge; Violin: Ian Humphries; Cello: Ivan Hussey; Double Bass: Jack Cherry; Cello: James Douglas; Violin: Jamie Hutchinson; Cello: Jess Cox; Violin: Juan Gonzalez; Cello: Katherine Jenkinson; Violin: Kotono Sato; Double Bass: Laurence Ungless; Double Bass: Leon Bosch.

Album information

Title: Voices | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Decca Music Group

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