music reporter

Czech point: 'Raisin' score was harvested via Internet

Since Lorraine Hansberry's play "A Raisin in the Sun" debuted on Broadway in 1959, the work has seen numerous incarnations: a film, a musical, a Broadway revival.

On Feb. 25, ABC will air the latest version — a made-for-television film based on the 2004 revival, which retains Sean Combs, Phylicia Rashad, Audra McDonald and Sanaa Lathan. Kenny Leon, who directed the play's return to Broadway, also directed the telefilm.

For composer Mervyn Warren, the question of how to give this classic story — about members of a black family in Chicago who discover that a sudden influx of money causes a wealth of new problems — a fresh musical feel was paramount.

"Something that struck me when I watched the film for the first time was that even though it's a period piece, they didn't beat you over the head that it was a period film," he says. "It occurred to me to have something that would appeal to viewers of all ages, a timeless score."

To that end, Warren — who composed the scores for "A Walk to Remember" and "The Wedding Planner" — crafted an orchestral, melodic score that emphasizes the story's always-resonant emotional points without giving any overt indication to what era the story takes place in.

But there was one stumbling block. "The budgets for films for television are much smaller than for feature films," Warren says. "They don't use live orchestras at all because of the cost."

Warren approached executive producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron ("Hairspray," "Chicago") with an idea: Why not create his timeless score by enlisting the help of the most modern of technologies — the Internet?

After writing the piece in the spring, Warren teamed up with the Prague Symphony Orchestra to perform his score. He headed to a recording studio in Santa Monica in the morning; the orchestra was congregated at 8 p.m. Prague time.

For the next four hours, Warren worked remotely — producing the "Sun" score while watching the symphony perform on a flat-panel television screen. Once the session wrapped, the sizable digital files of the recordings were electronically transferred from Prague to Los Angeles, a process that was finished overnight. Voila!

"The players are quite good — not quite on the level of L.A. players, but I intentionally didn't write a very difficult score," Warren says. "I'm very happy with how they played it."

And, most important, his dream of an orchestral score wasn't deferred.