The Epic of Everest: A Conversation With Composer Simon Fisher Turner


By Mike Telin

In June of 1924, English mountaineers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine disappeared while attempting to scale the world’s highest mountain. Their journey up Mount Everest was documented by mountaineer and filmmaker John Baptist Lucius Noel. Shot with a hand-cranked camera, Noel’s film is also one of the earliest filmed records of life in Tibet. Restored by the British Film Institute with the addition of a musical score by Simon Fisher Turner, The Epic of Everest will have its Cleveland revival premiere on Friday, June 19 at 7:00 pm in Morley Lecture Hall at the Cleveland Museum of Arts.

Simon Fisher Turner began his diverse career as a musician, songwriter, composer, producer, and actor portraying Ned East in the 1971 BBC TV adaptation of Tom Brown’s Schooldays. His musical work in film began with director Derek Jarman, for whom he scored many feature films — from Caravaggio (1986) through to Jarman’s final work, Blue (1993). Turner’s work with the British Film Institute has included composing scores for restorations of the silent films Un Chant D’Amour dir Jean Genet (1950) and The Great White Silence (1924), a British documentary about the Terra Nova Expedition led by Captain Robert Scott.

“Once I saw Noel’s film I realized that I had once again said yes to a project that was bigger and more difficult than I originally thought,” Turner recalled during a telephone conversation. “But after thinking about it, I realized that there was no way I could approach scoring this film the same way that I did with The Great White Silence — I didn’t want to simply repeat the process that I used for that score, so I had to find another one.”

Turner said he began by extensively researching about what was happening in Nepal at the time of Mallory’s and Irvine’s expedition. “I wanted to find out what people were like, what music they were listening to, what Nepal and the Himalayas looked like, and what was physically there at that time,” he said. “Noel’s daughter is still alive, so I met with her a lot — she still his climbing boots. I wanted to know if the original climbers had recorded any video or audio, or even stories. I also got in touch with Chris Bonington, a famous British climber. I talked to cameramen, explorers, musicians — you name them and I spoke to them. I even befriended the Thapa family from Katmandu, who I found with the help of the Embassy in London. Read the complete article on 

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