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‘The Leftovers’ Interview: How Composer Max Richter Mixes Classical and Electronic on the HBO Drama (Emmy Watch)

'The Leftovers' Interview: How Composer Max Richter Mixes Classical and Electronic on the HBO Drama (Emmy Watch)

Max Richter is the perfect composer for “The Leftovers,” which offers more questions than answers, just like his eerie score. He creates abstract, orchestral clouds with his special hybrid of classical and electronic music.

And in the HBO series’ second season, Richter (“Shutter Island” and”Recomposed by Max Richter,” a reworking of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” on Deutsche Grammophon) makes even greater use of piano, celesta and harp. Co-creators Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta go from Mapleton to Miracle, with beleaguered police chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) still the focal point, but replacing one mystery with another: zero departures in Jarden, Texas, and the possibility of new hope for the future.

“We still have a lot of the same characters, a lot of the same themes, a lot of the same concerns,” said British composer Richter, “but obviously refracted through a new location and also a new set of people and a new set of questions.”

The new locale of Texas also allowed more of a nod to the local music with more guitar-based instrumentation. “With such a large canvas as ‘Leftovers,'” Richter said, “you can be incremental and lead the characters in different directions, calibrating the intensity and what the music brings to the characters in each situation.”

In the second season’s first episode (“Axis Mundi”), women run through a forest out of nowhere, and you have no context for viewing the scene. “So that is accompanied by a low, bassy throb,” Richter said. “And that actually took on a life force in the score as the season progressed.”

As in the first season, the score is built around various themes, including “The Departure” and “Dona Nobis Pacem”: orchestral music which comes in various ways. “The need to hug music in the first season accompanies a very moving scene with Matt [Christopher Eccleston] caring for his paralyzed wife, Mary [Janel Moloney],” said Richter. Then it reappears in the second season with Tom [Chris Zylka] pretending to be a healer.”

And the composer appreciates the filmmakers determining the through-line of a scene for the music to support, comment on or play against. In the first episode, a lengthy music sequence focuses on John Murphy [Kevin Carroll] after inflicting torture. “He’s looking at the flames and reflecting on what’s been going on,” said Richter. “It could play different ways: Is it tragic? Is it some sort of justified act because of something we understand later? And there was an orchestral solution and then a more electronic thing.”

But Richter’s electronica plays most powerfully in the season finale during the aftermath of the destruction caused by the Guilty Remnant cult. When Erica (Regina King) runs across a bridge to her daughter Evie (Jasmin Savoy Brown), she refuses to acknowledge her.

“It’s problem solving in a way,” Richer divulged. “It’s a Rubik’s Cube — you [unscramble it] and it just happens.”

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