I went to see a film music concert of the London Symphony Orchestra at Barbican Hall last Saturday (April 4th, 2009) and just wanted to provide some feedback concerning the event. I'm not a professional in the field of music, so don't expect this to be an indepth analysis. I just want to share some thoughts and feelings I've had about the evening.
Let me also say that I'm sorry I didn't post this BEFORE the event. I simply didn't put two and two together at the time and only realized afterwards that this might have been of interest to some people around here. I will post similar events next time.
Anyway, the concert was, in short, fantastic. As you might imagine, there was a fair amount of John Williams music, and I had I only been there for the Star Wars main theme, it would have been worth the time and the money.
There was also a pre-concert talk with Patrick Doyle and Trevor Jones which I will briefly go into at the end of the post.
The conductor was 93(!) year old Harry Rabinowitz who did an amazing job (in as far as I can judge that as a non-expert on the subject). He also seemed to enjoy the event as much as the audience.
Before I go into more details, here is the list of what was played:
- John Williams – Superman March
- Bliss - Things to Come (extracts)
- Trevor Jones – The Dark Crystal Suite
- Addinsell – Warsaw Concerto from Dangerous Moonlight (Soloist: John Alley)
- George Fenton – Shadowlands Suite
- John Williams – Star Wars Suite
- Vaughan Williams – Prelude to The 49th Parallel
- James Horner – Braveheart (extracts)
- Philippe Rombi – Aria from Joyeux Noel (Soloist: Carmine Lauri)
- Walton arr Mathieson – Henry V Suite
- Patrick Doyle – Harry in Winter / Pottter’s Waltz from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
- Alexandre Desplat – The Queen Orchestral Suite
- John Williams – Star Wars: The Phantom Menace Suite
- Encore: John Williams – Raider’s March
The individual pieces
I will go into each piece at least briefly. Suffice it to say I felt the LSO did a fantastic job throughout the whole event. It was the first time for me experiencing an orchestra of this class, and it did not disappoint one bit.
The “Superman March”
was certainly an impressive way to start. I will say that I’ve never been a huge fan of this particular piece. But seeing and hearing this orchestra play it brought out a sense of amazement and wonder that I hadn’t gotten from it before. It certainly prepared the audience to expect something really amazing as the concert went on.
Oh, and I should add that they had an introductory film before the concert kicked off with images from all the different films the LSO scored over the years. They also had a film during the break about half way through the concert as well as interviews with the composers who weren’t on location (Trevor Jones and Patrick Doyle were both there and spoke on stage, Philippe Rombi was there, I believe, but didn’t come on stage). I really had to smile when I saw that one of the films included the “Ladies and gentlemen, John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra” scene from Family Guy’s “Blue Harvest” Star Wars episode.
Moving on. The music from “Things to Come”
was a welcome reminder of how far back the LSO’s involvement with film music stretches (which they never ceased to remind us of, by the way). I also liked the selection of music in that it delivered both the hopeful and more light-hearted aspects of the film as well as the darker and gloomier tones in the pieces that were played.
Trevor Jones came on stage before the music from “The Dark Crystal”
was played. And I have to say, he really comes across as a very charming and quite person. It was also very funny hearing how he had worked with ‘Kermit’ and ‘Miss Piggy’ (aka Jim Henson and Frank Oz) on the film. The selection of music was enjoyable though for my tastes not overly impressive (I don’t know much of Jones’s music as it is).
The “Warsaw Concerto”
from “Dangerous Moonlight”
featured a beautiful solo on grand piano from the LSO’s principal keyboarder John Alley. One of the things that is, as Patrick Doyle pointed out in the pre-concert talk and later on, quite amazing about these musicians is that they seem to play everything with such ease. I almost can’t imagine the kind of practice and talent it might require to achieve that.
Fenton’s “Shadowland Suite”
was well chosen to proceed the piece that would follow it in its quieter and less bombastic nature. I can’t say much more about it other than I really enjoyed it.
As you can gather from further up, the highlight of the evening for me was the “Star Wars”
main theme. And boy, did they play the hell out of it. I think you probably can’t get much closer to actually hearing the original Star Wars recording from 1977 live.
It’s such a stunning piece to begin with, I think, but to have it played by an orchestra like this was nothing short of stunning. I think I had a huge, big grin on my face the whole way through it. The audience response was also absolutely amazing, as people seemed outright euphoric and provided a huge amount of applause.
The LSO has an amazing brass section which really pumps the energy needed to make this piece come across as powerfully as it was intended. It just puts you right there in the Star Wars universe, the beginning of the original saga. And what a great place to be.
I also have to say that the acoustics of the Barbican Hall really benefitted this as well. The music just seemed to engulf you and let you really become invested in the music.
The main theme was followed by the quieter but no less powerful “Yoda’s Theme”
as well as the forceful “Imperial March”
. It was a joy having the opportunity to listen to them both played live by the LSO. Again, they both really drew you into that universe. And the “Imperial March” was almost unsettling with the strings, brass and percussion sections all ramping up their performances to just knock you out of your seat.
