Tuesday, 16 August 2011

A Night at the Movies... At The Proms: The Film Music Prom - Fri 12 Aug 2011

Never presume a concert is going to start at 7.30pm... Lesson learned. I didn’t actually miss any of Friday’s Film Music Prom at the Royal Albert Hall, but I did unwittingly sit in my seat just five minutes before conductor Keith Lockhart struck up the band.

The band in question was of course the always-wonderful and dexterous BBC Concert Orchestra, who launched full pelt into Bernard Herrmann’s ‘Prelude’ from The Man Who Knew Too Much. It was a fine start to an all too brief tribute to the composer, who of course would have been 100 this year, and with the film’s finale location in mind – not to mention Herrmann’s cameo on that very stage – it was all rather delicious. The exuberant ‘Overture’ from Citizen Kane went down well, as it always does, before Lockhart and Co. delivered Herrmann’s engrossing ‘Narrative’ of Psycho. Lovely to have a Herrmann presence at the Proms, however fleeting. The Moby Dick Cantata next year perhaps?

Chloe Hanslip was warmly received for her first half performance of Morricone’s oh-so-captivating theme from Cinema Paradiso. What an achievement that score is... So beautiful; and in the hands of the talented Hanslip it really did soar around that vast space and into our souls.
William Walton’s Henry V is highly revered, and rightly so. The lengthy ‘Suite’ presented at the Prom, rounding off the first half was perhaps a bridge too far for some. While the music rang out, jewel-like, intense and buoyant, it was interspersed with a live recital of parts from Shakespeare’s play by actor Rory Kinnear. This is no slight on Mr Kinnear’s talent, indeed it was a great performance of a selection of speeches; but for the uninitiated and – in my case – the unprepared, it was just a bit long. Minds wandered to the interval drink, the upcoming James Bond suite, or whether the Celeste player would nail the parts in Harry Potter... Still, a noble job and ably done.

Part two saw the ensemble bring out the big guns, opening with a selection of pieces by John Williams. Not a massive surprise for a seasoned film music concertgoer, but wonderful to hear the likes of Star Wars, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Schindler’s List at the Proms. The fanfares of the former rang out and tingled spines, while Potter’s dizzying spectacle, replete with perfect Celeste I might add, was suitably magic. Chloe Hanslip returned to take on Schindler’s List and proved yet again what a talent she is. The piece never fails to haunt and uplift in equal measure.

Jonny Greenwood is a talented chap isn’t he? I was so impressed by his score for There Will Be Blood and I couldn’t wait to hear his ‘Suite’ from Norwegian Woods at the Prom. I wasn’t disappointed. The orchestra was put through its paces to deliver some hair-raising avant garde devices, led by a simple repeated motif in the strings which finds itself bleeding out into the rest of the orchestra. Riveting is probably the best word to describe this music. I always imagine that for a ‘rock star’ composer, being given an orchestra to play with is just like having the most exciting toy in the world; hearing what Greenwood came up with cemented that thought. Very effective and a lot of fun.

Sir Richard Rodney Bennett celebrates his 75th birthday this year. I had the pleasure of meeting him a couple of years ago and he really is a proper gentleman. While his birthday has been noted by a whole Prom this season, the Film Music Prom wouldn’t have been right without a tip of the hat to him and his music. Murder on the Orient Express is probably one of his highest profile film scores and the selection of cues performed at the concert were just fantastic. It made me wonder why I haven’t sought out more of RRB’s stuff. Murder is just such a thrill; a bit camp, lavish and colourful with a period hue. It reminded me of a story about Bernard Herrmann, who at the time said RRB had got it all wrong “What was he thinking?!” he said “This is supposed to be a train of death...”. Classic. It’s true to say the venerable British composer didn’t go down a dark route for the killer thriller, but his tongue in cheek, romping and melodic music is some of his best and the concert performance was a standout of the evening, truly.

Finishing things off, and in tribute to the late John Barry, was a lovingly performed Out of Africa and a barnstorming suite of music from a variety of James Bond films. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Goldfinger and ‘The James Bond Theme’ were arranged together and played with bags of panache and enthusiasm. The twirling cellos in David Arnold’s ‘You Know My Name’ were a great touch and said much for the overall concert. Keith Lockhart is a real showman and he brought a great energy, wit and enthusiasm to the evening.

Up next? The Hooray for Hollywood Prom on 29 August! John Wilson and his fine orchestra whisk us back to Hollywood's Golden Age again, hot on the heels of the MGM Film Musicals Prom in 2009 and last year's glorious Rodgers & Hammerstein Prom. I can't wait! Full report coming soon...

With thanks to BBC Proms and Royal Albert Hall

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