‘We Were the Lucky Ones’ Co-Composers Rachel Portman and Jon Ehrlich on ‘Hopeful’ Title Theme

Co-composers Rachel Portman and Jon Ehrlich have only met in person once, and collaborated across the globe while scoring Hulu’s “We Were the Lucky Ones.”

Despite this, both Portman and Ehrlich said that working across continents was one of the best parts of the process. Erhlich said: “She would work on something, and then I would wake up in the morning and go to the studio and unwrap a gift. Then by the end of my day, I was handing it off to her, and she could kind of pick up where I left off. It was really a kind of passing the baton back and forth.”

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The series is an adaptation of Georgia Hunter’s best-selling novel of her family’s fight to survive the Holocaust while living in Poland. Joey King stars as Halina, Hunter’s great aunt alongside Logan Lerman as Addy, Hunter’s grandfather. Other cast members include Sam Woolf, Robin Weigart, Lior Ashkenazi, Hadas Yaron, Amit Rahav and Eva Feiler.

Portman said throughout the series, she and Ehrlich sought to instill a sense of hope and anticipation to drive the narrative forward, especially through their choice of instruments. The piano in the main theme, Portman added, was especially important to the series because Addy is a piano player and composer.

The other main instrument in the theme is a cello, which Portman says is “a rich, deep and beautiful mellow voice. It goes very well with piano. We used a lot of strings and non-live elements and harp, there’s a real mixture. We kept the orchestral palette quite tight.”

Ehrlich said he worked with “non-live elements,” which are “born from organic sounds” and were “needed something to kind of represent the underbelly of human cruelty.”

At the start of the series, Addy is separated from Halina and the rest of their family in Poland. He hears nothing from his loved ones during his time in Paris, and yearns to know anything about their status. Portman said she wanted the theme to reflect the longing, loss and hope throughout the story: “In the main theme there is this sort of building feeling of anticipation,” she said. “I wanted to write something that could encompass the whole of the story, and it had to be compelling and moving.”

“When I write, I tend to not really know what I’m doing and ideas sort of just begin to happen,” Portman added. “And then I ascribe themes for characters. This main theme, this is really for everybody.”

Ehrlich said he and Portman evenly split recording with around 50 musicians in a live orchestra in Berlin, and later added additional layers and overdubs in production. Doing this project felt like they were helping to tell a story that “really, really matters,” he said.

“The material is just so important and compelling,” Ehrlich said. “We all felt a certain amount of responsibility to do this to do it justice. Everybody poured their hearts into this.”

Portman said the score “gives the story a contemporary feel which is important. You’re experiencing what’s happening to these characters from their point of view. And in that sense, the music needs to have an immediacy it’s not a historical thing, looking back. It feels here now and in the moment.”

The first three episodes of the series premiered Thursday on Hulu, and new episodes will drop weekly on Thursdays.

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