After a short break, the concert continued with music from an American propaganda piece, “The 49th Parallel”
by Vaughan Williams. I don’t really remember much about it other than that I enjoyed it.
The music from “Braveheart”
was probably the evenings least successful piece for me. I found it to be relatively uninspired piece of music that didn’t seem to have very much to say for itself, really. It was competently played, but I was glad when it was over, to be honest.
from “Joyeux Noel”
, on the other hand, was beautiful and sad piece of music. It also featured a wonderful violin solo from Carmine Lauri which was received almost as euphorically as the “Star Wars” main theme, I thought.
Walton’s “Henry V Suite”
was, on some level, huge fun to listen to. It just wonderfully painted a picture of this spectacular battle taking place right before your mind’s eye. Again, the LSO’s percussion and brass sections were put to very powerful use.
Patrick Doyle’s music from “Harry Potter”
was enjoyable if not exactly spectacular. I didn’t recognize any of the established Potter themes which may have been a deliberate choice. But I don’t know how good it did the selection of music in terms of inviting you into that film series’ universe.
The biggest surprise of the evening (pleasant surprise, I might add) was probably Alexandre Desplat’s music from “The Queen”
. It appears he arranged a suite especially for this evening, and it did not disappoint. This was highly enjoyable and, what I’d call, smart piece of music that really seemed to convey the nobility of the Queen as well as the many contradictions concerning the Royals’ history and present. Quite a feat for one piece of music, I felt.
The ‘official’ part of the concert ended with “Duel of the Fates”
from “The Phantom Menace”
. Now, let me say first that I absolutely love this particular piece of music. But as the last piece of this evening, it was a bit of a disappointment. Now, I can’t really fault the LSO for this, but I simply feel this shouldn’t be played without a choir. Without one, it just loses one of the things I feel really makes it stand out. Likewise, for example, I couldn’t imagine Orff’s “Carmina Burana” without the choir.
Still, of course, it was well played, and I enjoyed it for what was there.
Naturally, there had to be an encore, and as somebody who’s been listening to and loving John Williams’ music for so long, it was a treat. The LSO played the “Raider’s March”
and, as with the “Star Wars” main theme, I don’t think you can get much closer to the original recording. What a joy to hear this piece played by such a fine orchestra. Again, I had such a huge grin on my face all the way through it.
On my way out, my hands hurt, and I was humming the “Raider’s March”. What an amazing concert and an amazing night.
If I were to name any gripes, it would be only very small ones. For one, I felt some of the videos before and throughout the concert could have been a little shorter. Also, the LSO seemed to be patting itself on the back a little much (or letting others do it for them, for that matter). And, even though they undeniably deserved it, it did become a little grating.
Also, I think most if not all the interviews were already available on YouTube before the concert. Hence, in my case, the Williams interviews came as nothing new. Ok, it was still cool seeing him on such a large screen but, well, you know what I mean.
Pre-concert talk with Trevor Jones and Patrick Doyle
Finally, as I promised above, I want to make mention of the pre-concert talk with Trevor Jones and Patrick Doyle. First of all, I thought it was fantastic that these guys took their time to give insights into their careers and some of the creative process behind their works.
They were both very funny and charming (though I thought Doyle seemed to like hearing himself talk maybe just a little too much), and shared some interesting details such as Jones’ comment about going into “The Dark Crystal” and being totally intimidated by having the LSO play for him as well as working with “Kermit the Frog” and “Miss Piggy” – in a sense anyway.
It was also funny how Doyle commented on how the LSO would almost taunt you with how well they could play, no matter what you’d throw at them.
That was actually an interesting (for me) insight that came from the talk as well as the videos, just how fast an orchestra like this needs to be able to pick up music they’ve never seen before, with the chance to rehearse pieces only two or three times before playing them. Now THAT’S stunning, I think.
I also liked Jones’ comments on how he likes to approach a new score and film, reading only the outline of the story first and establishing a feeling for what the music should be from there without being spoiled by too many details at that point. I felt I could really understand what he was going for. It’s interesting to see how you can translate experiences and work processes from one creative field to another, essentially, since I feel this would also apply to some of the work I’ve done which has nothing to do with music.
The above topic actually derived from a question asked by one of the audience. I wanted to ask a related question (in terms of where you get inspiration and how other fields of expertise may have influenced their work in music), but only three questions in total were permitted. The whole talk was about 45 minutes, which could have easily been double, I reckon.
That’s all for now, folks
Anyway, those are some of my thoughts and feelings regarding the concert. I enjoyed it every bit, and can only recommend the LSO as a live orchestra (well, duh, I suppose). Please let me know if you have any specific questions. Though I have to mention that may memory can be sketchy on certain details.
By the way, did anyone else here go?
P.S.: Just a note for our friends overseas, I believe the LSO was on a North America tour recently, and they'll be returning there again shortly. IIRC they're going to Florida. So if you want to see them live, it might be worthwhile checking out their webpage. I'm sure what they're playing, however.