Review: BBC NOW - America At The Movies @ SDH
And so a new BBC National of Orchestra season commences. We arrive at the BBC’s Sound Of Cinema festival, where all the greats of film composition come into the fray. With a special event like this, I had forgotten it was a new season for the orchestra. Things would be back to classical next month, but for now this concert.
Presented by Mark Kermode, one of Britain‘s most famous and most trusted film critics, it was a pleasure to have him in Cardiff, presenting this flamboyant concert of cinematic delights. Although he could at times could go on a little bit (not unlike me), he told us some funny Hollywood stories and facts, figures and home truths on all things cinema.
With the baton under Robert Ziegler, the orchestra gathered up soundtracks taken from nine different films. It’s a lot of work for them, compared to just an overture-concerto-symphony evening. My personal favourites were by the greats Bernard Herrmann and Howard Shore. Herrmann’s suite to Hitchcock’s Vertigo is a terrorising, swirling cocktail of notes and noises. The music for the dream sequence is masterful and is arguably one of the best scenes in all of cinema.
The other Herrmann score happened to be his very last work, Taxi Driver. Having died the day after it was recorded, it evokes the streets of New York with smoky tones, seedy jabs and a stellar saxophone solo, beautifully played on the night by John Copper. Herrmann originally refused to write the music (he found the film far too violent and sexualised), yet was soon bowled over by the sheer persistence of the films director, Martin Scorsese.
Other more familiar scores were Batman and Indiana Jones, which I have heard live before and I can’t get too excited about. There were plenty of young people at this concert, one girl remarking how much she was looking forward to hearing the Batman score. Danny Elfman who famously did the theme tune for The Simpsons, created the theme that would epitomise the Batman of the 90s, be it on the big screen or the animated version I recall on TV.
John Williams, who needs little introduction, was written some of the most famous film scores ever. Star Wars, Jaws, ET and Indiana Jones. He is the most nominated person in Oscar history and can claim five of the gongs as his own. Familiar stuff to end the first half of the concert.
The Howard Shore piece, who would later go on to write the staggering music for the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, had a curious instrument to coincide with it. His theme from Tim Burton’s film Ed Wood uses the early electronic instrument, the theremin. Here played by Lydia Kavina, it's five minutes of the best Latino rhythmic and sci-fi sounding medley you could get. It’s the theremin, which is famous for its eerie and warbling sounds in countless science fiction, horror and other films. Kavina, who is in fact a distant relative of the original creator of the device LÃ©on Theremin, gave us an introduction to the space age contraption to our delight and amazement. I’ve heard the similar sounding ondes Martenot a few times live, but never this. A real treat for the ears.
Ed Wood is a brilliant portrayal of how the ‘worst film-maker ever’ made his craft and robbed countless people into funding his projects. You can’t hate the guy, especially because how cheerful and zesty Johnny Depp made him appear. He was even a cross-dresser and still loved women. You can admire his zeal and devout passion for making his films. It just they happened to be absolute drivel. One of my favourite films and arguably Tim Burton’s best work.
The theremin got a second wind in the Spellbound Concerto by Hungarian composer MiklÃ³s RÃ³zsa. Taken from another Hitchcock film, it’s a little concerto for piano and for our electronic friend we have gotten to know. I could have heard much more from the Theremin, such as the end music for Ed Wood or even Laurence Of Arabia. It was very fashionable in the 1940s to have music for a film that was practically a piano concerto. This could then be done in the concert hall as well, as with this work.
Leonard Bernstein’s On The Waterfront Suite was a bombastic way to end the evening. Not many film scores by film, but still impressive. I made a discovery in David Raksin and his Theme For Laura (not to be confused with the Laura Palmer Theme from Twin Peaks, of course). Elmer Bernstein’s The Magnificent Seven Theme was a resoundingly good start to the concert.
I’m sure this year will be a great mix of music and events. I will now think of some recommendations for BBC NOW to consider for the coming seasons.
I may be some timeâ€¦