In The Sounds Of Jason Bourne's World, A Story Of Creation And Loss British composer John Powell swore off working on action movies for years, unsettled by their violence. The latest in the Bourne series, for which he's scored every film, marks his return.
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In The Sounds Of Jason Bourne's World, A Story Of Creation And Loss

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In The Sounds Of Jason Bourne's World, A Story Of Creation And Loss

In The Sounds Of Jason Bourne's World, A Story Of Creation And Loss

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Jason Bourne is back. The character, created by Robert Ludlum, has populated 12 novels, a made-for-TV movie. And with this weekend's opening of "Jason Bourne" - five big screen adventures - the music for every one of the feature films is written by John Powell, not by BJ Liederman who writes our theme music. Like the protagonist that he helps propel, John Powell has faced some challenges, as Tim Greiving reports.

TIM GREIVING, BYLINE: John Powell's first full-length feature film assignment was the 1997 action movie "Face/Off."

(SOUNDBITE OF "FACE/OFF" FILM)

GREIVING: He followed that with more action, including The "Italian Job" and "Mr. & Mrs. Smith."

(SOUNDBITE OF "MR. AND MRS. SMITH" FILM)

GREIVING: But he hit his stride with the Bourne movies, starting with "The Bourne Identity" in 2002.

(SOUNDBITE OF "BOURNE IDENTITY" FILM)

GREIVING: The movies, and Powell's propulsive minimalistic music, had a big influence on the entire action genre from the "Fast & Furious" series to the Daniel Craig "James Bond" films. Then, six years, ago Powell stepped away.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JOHN POWELL: I didn't want to write music for movies where violence was the entertainment. The definition of what a violent film is in my head is one that where the violence is to achieve the hero's success.

GREIVING: So he turned to a very different genre, one in which he'd also worked, animated family features, including "Happy Feet," "Rio" and his Oscar-nominated score for "How To Train Your Dragon."

(SOUNDBITE OF "HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON" FILM)

GREIVING: Powell's come back to Jason Bourne because he insists the widowed assassin with amnesia isn't your typical action hero.

POWELL: Jason Bourne has always been a victim of violence. I mean, I always felt from film number one that the character was never instigating violence. He was never doing it in any other way other than to try and find out what the hell happened to him.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREIVING: "Jason Bourne" is also Powell's first movie project since he finished his first major work for the concert hall. His oratorio "A Prussian Requiem" had its world premiere in London in March at a concert commemorating the 100th anniversary of World War I. The piece was Powell's attempt to come to musical terms with what plunged the world into such unprecedented violence.

POWELL: I'd been thinking about the first World War for many, many years. 1914 was after this amazing period in European art - the Belle Epoque, you know - and there was so much amazing music. How could you have such a situation where mankind was bringing forth such beauty and mankind was also just diving into a hole so deep? The reality of the first World War was beyond anything anybody could express.

GREIVING: Still, he tried.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A PRUSSIAN REQUIEM")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #1: (Singing, unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: (Singing, unintelligible).

GREIVING: And he succeeded, says Jose Serebrier, who conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra in the world premiere and the studio recording

JOSE SEREBRIER: The work is a great, great masterpiece. It will be picked up by many other conductors. The last movement, in particular, has a hypnotic effect on the audience. We saw people crying. It's quite something.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A PRUSSIAN REQUIEM")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: (Singing, unintelligible).

GREIVING: But on the night of the premiere, John Powell wasn't there.

SEREBRIER: Only a day before he wrote to me and to the manager of the orchestra that he couldn't come because his wife only had a few days to live.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A PRUSSIAN REQUIEM")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Vocalizing).

SEREBRIER: One of his assistants was in London texting him the progress of the performance, saying the public is totally immersed in it. The second movement just went through and everyone is enchanted with it. By the fifth movement, John wrote back saying please don't write anymore. anymore. She just died.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A PRUSSIAN REQUIEM")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Vocalizing).

GREIVING: Powell's wife, an English artist named Melinda Lerner, had developed MDS, a bone marrow disorder that required a transplant. In her weakened state following treatment, she lost her life. She was 56 years old.

POWELL: Everything I write is probably two streams, one of which is all the music I've ever heard. And then all the experiences I've had. And some have been joyful and some have been very dark. Here in Hollywood, I was enjoying writing a lot of fun music, and I don't think I could have done that unless I had a fun relationship (laughter). So I'm sure I - if I hadn't met her, I would have been - I would've been - maybe been more miserable and then I might have written miserable music that would have never got me a gig (laughter).

GREIVING: "Jason Bourne" was his first step back into work. Powell intends to write more concert music and of course more film scores. And they will inevitably draw on his life experiences - all of them.

POWELL: The only thing I can think at the moment is that in the same way that my father died when I was 15, I mean, that's probably been a big factor in everything I wrote, so will this, I guess, you know.

GREIVING: For NPR News, I'm Tim Greiving in Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A PRUSSIAN REQUIEM")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: (Vocalizing).

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