Sunday, 14 November 2010

Michael Nyman: An Anthology, at Colston Hall

I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Michael Nyman’s music live on three previous occasions. It’s always a divided experience I find, as his music is itself divisive. His compositions stray from the engaging and almost hypnotic to the benign and tragically beautiful, by way of the occasional bout of sheer ennui. The driving, repetition of much of his music is the well tested trademark of the artist (and he is an artist in every sense of the word) and one who successfully (or otherwise) traverses the realms of film music and music for music’s sake.

‘Michael Nyman: An Anthology’, with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (Bristol’s orchestra too apparently… though I can’t imagine those on the south coast really want to share?) was markedly different to any of the Nyman ‘fests’ I’d been a party to before and this was noticeable on two counts. Firstly no ‘Michael Nyman Band’ and secondly – and perhaps most importantly - no Michael Nyman… I was under no illusion that he would be there though, so it wasn’t a big surprise and in fact the evening threw up (for want of a better term) a whole host of interesting nuggets for a film music fan, and indeed a Nyman fan, of which I am both.

I go to a lot of film music concerts and to be honest – and you’ll agree with me if you do too – it’s very much ‘same old’. The classic film music repertoire is to be expected at the majority of film music events these days, so it’s a breath of fresh air and actually brilliant to be able to sit in the company of an orchestra as they perform great chunks of score live. The engorged ensemble meant we were able to enjoy treats such as Gattaca – Nyman’s first major ‘Hollywood’ film score – and the 17 minute selection more than did it justice. This larger orchestral fare of Nyman’s doesn’t get heard in concert as he usually – and quite regularly – tours with his smaller ‘band’, performing chamber works and scores (such as the Greenaway entries) and of course everyone’s favourite The Piano.

We weren’t spared those delights though, because delights they are, and when given over to a symphony orchestra they took on a far grander tone as one might expect. The 20 minute selection from Greenaway’s Drowning By Numbers offered some wonderful moments, including the infectious ‘Wheelbarrow Walks’ and the Mozart inspired ‘Trysting Fields’ and ‘Knowing The Ropes’, while the ubiquitous ‘Chasing Sheeps Is Best Left To Shepherds’ from The Draughtsmans Contract brought a smile as ever. Such scores are Nyman gold; bawdy, cavorting and somehow deliciously saucy (in fact I always picture tarts in powdered wigs being chased around a drawing room when I hear this stuff).

The Piano was of course a highlight as the ensemble were able to take on the larger scale cues such as ‘To the Edge of the Earth’ and ‘The Embrace’. ‘Here To There’ suffered thanks to the usual frolicking woodwinds being replaced by pompous brass, which was a shame and changed the feel of the cue entirely. The subtle beauty and furtiveness of ‘Lost and Found’ was indeed lost thanks to some very shaky trumpeting – again replacing woodwind (!). It’s always the brass that lets ensembles down for some reason… the sound is so naked that any error, however slight, is glaringly obvious. The pitch of the requirement in this selection from The Piano was obviously too much for the poor old player.

The only selection I wasn’t familiar with – and the longest at 21 minutes – was a suite from The Diary of Anne Frank. It was in fact something of a premier as this arrangement of cues from the score – by Andy Keenan – had never been performed before. The animated film was produced in Japan in 1995 and seemingly inspired the composer to come up with some of his most beautiful, melodic and lyrical music. I adore Nyman when he’s in this mode and this lengthy selection was a real treat full of emotional peaks and troughs; ‘Concentration Camp/Silent Separation’ was suitably dark and emotive, while ‘If/Why’ – written for songs – showed just how lyrical the composer can be when working within such parameters.

Ending the concert was the audacious ‘Memorial’. I know the piece from its use in Greenaway’s classic The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, but its dedication to those who perished during the 1985 Heysel Stadium Tragedy gives it a far more soulful underpinning. Still, it remains a classic with its stalking, stomping, unrelenting nature which, when applied to a symphony orchestra, truly made the hairs stand on end somewhat triumphantly. It got a big applause from the not so big audience and invited an encore. Something ‘lighter’ was promised by our conductor Pete Harrison and we got ‘In Re Don Giovanni’… a perfectly sprightly Nymanesque ending.

With such a grand ensemble at their disposal it’s a small shame that perhaps more time wasn’t given over to some of Michael Nyman’s other larger film scores. Shorter selections from the Greenaway scores might have allowed time for something from The Claim or The End of the Affair, a concert suite of the former is certainly available… A thought for future programming perhaps.

