The smoky, futuristic world of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was brought viscerally to life last night at London’s Royal Festival Hall. One of the more intriguing programme additions at this year’s ‘Meltdown Festival’, this live performance of ‘Vangelis’ Soundtrack to Blade Runner’ attracted quite a crowd. Those who took the plunge and came along to the event were treated to a stunning display of musical performance by the Heritage Orchestra who faithfully recreated, with live mixing by festival curators Massive Attack, the music of the original soundtrack album – minus the dialogue.
Even before the concert-proper commenced, we were immersed in the performance space; dark, shadowy and billowing smoke, we knew this wasn’t to be your average concert experience. On a screen overhead archive images of Vangelis working on the score in his studio were cut together with footage from the film, while the air around us was permeated with drones and heartbeat effects – the room felt as though it were living. Gradually performers began to take their seats on the shadowy stage, and all of a sudden the performance began without fanfare or introduction; in fact the sounds we’d been hearing as we waited were the introduction.
From the heart-pounding tympani rolls that pre-empted the ‘Main Titles’, I knew that this was going to be something special and indeed not your average film music concert, nor your average orchestra. Everything about it was unconventional, apt considering Vangelis’ approach to scoring films and the resulting music. The strings (which, while live, were treated in the mix and sounded otherworldly), harp and piano were positioned at the rear of the stage, seemingly in darkness; while the percussionists, synthesists and alike performed along the front. It was an unusual set-up; however, the latter group played such an integral role in the piece that their positioning front and centre meant you could really see that all the Vangelis-like nuances were real and performed. Among the shadows, before slatted panels that glittered with clusters of light and numbers, the ensemble worked as one; a breathing musical organism creating wonderful sounds, sounds that at times hit you between the eyes, dived into your soul and burned themselves on your memory.
It’s difficult to pluck highlights from the gapless performance; however the solo performances by Janey Miller on Oboe d’amoure and Tom Richards on Alto Sax were very special. The latter of course shone in ‘Love Theme’, the most recognisable piece for the unfamiliar, and the first to elicit applause (very difficult to know when to clap when there are few definitive breaks in the music!). More applause came for the vocal numbers, with Guy Garvey performing ‘One More Kiss, Dear’ (always an amusing, though enjoyable, adjunct to the rest of the music), while Vashti Bunyan and Omar Ebrahim provided wonderfully earthy and ethereal vocals in ‘Rachel’s Song’ and ‘Tales of the Future’ respectively – highlights both.
The ‘Blade Runner (End Titles)’ came round all too quickly, though it was a barnstorming performance, and one of my favourite Vangelis compositions, which garnered a decidedly riotous response from the crowd. With the sound of falling rain came of course ‘Tears in the Rain’ and a return to the chilled, twinkling soulfulness of all that came before. The audience went wild, bows were taken and ‘more’ was cried for… but no more came. We didn’t really know what to expect upon going in, but in the end it absolutely did what it said on the tin – an hour (ish) of some of the most visceral film music, by one of the idiom’s most identifiable voices. It was perhaps all too short (I could have gone for another half hour at least!), but the performance was so intricately orchestrated – indeed those performers at the front spent the entire time running from one instrument to the next to hit their points – it was perhaps all they could muster. Blade Runner has been done on stage before, but I don’t think any of those interpretations would stand up to what took place at Meltdown last night; it was simply extraordinary – Vangelis would have been proud.
Originally published at Music from the Movies.com, June 2008.