Arlen Gann

A simple melodic phrase can be enticing. The harmony created by two notes working in conjunction can be captivating. Understanding and implementing the myriad of possibilities available through voicings and textures is nothing short of magical; it’s an attribute for which composer/orchestrator/violinist Hanxiu Zhang has become acclaimed. Musicians like Jan Hammer and Danny Elfman have proven that directing their musical skills into the world of film can offer immense expression for both mediums, often magnifying the resulting emotional impact.

Hanxiu’s recent collaborations with Christopher Young (Primetime Emmy Nominated for Norma Jean & Marilyn and Last Flight Out, Golden Globes Nominated for The Shipping News) have resulted in musical scores of great depth and power. Working with Mr. Young to orchestrate and perform on these scores has illuminated Ms. Zhang as a thrilling talent in her own right. From performing as a soloist, orchestra member, interpreting the compositions of others, or composing her own contributions to varied productions, Hanxiu exhibits that special indefinable factor that leaves so many enchanted by her artistic choices.

Hanxiu Zhang

The Offering is a very different type of horror film. Taking place in modern times but set amidst Jewish history and ideas, the story avoids many of the tropes found in most films of this genre. Even before seeing the script, Hanxiu was ready to commit stating, “Chris [Young] has scored an impressive number of horror films including “Drag Me to Hell”, “Jennifer 8”, “The Empty Man”, and others. So it basically took me zero seconds to say yes.” While she proclaims her affinity for the main theme which Mr. Young composed for The Offering, it wasn’t until after she saw the film that she understood what approach would be ideal for its orchestration.

She divulges, “The Offering is not simply a horror film. It’s a film that makes you scream out loud, cry at certain moments, and even laugh. Once I’d seen the film, I understood the reason why Chris wrote this beautiful theme for a horror film. Music should not only convey the information in the film; a successful film score has always made the audience think about the deeper meaning of the scene. We decided to use solo violin and solo voice to interpret the theme with aleatoric music playing under the melody. It is simultaneously warmly attractive and icily cold, perfectly capturing the dichotomy of the character, an utterly generic skeleton, dressed up with a little Jewish folklore.”

Hanxiu also performed on violin for the film’s score, which was surrounded by electronics, the delicate vocals of a child singer, and other creepy elements to culminate in a musical personality which is simultaneously mysterious, frightening, and elegant. 

About Arlen Gann

This partnership was repeated for Apple +’s Echo 3, created by Mark Boal who also created the Oscar Award Winning Films Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. The eight-episode series starring Welsh actor Luke Evans (of Furious 6 and the Oscar Nominated Beauty and the Beast) as Alex “Bambi” Cheesborogh and Michael Huisman (known for the International megahit Game of Thrones) as Prince Haas depicts the kidnapping and rescue of a research scientist in South America. The musical identity is striking in this series and quite atypical for this type of story-setting.

Hanxiu informs, “The director [Mark Boal] really gave us a lot of freedom to create the music. Most of the time we wrote the music based on the mood instead of the pictures. After we finished some music, we sent it to our music editor and the music editor edited the music to the scene they thought worked best. The central plot is very very simple, allowing us to create many different moods of music around it and have more freedom for creativity than a feature film.”

The music of Echo 3 truly does manifest itself as another character, partnering with the main characters while informing the audience. Ms. Zhang once again contributed her own playing (as violinist) to the score of Echo 3 as well as a variety of orchestrations. She often refers to her preference for string quartets in this series stating, “Strings have an innate ability to tell stories that no instrument can. When you combine a violin, viola and cello together, sometimes it gives you the strongest emotion and it always blends with the scene very well.”

This concept is powerfully displayed during one scene in which a woman tells of a past experience for which she cannot help but take on blame for what resulted. The music of this scene pushes the audience to tears long before the acting performance does. Hanxiu is eager to praise what she refers to as the masterful compositions of Chris Young and how they inspires her. She notes that she is happy to be working with him presently on a project for Marvel; the Deadpool video game.

Her fans will also be able to experience Ms. Zhang’s own compositions in the upcoming film The Visit. Concerning this film’s script of this feature film, Hanxiu communicates, “When I first read the script, I knew the story was going to be great. I was immediately entranced by its haunting atmosphere and beautifully emotional story.”

Writer: Arlen Gann

By Punit