City of Birmingham Symphony, Lafayette Symphony and Brussels Philharmonic (including a new interview with the Maestro)…
Friday, October 10, 2008 – Symphony Hall, Birmingham, UK
The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Seal
‘John Williams Blockbusters’
Presented by Thomas Pearson
REVIEW #1 by ‘AJ_Vader’
LAST NIGHT WAS INCREDIBLE!!!!!!
Ratings in brackets are for performance, not how much i like the original composition
Raider’s of the Lost Ark – Raider’s March – was a brilliant opening to the evening concert, the brass was right on the money, very enjoyable peice (4/5)
Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone – Nimbus 2000 and Hedwig’s Theme – was suprised to hear this so early, but that didn’t matter as the orchestra captured the magic of the peice and give it a beautiful performance. “Nimbus 2000” was a nice treat to hear just before the fantastic version of“Hedwig’s Theme”, which I was over the moon to hear, than the over played “Harrys Wonderous World”.(5/5)
Schindler’s List – Theme – was as always a joy to hear in the concert hall, such a moving performance from the solo violinist. I nearly had a tear in my eye at the end of the peice, but had i done the program i would have had this later on in the concert. (4/5)
Munich – A Prayer for Peace – now I know I’m going to get my head sawed off by some members on here now, because i’d never heard this before. I have to say it was a joy to hear and fit beautifully well next to the Schindler’s List Theme. (4/5)
Close Encounters of a Third Kind – Excerpts – this was a brilliant peice to hear by the orchestra, as its full of big brass hits, sweeping whistling strings and wirling woodwinds, the peice was performed very well. (4/5)
Star Wars – A New Hope – Main Title and Princess Leia’s Theme – This was definatley without a doubt the highlight of the evening for me. The “Main Title” was the best live version i’ve ever heard, everything about it was perfect and the orchestra made it there own. (5/5) I was a bit dissapointed with Princess Leia’s Theme as the french horn solo at the beggining of the peice wasn’t really up to scratch which shocked me after what i’d just heard, there were a couple of shoddy notes played. (3/5)
Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back – Yoda’s Theme and The Imperial March – This was performed so amazingly brilliant its hard to believe. “Yoda’s Theme” was performed by the french horns and cellos so very well and was so suprised to hear a good performance of it. (5/5) Then the most amazing part of the night happened when the orchestra all hit that Bass G Note and played that ostinato for four bars and then the brass swells out a very powerful rendition of “The Imperial March”. There were stormtroopers coming out aiming weapons at the crowd, then after the quite B section the orchestra starts to build the excitement of the peice, then as the bigger version of the “Vader Theme” was played, Darth Vader himself appeared on the Balcony and was conducting! the peice was amazingly played and on the ostinato bit the percussion really excelled! (5/5)
Watch The Imperial March here! –
– INTERVAL –
Olympic Fanfare and Theme – an overall flawless version of this peice was played and not much more can be said, it was very enjoyable and flawless. (5/5)
JFK – Theme – I must say this is probably the best version i’ve heard of this peice, I loved the whole thing. (5/5)
Saving Private Ryan – Hymn to the Fallen – after hearing all the bombastic peice of Williams, it was a joy to hear one of his somber peices at the concert like this and again the orchestra excelled itself. (5/5)
The Lost World – Theme – now this is another peice i’ve never heard before, but the percussion on this track was a joy to hear, overall a good performance, but would have prefered the Jurassic Park Theme. (4/5)
E.T. – Adventures on Earth – this is (after Star Wars) my favourite Williams’ Pieces. The orchestra played it so well, i did have a tear in my eye and im not afraid to admit it!. (5/5)
Superman – Theme – another brilliant flawless performance from the orchestra for another one of Williams big bombastic peices. (5/5)
– ENCORE –
Star Wars: A New Hope – The Throne Room and End Titles – After hearing such an amazing performance of the “Main Title” I was expecting this to be another hit of the night and it really was, the peice was performed just as well as the “Main Title”, if not better. The peice ended with a flourish. (5/5)
Overall Concert has to be (5/5)
Just a fantastic night
Thankyou CBSO!!! and UK Garrison!!!
REVIEW #2 by ‘Damien’
It had long been an ambition of mine to attend a concert at Birmingham’s fantastic Symphony Hall, so when I found out quite by chance that the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra would be performing a programme of music by my favourite composer, John Williams, I didn’t need to think twice. The acoustically superb Symphony Hall quite rightly claims to be one of the finest concert halls in Europe (if not the world) and the prospect of hearing the maestro’s music performed there by a world-class orchestra was an opportunity too good to miss.