Whether the BSO really is Bristol’s orchestra too or not, I’m very pleased that they have a home at Colston Hall. The venue has come on leaps and bounds since its relaunch last year and really is quite a lovely space in which to mingle and enjoy music. And the future looks interesting as Bristol City Council are to no longer run it, instead allowing it to deal with its own affairs under a new ‘Bristol Music Trust’. I for one hope it means more concerts like this one will be entertained…

With thanks to Paul Preager and Sarah Hodson at Colston Hall.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Is there a Doctor in the house?

What better way to spend Halloween than in the company of some monsters, and that was just the kids. Yes there were a lot of little people present at the final Cardiff show of the BBC’s Doctor Who Live yesterday but you know what? The kids are alright…. Because this show is all about them. There was much to enjoy for the young at heart as well though as all the best monsters from Series 1-5 of the BBC’s flagship Sci-Fi spectacle were wheeled out before us under the guise of an intergalactic circus, of sorts.

The ringleader was the colourful bouffant-haired Vorgensen, played by the brilliant Nigel Planer, who began as a showman with a gimmick to show off – ‘the minimiser’ to be exact – and ended up the perfect Panto villain as his gimmick turned out to be a rouse to capture The Doctor alongside his plethora of Cybermen, Scarecrows, Smilers and Vampire Vixens (aka The Vampires of Venice, aka Saturnyne) – a veritable zoo of Who beasties. I won’t give any more away, but as with any Doctor Who adventure all is not quite as it seems and a deeper evil may just be behind the events unravelling before us.

The Doctor himself was of course not present in physical form, but on screen in a series of well played-out exchangess with Vorgensen – and the audience. This, and the entrance of various monsters into the auditorium, obviously takes its cue from the wonderful Doctor Who Proms whose physical interactions with favoured (or feared) villains remains a highlight of both years in the Albert Hall. This new ‘Live’ concept though works on a different level, with a story at its heart, and in that sense is a far more enjoyable ‘show’ for the key demographic – i.e. kiddies.

Once again – and ultra important from my perspective – music played a huge role in the proceedings, though this time scaled down from full orchestra to a scintillating band of thirteen. Under the command of The Doctor’s favoured conductor and arranger Ben Foster, these guys and girls made an awesome sound, which I simply wasn’t expecting. They brought to life Murray Gold’s themes with heaps of pizzazz and a dollop of chutzpah, absolutely giving the BBC National Orchestra of Wales a run for their money. Themes from across all five series made an appearance, supporting both the monsters running amok and also big screen montages of some of The Doctor’s adventures. Filler this might have been, but it worked beautifully; I am in fact a sucker for a good montage and these, underscored so eloquently, inspired some eye-watering… but only a bit.

With tickets starting at £25 this would by no means be a cheap trip for a family and when you add in the endless merchandise available – including the ubiquitous glossy £10 programme – there is a sense that the BBC is cashing in somewhat on its prize pony… but that said people are lapping it up and having a bloomin’ good time while they’re at it, and who can say fairer than that when the outside world is so chock full of real life doom, gloom and monsters.

Monetary matters aside, this is a wonderful show, a sci-fi pantomime of sorts and everyone involved ought to be mighty proud of it. Doctor Who just keeps getting bigger and better doesn’t it?

Just a final word I think, as I’m bleating on about the good Doctor and his music. Silva Screen Records have come up trumps with not one, but two lavish, immense and brilliant collections of original music from the series’. It seems Doctor Who soundtracks are like buses… you wait two years for a new one and two come along at once (well, ish).

‘Series 4 – The Specials’ hit stores a few weeks ago and it has been a long time coming. Indeed I was at the recording session for ‘The Next Doctor’ over two years ago and then ‘The End of Time’ this time last year, so I for one have been chomping at the bit to hear some of this stuff again. It’s all great stuff of course, but the second disc – devoted to ‘The End of Time’ – is just extraordinary, showcasing what is absolutely Murray Gold’s finest work. ‘Vale Decem’ is on repeat currently… Check it out if you haven’t yet.

