Sunday, 5 April 2009

The LSO: A Life in Film

There really is nothing like hearing the music you love played live. Sitting in front of an orchestra is, at the best of times, a thrill, but sitting in front of the London Symphony Orchestra is something altogether different; it’s an electrifying experience. So it was that I found myself sitting a few metres from the mighty ensemble last night at their home stage in The Barbican, as they performed a full programme of film music to celebrate their long (70 years +) association with the silver screen. From their days working the orchestra pits of the great London film theatres, the LSO has somehow been synonymous with the art of film. The art of film music as we know it, i.e. fully synchronised music scoring, formed part of the orchestra’s roster of ‘jobs’ from the art form’s earliest days and since then they have performed the music of some of the idiom’s biggest names and for some of the box office’s most celebrated successes.

To encapsulate a ‘Life in Film’ is no easy thing, but the show’s producers managed to put together a programme that highlighted a good many critical moments in the orchestra’s filmography. From their earliest performances on the likes of Bliss’ Things to Come and Williams’ first Star Wars adventure, through to the emotive realms of George Fenton’s Shadowlands and James Horner’s Braveheart, the ensemble have continued to work their collective magic and the evening’s programme was littered with evocative, memorable music from their glittering past.

A nice touch was the presence of some of the represented composers, whether in person or on film – courtesy of new interview footage projected above the stage. Patrick Doyle and Trevor Jones – who discussed their careers in a pre-concert talk with presenter Tommy Pearson – were in attendance, with the performances of selections from Jones’ The Dark Crystal and Doyle’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire being further highlights. During the on-stage discussion Jones likened working with the LSO to having all his birthdays on one day, and both he and Doyle – who was as wonderfully animated as ever – spoke warmly and with some awe about their regular orchestral collaborators. Another composer in attendance was Philippe Rombi, whose ‘Aria’ from Joyeux Noel proved to be one of the surprising jewel’s of the second half, as was Alexandre Desplat’s specially arranged suite from The Queen. On screen, prior to their own works being performed, were John Williams, James Horner and George Fenton. Williams was of course given the most time and his affection for the orchestra was obvious, while a rather thin-looking Horner – sat in front of a piano – recalled, as many did, the orchestra’s prowess and dexterity. Fenton recalled Richard Attenborough asking him if he’d be able to get the LSO for Shadowlands and he remarked that, while he thought it was a fine idea, he wasn’t sure if they’d want to work with him!

The orchestra performed from genuine orchestrations, which makes a hell of a difference to the listening experience. The intricacies of Williams’ works rang out in all their glory, with the brass and percussion of concert-closer ‘Duel of the Fates’ absolutely knocking the audience’s socks off. So much of the music we hear in concert these days has been arranged by third parties, and that often means there are discrepancies – which perhaps only the truly enlightened fans might notice. But it is testament to this concert’s organisers that the ‘real’ thing, so to speak, was able to be enjoyed. It’s no easy task either, as I’ve been faithfully informed; James Horner is a case in point, for little or no true performable arrangements of his music exist. To hear music from Braveheart played live was a real treat, and while the crucial bagpipe element was absent (replaced by tin whistle), it was worth the effort (and expense) of getting the pages to perform.

Presiding over the orchestra was the indomitable Harry Rabinowitz who, at 93, must be in line for the honour of oldest conductor still working on the podium. While it was lovely to have him conduct, you couldn’t fail to notice that his eye wasn’t always on the ball. After flinging the baton into the front row during the first half, his confidence seemed to give out a little and he often lost his place in the scores, which led him to frantically rifle through pages as the orchestra continued to play. It is perhaps testament to the orchestra's skill and professionalism that they were able to hold it together, with a less-than-dynamic conductor. He is a dear old soul though with an impressive career in music, and indeed film music.

So for me it was a magical evening, and a fine end to a very entertaining afternoon in London, which was kicked off nicely with a matinee of Marc Shaiman’s delightful musical Hairspray - if you haven’t seen it, I urge you to go! Meanwhile there is more live film music to come in London over the next couple of months. This week we have Star Wars – A Musical Journey at the o2 Arena, followed next week by a live performance of Howard Shore’s score for The Fellowship of the Ring (to picture) at the Royal Albert Hall. May 8th sees the annual Filmharmonic gala concert with the RPO, while June 7th sees the LSO back on stage at The Barbican, this time performing an entire programme of music by George Fenton, conducted by the composer.

Long live the LSO!

With thanks to the LSO and Dvora Lewis PR. For more information about the London Symphony Orchestra and to book tickets for ‘The Film & TV Music of George Fenton’ visit

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