Back to the Future (and the Bates Motel)

IMG_2301Film music was in the air on two sides of the country over the weekend and I was pleased to be able to experience the work of amazing composers, conductors and musicians at two wonderful venues.

Cheltenham has been alive with music of late with the town’s annual, and highly regarded, music festival in full swing. As the sun blazed in the skies over the gorgeous regency town I found myself sequestered in the stalls of Cheltenham Town Hall for an afternoon of rehearsals for that evening’s performance by the Britten Sinfonia. And what were they rehearsing? Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho… I had the pleasure of seeing ‘Psycho Live’ in Bristol last year and was impressed then by the performance of the British Sinfonietta under their energetic conductor Anthony Gabriele. Anthony’s passion for Herrmann shines through in his direction and (as a result) in the performance. He told me that he likes to education and illuminate the orchestra as to the importance and relevance of the music they are playing. Knowing why the music is shaped a certain way, or why a phrase or colour returns here and there allows the players to invest in the music, making it so much more than dots on a page, or just another concert. The conductor’s enthusiasm and love for the material passes to the players and the performance is so much better for it. While this Cheltenham concert featured just twenty-seven players (small forces compared to the original suggested line-up), they were intelligently arranged and divided so as to maximise their effectiveness. It certainly sounded a larger ensemble than it was and it was a total thrill to sit and watch the performance take shape. While the marriage of the music to the film is crucial, I especially loved the times when they ran through cues without the projector running and allowing those glorious, scintillating phrases to ring out. I couldn’t stay for the evening performance, but I left knowing that night’s crowd would not leave disappointed. Bernard Herrmann’s music is in the safest of hands with Anthony Gabriele…


The following day I ventured to London and the Royal Albert Hall for what turned out to be one amazing spectacle. Back to the Future celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year – indeed it was released in the US on 3 July 1985 (December in the UK). To mark the milestone, Alan Silvestri’s score is being performed live to picture at special concert dates around the world. This show marked the second ‘official’ performance, following on from the premiere night at the Hollywood Bowl just a few nights before.

While the UK premiere of the show might not have had the star factor of its Hollywood audience, one recognisable four-wheeled ‘performer’ made it along and posed for many a picture outside Door 6 of the hall – a fully kitted out Delorean. It was a great touch to have the car on site, though the real action and excitement was inside on stage.

Ludwig Wicki’s ’21st Century Orchestra’ (who previewed the show in Lucerne a little while ago) performed Silvestri’s music with so much energy; I’m not sure this music has ever sounded so good. The composer was himself present and I can’t imagine he would have had a bad thing to say about their performance; it really did leave us breathless and excited right from the start. And it was an earlier start than normal thanks to the composer creating around twenty minutes of brand new music for this live show. From a new overture into the Universal Pictures logo, fans experienced the opening scene with original underscore for the very first time. The original film doesn’t see any score until almost nineteen minutes in (when the Delorean is revealed), but this new live presentation offered a few newly scored moments. It’s almost hard to understand today why the scenes didn’t require music originally, though some additions were more successful than others. Less is more, though, I think and while the scenes were newly scored, the themes used were drawn from existing passages in Silvestri’s BTTF canon. Weirdly the most successful moment accompanied Lorraine McFly’s reminiscence of how she and George met; Silvestri utilising the sweet and tender love theme from Back to the Future Part III beautifully.

The second half was introduced with a wonderful entr’acte derived from the western theme composed for Part III, which was great to hear. It was this second half where things hotted up even more as we cheered and clapped for George McFly when he punched Biff and watched in awe as the orchestra delivered the dizzying and utterly brilliant ‘Clocktower’ cues when Doc literally races against time to help Marty get home. We applauded when the lightning hit and Marty was sent back, though I’m not sure if we were clapping for Doc Brown or the 21st Century Orchestra. It was a phenomenal performance.

My overriding memory of the show, though, was that standout moment in the film when Silvestri’s score merges with the music track from the High School dance. When the strings swept into ‘Earth Angel’ my spine tingled, and we applauded (again) as George and Lorraine finally kissed and saved their son’s existence.

I’m not sure we’ll forget our afternoon (and evening for those who went) at the Albert Hall and that journey back to 1955… live!

With thanks to Anthony Gabriele, Laura Edralin and the team at the Royal Albert Hall.