After a brief introduction from the reassuring presence of the knowledgeable and humorous Tommy Pearson, conductor Michael Seal raised his baton for the evening’s first highlight, the Raiders March fromRaiders of the Lost Ark. I waited with the usual mix of excitement and trepidation, hoping that the orchestra would not let me down. I needn’t have worried, because as soon as the five trumpets intoned that memorable main theme in perfect unison, I knew that the audience would be in for a great evening. There are so many possible ways to start a John Williams concert, but the Raiders March is as good as any and was played to perfection by the CBSO.
Next on the programme were two selections from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Nimbus 2000 and the brilliant Hedwig’s Theme. The former showcased the orchestra’s exceptional woodwind section – I will stick my neck out here and say that, on tonight’s showing, the CBSO’s woodwind section is the best that I have ever heard, flautist Marie-Christine Zupancic and oboist Rainer Gibbons deserving particular credit. The latter piece was performed well (the celeste part played nimbly by Alistair Young), although John Williams completists will have noticed the absence of the ‘surprise’ coda at the very end of the piece. During the interval I was amused to overhear a woman asking her husband, in the queue for the ice creams, “I’d love to know what that piano with the bells in is called!” If only they’d referred to the celeste in the programme notes. Hang on a minute, they did.
A change in mood saw performances of music from two of Spielberg’s most serious films, starting with the theme from Schindler’s List. While the orchestra’s leader Laurence Jackson received most of the plaudits for his poignant violin solo, the performance of the cor anglais part by Peter Walden was also simply beautiful and was much more prominent than I have ever heard before, giving the piece the feel of a plaintive duet between violin and cor anglais. As the programme notes pointed out, it was a supreme riposte to those who think that John Williams only does big and brassy.
Wonderful though it is to hear John Williams’s best-known pieces, it is always a pleasure to hear something less familiar, obscure even. A Prayer for Peace from Munich was therefore an inspired choice and an apt companion piece to that which had preceded it. The brass, woodwind and percussion players were able to sit this one out as the CBSO’s string players showed off their obvious skills.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind has always been one of my favourite scores and I never tire of hearing it in concert. I think the opening crescendo took some of the audience members by surprise, as there were a few gasps following the orchestral hit at the end of Let There Be Light. While it would be a dream come true to hear this piece performed live with a choir, until that happens the CBSO gave a performance of the usual suite as accomplished as one could hope to hear.
The first half of the concert concluded with four selections from the first two Star Wars movies. First up was the Main Title music, the orchestra clearly revelling in being able to flex its orchestral muscle. It is worth noting that the conductor’s tempi throughout were spot on – nothing taken too fast or too slow for my liking. This was followed by the lovely Princess Leia’s Theme. Unfortunately there were a couple of flubs from the horn soloist at the beginning (and I am well aware that that is the most fiendishly difficult of instruments to play), although the following flute solo from the aforementioned Miss Zupancic was absolutely note-perfect, undoubtedly the best I’ve ever heard it played. Brava!
Yoda’s Theme was an interesting yet inspired choice. While I certainly do not dislike it, it has perhaps suffered in comparison to some of Williams’s other Star Wars themes by appearing among the embarrassment of riches that is the score to The Empire Strikes Back. The CBSO’s rendition gave me a new appreciation for the piece and, had it not been for the fact that I did not get home until 1.30 in the morning, it would have been the first thing in my CD player.
It simply would not have been fair if only the good side of the Force was represented, so to even things up the first half concluded with the forceful (see what I did there?) Imperial March. To the surprise and delight of most of the audience, five armed stormtroopers and one biker scout entered the arena to guard the stage and threaten the audience. I must confess that I’d seen them arrive at the concert hall with their costumes a couple of hours before, but although the surprise element was missing for me, it was nonetheless enormous fun. Half way through the piece, some squeals of delight from fellow audience members drew my attention to the organ loft where, behind the choir seats and high above the orchestra, the dark lord Darth Vader himself had arrived to oversee proceedings and ensure that Michael Seal maintained an appropriate tempo. To rapturous applause, the biker scout (who was perhaps a little small for a stormtrooper!) led the conductor away under guard. It would be remiss of me not to credit the 501st UK Garrison of stormtroopers who I understand give their services for free in return for a donation to charity. They remained in the foyers during the intervals and willingly posed for photos with audience members and passers by. I enjoyed seeing a uniformed PCSO (Police Community Support Officer), on his knees and with his hands on his head as if held under arrest, flanked by two stormtroopers while his colleague took photos on her mobile phone.
