Historical Drama Feature
Brilliant medical student Michael (Oscar Isaac) meets beautiful dance instructor Ana (Charlotte Le Bon) in late 1914. Their shared Armenian heritage sparks an attraction that explodes into a romantic rivalry between Michael and Ana’s boyfriend (Christian Bale), an American photojournalist who’s dedicated to exposing the truth. As the Ottoman Empire crumbles into war-torn chaos, their conflicting passions must be deferred as they join forces to get themselves and their people to safety.
The work required on The Promise was both challenging and culturally very sensitive. Due to the nature of the story the source music needed extensive research so as to ensure accuracy in rendering new, modern recordings of material rooted deep within Armenian and Turkish tradition.
James had to work closely with Armenian musicians and musicologists both in London and Yerevan and Madrid where the production was based finding exponents of instruments such as the Zurna, Ney, Duduk, Shvee, Kamancha, Oud and Quanun.
Adaptations and new arrangements of heartfelt folk and classical music pieces ensued in close connection with the director and in consultation with virtuosic musicians from the region. Some music was recorded in London and some in Armenia, a highlight of which was an adaptation of Gohanamk from a liturgy by Komitas recorded in Saint Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral.
In some cases, the political and cultural pain from the genocide was still not healed, echoing on after 100 years and, as such, James even had to work the session schedule around different groups of players to avoid any upset.
It was a fascinating experience and an important movie, with pertinent reminders that music can be a common language and in fact two warring nations are in fact often bound by the strings of their instruments and the skins of their drums.