ROLL OUT THE CLASSICS… AGAIN: Filmharmonic at the Royal Albert Hall – Friday May 9th 2008

There was something in the air last night at the Royal Albert Hall, and it wasn’t just music. The few thousand people who massed beneath the grand dome had either had way too much sun, or they hadn’t had a live film music fix for some time. It is a year since the last ‘Filmharmonic’, so perhaps they were starved somewhat. While the Royal Philharmonic’s annual film music celebration offers few surprises these days, it still draws in the crowds and what a crowd they were. Thunderous applause, laughter and excitement were common ingredients as the orchestra played out some of the silver screen’s best-loved themes. Any mention of John Williams and one section of the crowd would holler and hoot excitedly, particularly when the first blast of the now ubiquitous Star Wars theme erupted from the orchestra.

This was a staple set list really, one that might make the regular concertgoer yawn (particularly in that heat); however, there is no denying the power of the great film themes, particularly when they are played by one of the world’s best ensembles. Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Superman, Jurassic Park and Gladiator were all accounted for, each of which went down a storm with the Classic FM crowd and each performed with much energy. The balance was a bit off in places, strings sometimes lost in the heavy brass and percussion; but those are things the average listener wouldn’t pay heed to. Something even the most casual fan would have winced at was the rendition of Chariots of Fire. What is it about a glorious synth score being played orchestrally (and vice versa of course)? The tempo was sluggish and the percussion way out of time, resulting in red faces all round I would imagine, well mine certainly was.

One of the big draws of this show for me is the guest conductors and this year offered two British composers, Debbie Wiseman and Christopher Gunning. Filmharmonic wouldn’t be the same without Debbie and once again she put on a fine show, bringing, as usual, something fresh and exciting. Although she had premiered Orsum Island at her own concert with the RPO a few weeks ago, the Albert Hall audience were treated to her stunning adventure score, performed by an enlarged ensemble this time. To top off her stint, Debbie conducted her suite from Wilde, which may seem an obvious choice, but this was actually the first time she had conducted it at Filmharmonic. Thanks to a slight mishap in the music library (so I was informed afterwards), the piano part went AWOL and as such the suite was shorter than it was meant to be. Of course nobody but a complete film music geek would notice such a thing (what, me?) and the crowd certainly didn’t as they started clapping before the final section had even begun!

Christopher Gunning, fresh from his BAFTA triumph for La Vie En Rose, took to the podium to conduct his glorious music from the film. The suite really was a highlight of the entire evening, which he followed with a rather lengthy suite of ‘Poirot Variants’. It really was a bit long, but the performance on solo sax by young musician Josie Simmons was very soulful and full of character, bringing Agatha Christie’s famous French detective to life before our ears.

The very full programme also featured Barry’s Zulu and Out of Africa, Bernstein’s The Great Escape (which always starts people tittering?!) and Myer’s beautiful ‘Cavatina’ from The Deer Hunter; classics all. Rounding out the ultimate in crowd pleasing entertainment was Mission: Impossible and Rocky… If ever there were two contenders for excision next year then those would be at the top of my list; enough RPO, take note! The latter piece was the encore as usual and it got people clapping along, which once again made me think. This stuff really is golden and people adore it; film music is powerful stuff, always exciting and endlessly entertaining.

After the show was over a film composer came up to me (I won’t name names) and said ‘what was that last piece..?’ Suffice to say it was their first time…


Originally published at Music from the, May 2008.