‘Series 5’ is on CD this week… oh yes, it’s another double disc set and is another stunner I can tell you. Having written the programme notes for the Prom again this year I was already party to some of the tracks and arrangements on this new album, but there is far more besides, in fact there is something from each of the thirteen episodes of Matt Smith’s inaugural series. It’s a brilliant collection, setting out on CD just how versatile a composer Murray is. The depth of emotion so apparent in prior series’ remains, but there is a fairytale elegance to some of this recent stuff, not to mention a maturity, that speaks volumes for how much he has grown as an artist, how much braver he has become and just how talented he is. Listen to ‘The Time of Angels’ against ‘Amy’s Theme’ and then ‘Battle in the Sky’ and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The team are busily getting the Christmas Special music together, so there is – as ever – plenty more to look forward to. Good times, Doctor.

Doctor Who Live continues it’s UK tour in Liverpool on 2-3 November, then finally in Belfast on 6-7 November. Silva Screen Records’ two new albums – plus soundtracks for Series 1/2, Series 3 and Series 4 – are available right now at

Big thanks to Ben Foster, and David Stoner at Silva Screen Records.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Wilde & Wonderful

It’s been a while since I wrote anything here, so I thought it was high time I got back into the swing of blogging. Time just seems to run away doesn’t it? Still, the world of film music (and more besides) goes on and while I’m not going to spend any time looking back at what’s been going on since I last ‘blogged’, I would like to share my thoughts with you on a recent visit to London for a ‘Wilde & Wonderful’ evening of words and music.

This was no ordinary concert, for it was a select few who were gathered in the Egyptian Ballroom of Mansion House (a gorgeously gilded space which is at once breathtakingly lavish and strangely intimate). Aldermen, Masters and even the occasional ‘celeb’ were brought together beneath the towering columns to celebrate and support Treloar’s College, an absolute gem of a place.

In the wilds of the Hampshire countryside the lives of young physically disabled children are being changed, for the better, on a daily basis as Treloar’s School and College supports, educates and nourishes these youngsters, preparing them for adult life. There are many success stories, as we discovered at the concert, with some students going on to university. One such former student Hannah Fielding read a self-penned poem about what the school and college has meant to her; it really was the perfect dedication, realising in words why we were all there and confirming how important it was that vital funds were raised to help the school and its students grow further still.

Having been invited by Debbie Wiseman to contribute the programme notes and presentation script for the concert (the latter to be read by Sir Terry Wogan, no less) I felt I was able to do my bit for the show and it’s inspiring cause. I was delighted to be able to attend as well and see it all come together, with the talented young musicians of the Junior Trinity Symphony Orchestra performing a varied programme under the baton of both Debbie Wiseman and their principal conductor Andrew Morley.

Having a youth orchestra perform was an inspired idea. We were there to celebrate the young people of Treloar’s, and to have a band of youngsters help us do that with music was just wonderful. They had their work cut out too as this was no easy programme. Sure there were a couple of classical standards (‘Air on a G String’ and ‘Salut D’Amore’) within the programme, but the majority of the running time would go to Debbie’s own music. ‘The Selfish Giant’ and ‘The Nightingale and the Rose’ formed the heart of the show, with actors George Layton and Cheri Lunghi performing Oscar Wilde’s captivating narratives. While excerpts from both pieces had been performed at other events, it was just stunning to hear the whole piece (story and music) live. The music is of course simply gorgeous, perfectly underscoring Wilde’s creations with heartrending beauty and visceral tenacity in places.

I was genuinely impressed with the orchestra who took on these effervescent compositions admirably, not to mention the likes of Britten’s ‘Playful Pizzicato’. That piece supported a brilliant performance of the poem ‘Jim’ from Robert Powell. Particular mention must go to the pianist – apparently just 14 – whose measured performance shone during ‘The Nightingale and the Rose’, not to mention the bird’s song itself which was played just perfectly by the solo flautist.

With a rousing performance of Wiseman’s ‘Wild West’ from Wilde (accompanied by a bit of dodgy clapping from us) the show came to its conclusion and those of us not signed up for a posh dinner went into the night with a nightingale’s song in our hearts.

Suffice to say it was a great success and much needed funds were raised for the school and college’s new building programme which will see them moving to one site so that they can continue the inspiring work they do with these very special young people.
If you'd like to learn more about Treloar's School and College or indeed make a donation, then get yourself to

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Eat Me: Andreas Constantinou's 'Wonderland'

Sweetness and dark are all around in Wonderland, especially for boys and girls with dark and inquisitive souls. If that’s you then read on…

The long awaited follow up to Fistful finds Andreas Constantinou on top form, opening the book on a fairytale collection of characters with a story to tell. Some are victims of their beauty (‘The Maiden’), while others are sly predators, concealing plenty and taking all (‘Beautiful’).

