Ocean’s Kingdom, Paul McCartney’s fifth album of orchestral music, was commissioned by the New York City Ballet.
The sheer athleticism is the most astounding thing. It’s like a meeting of the Olympic games and art, and I find that fascinating and challenging for me, to see what can be done.
The ballet tells of a love story based in two fantastic worlds – the “pure” ocean kingdom, and the Earth kingdom with its “sort of baddies” who threaten the underwater way of life. According to McCartney, love happens when earth meets water, and “you’ll have to see whether the couple make it”.
Ocean’s Kingdom received its world première at the David H Koch Theater on the Lincoln Center Plaza in New York City on 22 September 2011. The production also featured costumes designed by Stella McCartney.
The production was a collaboration between Sir Paul and NYCB’s Ballet Master in Chief, Peter Martins. The pair met in 2010 at the School of American Ballet’s Winter Gala, and shortly afterwards began discussing working together.
Like the rest of my generation, I grew up being a huge fan of the Beatles so I was thrilled to meet him. After I got to know him a bit, and knowing of his great love of composing classical music, I asked if he might be interested in doing something for New York City Ballet, and I am ecstatic that he has agreed to write a score for us.
While planning the score for the ballet, McCartney visited the Royal Opera House in London to watch Adolphe Adam’s Gisele, danced by the Royal Ballet. He met the dancers and discussed their work, after which he realised that he needed a central theme for Ocean’s Kingdom.
McCartney decided to focus his work on the “purity of the ocean”, and completed the first draft within two months. He then reworked it with the ballet particularly in mind, in the process developing the characters of his underwater kingdom.
A number of further weeks were spent working alongside Peter Martins to refine and complete the music, after which Martins completed the choreography with the New York City Ballet dancers.
Ocean’s Kingdom was the first time that McCartney had written an original score for dance.
I am always interested in new directions that I haven’t worked in before. So I became very excited about the idea. When I got back to England after meeting Peter I started writing music and am now in the very final stages of the orchestral score.
What was interesting was writing music that meant something expressively rather than just writing a song. Trying to write something that expressed an emotion – so you have fear, love, anger, sadness to play with and I found that exciting and challenging.
Following the world première, Ocean’s Kingdom was performed four additional times in 2011, on 24, 25, 27 and 29 September, followed by further performances on 19, 21, 24, 27 and 29 January 2012.
The artwork for Ocean’s Kingdom continued the underwater theme of the music and ballet. The front cover also contained a depiction of the notes from the computerised musical score as a digital readout, reproduced to look like neon lights.
McCartney’s fifth album of orchestral music, it followed Liverpool Oratorio (1991), Standing Stone (1997), Working Classical (1999), and Ecce Cor Meum (2006).
It was also his second release by Decca, who famously rejected The Beatles in January 1962 following an unsuccessful audition. His score for the British film The Family Way had been released by the label in 1967.
Decca released Ocean’s Kingdom in the UK on 3 October 2011, and it followed in the US on Hear Music/Telarc the next day. It was released on compact disc, vinyl and as a digital download.