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Tuesday, 8 May 2012






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Hitting a high note with Hollywood glitterati

Lakshman Joseph de Saram is the composer of the 2012 Columbia Pictures film ‘Bel Ami,’ and is one of the few South Asians and only Sri Lankan to share the main creative credits for a major Hollywood film starring some of the world’s biggest names. Lakshman was born in Colombo to Sita de Saram and Sooty Banda. His mother was a teacher of music and a sculptor, and his father was a newspaper columnist. The household he grew up in was hardly ‘average.'

The dissemination of the fine arts was foremost. No matter where you turned; you were confronted with some sort of esoteric facet of world culture. From the writings of Gurdjieff, the plays of Odets, to worn out copies of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, to Beethoven’s late Quartet’s to a host of strange musical instruments. It was total indoctrination!

The school Lakshman went to was Royal College, which was a pleasant time in his life.

Composing music

According to Lakshman, his school memories are both traumatic and happy. And along the way, he picked up some really good friends.

Lakshman Joseph de Saram. Picture by Kesara Ratnavibhushana

Asked about when he began dreaming of writing music for Hollywood films, he says, “One of my adolescent fantasies was to be a big Hollywood producer! Making the blockbusters, going to the Oscars, throwing lavish parties on mega-yachts! Deep stuff. Composing music was the last thing on my mind. Getting involved in composing for film happened relatively recently at a roof top party in 2000, when a friend, Boodee Keerthisena convinced me to write something for his second feature."

On the fine art of composition, Lakshman says, "The melody, you have to have in you. The learning process happened throughout my time in New York City. There is also the scale of composition, like between Wagner’s ‘Ring Cycle’ and a 28 second jingle. Film composition, which I am into, fits somewhere in-between,”

At the age of 13, he made his professional debut with Professor Earl De Fonseka and the Symphony Orchestra of Colombo.

He calls the experience wonderful and harrowing. “It’s always a nice thing to perform in public, especially when you are able to perform to a certain standard, the adulation is also lovely. The harrowing part is the fact that at 13 years, you probably would prefer doing something more fun other than staying in a room for hours a day, months on end, memorizing and deciphering Mendelssohn’s Violin concerto.”

Violin lessons

At the surprisingly young age of four, he began taking violin lessons from his mother and proceeded to formal studies with Eileen Prins, the principle violinist of the Symphony Orchestra. “Those days were good and bad. Ask anyone who has had their life’s direction decided for them at the age of four, it's hard to feel ecstatic about those early days, but it happens all the time in the world of high-end training for kids of classical music, gymnastics, ballet and maybe even tennis these days. It’s a well organized industry out there. I remember at nine being informed that the pre college of the Juilliard School, which many consider to be one of the hardest schools to get into in the US, was what I had to aim for, or else it was going to be changing oil at the garage down at the dead end of the street.

The pressure was enormous. Because, unlike most other fields of study, in classical music, benchmarks had to be regularly attained at ridiculously young ages in order for you to keep being eligible to run with the best. And ever since the American virtuoso Erik Friedman successfully auditioned me as a candidate for advanced training, I was 14 at the time, all my options of pursuing any other career were taken away. Sounds scary, but talk to some of my classmates like the hyper-virtuoso Midori, I had it relatively easy. And the good part, as a kid, all this concentration and preparation made me officially exempt from most subjects at Royal!"

Global icons

At the age of 12, Lakshman was selected as a Sri Lankan representative at the UN sponsored 'Year of the Child' held in Bulgaria. Lakshman recalls that time as exciting, from flying communist Aeroflot, to the final concert in front of a huge audience and the following gala reception at the Bulgarian head of state's palace, all this was incredible stuff for a 12 year old. In 1983, he moved to New York City and was admitted to the ultra elite School of Performing Arts, where his classmates were the likes of Jennifer Aniston and Chaz Bono. He was also at the Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard Pre College.

“Those were heady days, they were challenging and life changing. The environment was total immersion. Music, drama, art, dance. You belonged to a body of the most cutting edge young talent in the US that was being groomed by the best in the world. No compromisers. These were schools that had produced global icons like Di Niro, Wynton Marsalis, Pinchas Zukerman, Al Pacino, Liza Minnelli; these were the acts you had to follow. And the cavalcade continues, like the current hip-hop hottie Nicky Minaj for instance. I remember our high school productions rivaling big professional outfits, the talent, extreme competition and drive was such. All of that has contributed in framing my position in the arts today.”

Asked who is the greatest influence in his life and which composers he admires most, Lakshman replied that many things have influenced him and continue to influence him. “I know and admire too many living composers, so I’ll stick with the dead, but these change all the time too, but if there is one composer that I listen to more often than any other, it would be Bruckner. And I have my brother Rohan to thank for that."

As for the future, Lakshman plans to continue writing film music and work on the development of the classical arts, namely music, in Sri Lanka.


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