Like any fairytale there are shadows in the corners and cracks beneath the surface, but with that darkness comes an abundance of colour as the talented singer/songwriter and performer (he really is a proper Jack of all things, including hearts I shouldn’t wonder…) weaves his evocative poetry through song.

Playing the part of storyteller, participant and indeed accomplice, our narrator unravels his creations and infuses them with infectious rhythm, memorable riffs and a well considered selection of instruments. Autoharp and ukulele are the major voices behind the music, while guitars, piano and percussion lend support throughout. A dusting of synthetics play their part too, looped and immediate in ‘Beautiful’ while, ‘Slither’ uncovers an edgier vibe as the melody and riffs swagger and saunter their way.

‘Wonderland’, being the title track, is something of a standout amongst a set list already standing to attention with its vivid and creative instrumentation - not to mention something of a trip following the bridge – while the all too short ‘B.U.G.’ finds a cannibalistic beast of storybook proportions taking centre stage, the fluffy-sweetness of the delivery belying the brilliantly grizzly subject.

Further highlights include the gorgeously quirky curtain raiser ‘Autumn’, the energetic ‘The Hunter, The Hunted’ and the brilliantly evocative ‘Pandora’. In all cases Constantinou’s vocals reveal a talented performer with a real twinkle in his eye not to mention an imagination both fertile and frenzied.
Drawing the selection to a close far too early for my liking is ‘Lullaby’, which manages to be at once wistful, awkward and entirely uplifting and ends the trip through Wonderland beautifully. I can’t get enough of this; it really is a fabulous, fantastical, indie-folk feast... Gobble it up.

For more information visit

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Albums, Oscars and A Single Man

Ahh, there are only so many hours in the day. Fact. If I were to sit and listen to all the music on my desk in one go, I’d probably have grown a considerable amount of facial hair by the time I was done (and then I’d turn around and there would be even more CDs on the doormat).

It isn’t easy, deciding what to give optimum reviewing time to, particularly when you’re the only regular reviewer for a website that needs constant updates and attention in other areas – news, articles, artwork… It’s all about time management you see, which is even more difficult when you remember that you don’t get paid for a single thing you do. There’s a ‘real’ job to consider, not to mention a life away from ‘the desk’. It brings me, often, to wonder why I do this. The answer? I love film music. Fact.

It occurred to me this morning – in fact it occurred to me last week when I was able to do absolutely nothing about it – that with all my spare time and focus going on Music from the, I haven’t given anywhere near enough time to this blog. That makes me sad, because I really rather enjoy hacking away at this thing and sharing my thoughts across a variety of scores, events and moments. So today, this glorious Tuesday in March, seems like the best time to do so. I had expected to be working on a triple feature on multiple Oscar-winning film The Hurt Locker, but as is often the case Rudy’s enthusiasm for his subject has seen him delving ever so much deeper into the film, the music, the people and their collective hidden depths. With that in mind I am left with time to ponder the pile in front (and behind) me.

There are CDs in a line to my left in my in-tray… These are ear-marked for my ‘full attention’ and include Christopher Young’s Creation, Shirley Walker’s The Flash and a recent British re-recording of Bernard Herrmann’s Citizen Kane and Hangover Square. I’m excited about the latter, for I love Bernard Herrmann.

Beneath the desk are more piles, one is a pile of discs I have already reviewed (phew!) and the others are titles that haven’t made ‘the cut’. That seems a bit harsh I guess, but there are only so many hours in the day and I can’t review everything. But perhaps this is as good a time as any to give at least some of them the attention they deserve?

There’s a rather nice album of music by Ryuichi Sakamoto, released at the end of 2009 by Decca, called ‘Playing The Piano’. This particular copy is a Deluxe Edition and includes the album ‘Out of Noise’ as a bonus. I’m rather partial to a bit of piano music, particularly solo, experimental stuff… I adore the Einaudi’s and Nyman’s of this world (though I suppose there are only one of each, ha) and I think Sakamoto can sit comfortably alongside. Anyway, ‘Playing The Piano’ finds the composer at the keyboard performing solo piano versions of his film works. The obvious ones are accounted for, and stand out, i.e. Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence and The Last Emperor. The latter is a favourite of mine and the piano rendering is rather special… I have to say I did hope for something from his gorgeous contribution to the Babel soundtrack, but it isn’t here and we’ll have to live with it. ‘Bibo no Aozora’? I think.

