When a composer reaches a significant birthday it’s usually an apt time to celebrate not just the milestone but a timely opportunity to celebrate a career and look over the shoulder somewhat. This year we’ve seen amazing concert tributes to some of the world’s greatest film composers; James Horner turned sixty in August and was celebrated by Hollywood In Vienna in October. That concert was truly one of the hottest tickets of the year and for those of you, like me, who were unable to make it to Austria the entire concert is available to view on youtube here.
Just days later the film music world focused its attention on London’s Royal Albert Hall and composer Danny Elfman, who turned sixty in May. ‘The Music of Danny Elfman from the Films of Tim Burton’ was, again, a hot ticket and I was blessed to be able to go along and witness the concert – a premiere performance presided over by John Mauceri and the BBC Concert Orchestra ahead of a UK and US tour. The night will remain with me for a long time to come; the atmosphere sizzled and the orchestra kicked ass through suite after suite and cue after cue. We were truly dazzled, and what a TREAT to see and hear Danny Elfman perform, as Jack Skellington, songs from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Goosebumps all round.
1953 really seems to have been a good year for film music as yet another much loved composer found himself turning sixty this year (in April..). Patrick Doyle’s big birthday was celebrated in fine style just last night by the London Symphony Orcherstra at their home venue The Barbican. The composer, who has been writing film music for some twenty-five years now, is not just a talented artist, but a genuinely warm and humorous man. His infectious spirit made for one of the warmest and most easy-going concert experiences I’ve encountered.
A pre-concert talk, presented by the LSO’s Principal Flautist Gareth Davies (a genial host who has just written a book about life at the LSO) found the birthday boy on top form. Davies joked that he might only get one question in, the first, and leave Patrick to do the rest; being the talkative raconteur that he is. As it happened what transpired over the next forty-five minutes was an interview that was at times hilariously funny, endlessly interesting and surprisingly moving. Patrick talked candidly about the Leukemia he fought (and beat) and how he literally sucked all the energy and life he could out of a family photo next to his bed. He also revealed that while he was in hospital he didn’t have the strength or focus to read, watch television, or do anything… except write music. Amazingly he took on a scoring project during this time and, with a month’s extension from the studio, actually completed The Magic Sword: Quest for Camelot whilst in hospital.
In a career that has seen his star rise, plateau and rise further still, following the likes of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Eragon, Thor and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Pat has remained one of the most creative, versatile and hard working composers in the country. His recent resurgence in big box office pictures comes from an attitude to the art form which sees him embracing (however much he might not like it) new trends and technologies. He frankly admitted to buying a computer back in the day and leaving it unopened for a long time… Now though he works closely with young composers, arrangers and technicians who are able to support him in delivering the kinds of scores the pictures of the day demand. Long time collaborator Kenneth Branagh has also taken on more mainstream work of late, directing the likes of Thor and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, and given the pair’s notable creative partnership it’s no wonder the composer felt he had to step up to the mark and adapt his way of working if he was going to follow him.
That quarter century career was encapsulated last night in a programme that took in the glorious first feature score (for Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V), through the brilliant Much Ado About Nothing, Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Wah-Wah. The combined presence of Emma Thompson and Sir Derek Jacobi (who both performed during the evening), not to mention Alan Rickman and Richard E. Grant (who were in the audience, amongst other familiar faces) added a stamp of authenticity to the proceedings given their involvement with those films. Thompson, fresh from the recently released Saving Mr Banks, opened the show with a performance of ‘The Picnic’ from Much Ado…, while Jacobi thundered his way through ‘My Thoughts Be Bloody’ from Hamlet. Both speeches were performed with the music running beneath, which might annoy some music purists (and vice versa) but for me it was a visceral addition to the programme (and what a treat to sit before such talents).
Highlights flowed, with the London Symphony Chorus raising hairs with the ever-brilliant ‘Non Nobis Domine’ from Henry V, while Patrick’s own children came together with the orchestra to perform the composer’s original song for Calendar Girls (‘I find your love’, written with Beth Nielsen Chapman). Further standout moments came with a lengthy and very colourful suite from Pixar’s Brave, with glorious piping from Lorne MacDougall and Callum Stewart (Bagpipes and Uilleann Pipes respectively), while a premiere performance of music from the forthcoming Paramount film Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit gave us a taste of the new. Doyle’s music appears to continue the strong mark left by Basil Poledouris and Jerry Goldsmith on other Jack Ryan pictures, with both a rousing Russian chorus and stirring anthem both in check. In the programme notes the composer admits that this latest work is unlike anything he’s ever done before, embracing more synthetic sounds than ever before. With that comment in mind I think we were lucky to hear the music arranged for such robust forces.
One non film piece made it into the programme, the composer’s ‘Corarsik for Violin and Orchestra’. Written for Emma Thompson’s fiftieth birthday, and finding its roots in the Scottish landscape, the work was chosen by Thompson on BBC Radio 4′s Desert Island Discs as the piece she would rescue. The very personal work had a very public airing last night, though, and the performance by violinist Tomo Keller was enchanting.
It was a small shame that music from Thor was cut from the line-up, so too the proposed encore of ‘Creation’ from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. With no encore and not even so much as a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ it would be easy to perhaps feel like something was missing. There was so much love and respect for Patrick in the hall, however, you’d have to be fairly cold-hearted to have left with nothing less than a broad smile on your face. Family, friends and fans (famous or otherwise) truly came together for a celebration of a man, in the shape of a birthday party, disguised as a concert. I for one am glad I was there and my enduring memory of the evening, aside from the amazing performances from all involved, was the sight of Patrick and his wife, Lesley, swaying merrily to ‘Potter’s Waltz’ from The Goblet of Fire a few rows in front of me. The moment is indicative of a man who finds joy in all things and whose heart is truly one of the biggest in the business. Happy Birthday Pat…
With thanks to Dvora Lewis PR and the London Symphony Orchestra. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is in cinemas on 31 January 2014