Friday, 3 June 2011

Film Music Gala 2011

A month later than usual and a change of title didn’t stop the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from laying on another delectable feast of fine film music classics. Their annual film music concert, now known as 'Film Music Gala', is always a popular event, featuring performances of some of the best in blockbusting film music and a sprinkling of new treats.

The packed house at the Royal Albert Hall were in fine mood – possibly thanks to the balmy weather outside – and that mood was lifted further with the RPO’s characteristically sturdy renditions of main themes from Gladiator, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Mission: Impossible, Out of Africa, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List and Star Wars.

Those crowd-pleasers aside – though Clio Gould’s performance of Williams’ Schindler’s List was top-notch, not to mention the always hair-raising Jurassic Park – the highlights for me came from other programme selections…

It is of course Bernard Herrmann’s centenary year, indeed his big 100 is on 29 June, and as such film and film music fans are being treated to all kinds of tributes and celebrations the world over. Last night was no exception as the RPO performed music from four of the esteemed composer’s greatest film scores; his first, Citizen Kane; his last, Taxi Driver and his two biggest Hitchcock classics: Vertigo and Psycho. Hearing Herrmann’s music live is always a thrill for me and as always the selection from Taxi Driver raised hairs and blood-pressure with its violent throws and delicious Saxophone lines. Psycho was afforded the usual giggles when it came to ‘The Murder’, not least of all because conductor Paul Bateman, baton clenched in his fist, ‘stabbed’ the orchestra through the cue… inspired. The tribute to Herrmann was made all the more special by the presence of his widow Norma, who waved and gave a hearty thumbs-up from her seat in the stalls.

The event is always blessed with special guest conductors and this year was no exception as in the first half we were treated to two suites of music by the great John Scott, who was on hand to direct the orchestra. On paper the selections may not have inspired too much excitement from the layman, but the performances of music from Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan and The Final Countdown proved to be some of the biggest and most exciting of the entire evening. It was a special moment for Bristol-born Scott who recorded the latter score with the orchestra at CTS-Wembley back in 1980, so it was something of a reunion and the band did him proud. When briefly interviewed by presenter Tommy Pearson about his music and the influence of Bernard Herrmann on composers in general, Scott was enthusiastic and went on to make something of a faux-pas as he exclaimed he was always impressed and blown away by Herrmann’s music for Hitchcock’s Rope… The film was of course some seven years before Herrmann and Hitchcock first worked together (on The Trouble With Harry) and what little music was in the film was by the uncredited David Buttolph. Of course only a complete film music nut and Herrmann aficionado like myself would croak and sputter at such a mistake and it likely went over the heads of the majority of the gathered mass.

Part Two saw the RPO joined by one of its very special friends and ‘Film Music Gala’ regular, Debbie Wiseman. Debbie is a popular figure at the event and she always has something new up her sleeve (whether she has any or not, in this case it was a sleeveless, off the shoulder number) and for her 2011 stint she brought with her a new concert arrangement of her gloriously perky 1999 score for Tom’s Midnight Garden and the premiere of music from The Promise, which she scored this year for Peter Kosminsky and Channel 4. It goes without saying both pieces went down well, the latter fizzing with high drama…

So another RPO Film Music Frenzy (perhaps next year’s title?) ticked off the calendar and a highly enjoyable evening, as ever. It’s just smashing to see so many people beaming with delight as classics of the silver screen play out and not just us mere mortals. I spotted an Oscar-winner in the crowd, not to mention Christopher Gunning, and Hi De Hi's Su Pollard! It takes all sorts it seems.

Till next time!

With thanks to Doran Harding, Royal Albert Hall and Debbie Wiseman.