Nuzzled next to that is Chris Young’s effervescent Drag Me To Hell, which I frankly can’t get enough of. As soon as I saw the track ‘Concerto To Hell’ I knew it would be a bit special. Such a title usually means the composer was inspired enough by their own creation to have a play around with it and create something fun and exciting. Elfman is good at doing that as well – as his rather listenable album for The Wolfman shows. I don’t have a hard copy of the latter score… but I imagine I would have given it my ‘full attention’ if I had. (An insight: It’s hard enough to keep on top of actual physical CDs, let alone albums that I can’t see or touch… So if it’s on my hard drive it is not going to get a review. Fact.)

MovieScore Media are ever so prolific, which makes my job harder than ever and I find I have to be ultra picky. Daniel Pemberton’s Attila The Hun is marvellous, really, and Jeff Grace’s I Sell The Dead is rather infectious and brilliant – how could it not be, the man is fantastic. Suffice to say I hope to give Jeff’s The House Of The Devil my fuller attention in the not too distant future. I’m a big fan of Alfons Conde as well, and Guy Farley, so it pained me to have to demote both The Beckoning and Knife Edge to the lower pile. Both are dark and brooding and beautiful in places – the former, by Conde, features some super choral work. MovieScore really do love a good horror/thriller it seems, and I’m always up for that.

I have a pile of German albums to get through, courtesy of our friends at Cinema Musica… Richard G. Mitchell’s Der Seewolf remains in the upper pile for now – it’s rather good. The others, including Annette Focks’ Romy and Karim Sebastian Elias’ delightfully Zimmer-esque Das Geheimnis der Wale, have bags of charm and are hugely listenable. Such discoveries make me happy and remind me – which needs to happen – that there is more to film music than what comes out of Hollywood and London. Again, only so many hours etc. blah blah; you know the score.

La La Land Records are another prolific label and I very much enjoyed their double album of music from The Fugitive by James Newton Howard. I can’t say it’s one of his most inspiring scores for me personally, but it’s good to have such a generous presentation of a major title. Their release of John Frizzell’s Legion was also welcome. Once again Frizzell has created an immediate sound for the score.

This week saw the 82nd Academy Awards… The Oscars used to be a highlight of the year for me; there was a time when I would stay up until the wee small hours, with a flask of coffee to keep me awake. That was before Sky Movies took over the broadcast and I don’t have it, so my experience of the last few years’ ceremonies has been after the fact. With the announcement of no song performances this year, I felt as though I wouldn’t be missing out on much. Then, when a little bird informed me that the nominated scores would be presented through interpretive dance, I knew it was best left alone. I immediately recalled the last time they did ‘Dance The Score’; horrific memories of a man stomping and slapping about on the stage to John Williams’ ‘Hymn to the Fallen’ make me shudder even today. Why, AMPAS? WHY?

Still I was pleased with the result this year. Michael Giacchino is a great composer – certainly busy – and I’m chuffed that his beautiful score for Up stole the show. Sure it wasn’t edgy, or even cutting edge like the other nominees (save for Fantastic Mr. Fox, which was similarly charming and simplistic). Up is a classic, emotional orchestral score in the old tradition and I’m glad the Academy were won over by its charm. I'm hoping that Walt Disney Records will finally see fit to release the darn thing on CD now; come on Disney, a Golden Globe, two Grammys, a BAFTA and an Academy Award and we can't even put the album on the shelf?!

I was surprised not to see Abel Korzeniowski’s A Single Man in the list this year. His score – which featured additional music by the great Shigeru Umebayashi – was nominated for a BAFTA. I saw the film this week and was blown away by the music… Everything about the film was beautifully considered, every frame, every colour tone (and change of tone), while the music was part and parcel of the film’s design. At times it would bend out of shape, distorting along with George’s world view and sense of self, then it would flourish with the most incandescent beauty. Ultimately a simple score, with emphasis on strings, it added so much to the film experience. There’s a moment in the score where the score takes on the soul of Bernard Herrmann, as George’s world is coloured and warmed by the appearance of a sweet, innocent, pretty girl. It was a real Vertigo moment and it made the hair on the back of my neck rise. Genius. The album is available from Relativity Records it seems… I need it.

There’s plenty more to say, more discs lurking beneath the desk and more besides lurking in my mind; but I will leave it there for now. Anyway, I think it’s time for a cup of tea – what can I say? I’m British. Fact.