The second half of the concert began in unusual fashion with some clown near me opening a bag of sweets and proceeding to unwrap one with all the dexterity of a baby giraffe wearing boxing gloves. This ‘performance’ was interpolated with the antiphonal brass of the CBSO playing John Williams’s Olympic Fanfare and Theme. Charles Ives would have been proud! Thankfully, the version performed was the one with Williams’s stunning opening fanfare rather than the one with Leo Arnaud’s music uncomfortably tacked on. I don’t know what the horn players had put in their tea during the interval, but they were excellent in the second half of the concert.
Next up was music from JFK, effectively the prologue music with a subtly different last couple of bars to suit the concert format. Now Tim Morrison is a tough act to follow and those in the audience familiar with the score must have been willing the CBSO’s trumpet soloist Alan Thomas to nail it. Well, nail it he did and it was no surprise to read later that he lists John Williams as his favourite composer. Conductor Seal rightfully got him to take a bow for his flawless performance.
John Williams has gone on record as saying that whenever he performs Jaws in concert, people start to laugh in recognition and the Birmingham audience was no exception. This was the first time I had ever heard this piece live and it was thrilling. So great are the acoustics in Symphony Hall (it is said that a pin dropped on stage can be heard clearly from every one of the 2,262 seats in the auditorium) that the opening low sonorities of the piano and harp, almost inaudible on most recordings if they are included at all, really stood out. Tuba player Jonathan Riches stood for a well-deserved ovation at the end.
Hymn to the Fallen from Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan is a difficult piece to replicate without a choir. I had heard it performed by the LSO at the Barbican in 2005 and although the orchestra played it wonderfully then, the absence of the choral element was noticeable – it just didn’t sound quite right. Therefore to provide the essential timbre required, the CBSO used a synthesised choir (performed by the pianist / celeste player) and I felt it worked well in what was a very moving performance.
This was followed by one of the highlights of the evening, in my opinion. I know there are plenty of John Williams fans that like The Lost World as much as, if not more than, his music for Jurassic Park (I happen to be one of them). It was a real treat therefore to hear a breathtaking performance of the theme by the CBSO, the six percussionists clearly relishing their moment in the spotlight. There was a really nice touch immediately afterwards when the timpanist and drummer turned and shook hands as if to acknowledge a job well done. Eager John Williams fans will have noticed a few subtle differences between the album version and this concert version, notably a few extra bars after the first few bars of the timpani introduction, and a longer passage just before the end.
Tommy Pearson introduced the penultimate selection, Adventures on Earth (the concert version) fromE.T., with the now famous anecdote about Spielberg turning off the projector and editing the film to fit the music. It was another thrilling performance in which the five French horn players were on top form.
The last scheduled piece was, of course, the march from Superman, as fitting a way to end the concert as the Raiders March was to begin it. Hearing the CBSO’s large brass section (totalling sixteen players – five trumpets, five horns, five trombones and tuba) tackle the music for the man of steel was proof positive of John Williams’s genius.
The appreciative audience wanted more and it was to be something from Star Wars, this time the Throne Room and End Title. While most of the audience would have happily stayed for more, we were compensated with the news that, by popular demand, there would be a repeat performance of the concert on 24th January 2009. I would recommend it unreservedly to anyone who missed out first time round.
Sunday, October 12, 2008, Kuipke-Citadelpark, Ghent, Belgium
The Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Dirk Brossé
Flemish Radio Choir, Musa Horti and the Flemish Opera Children’s Choir.
(NEW John Williams interview on the occasion of the concert)
35th Film Festival Ghent 2008
Review by ‘Fommes’
Here’s a lengthier appraisal of the concert.
First of all, I thought the programme was rather good, much better than I had expected (I thought all the selections would be from his blockbuster films, but not so.) Personally, I would have added a bit more from his even lesser known scores (for the grand public, that is) like The Eiger Sanction or The Long Goodbye, etc., but I suppose that the involvement of Williams himself (which was probably not much more than suggesting a few things and greenlighting the thing, though) would have made that rather more difficult. The only ‘blockbuster’ item that I personally found lacking was “Parade of the Slave Children”.
All the selections that were played were the usual concert suites from these scores.
– Hook – Flight to Neverland: the usual suite, not so fluid opening seconds but the rest was great. I think it’s the same suite as can be found on the Williams on Williams album.
– Far & Away: it’s obvious the orchestra wasn’t always in unison on this one but nevertheless great suite to hear live.
– The Terminal: the album version. The soloist played decent enough, but he lacked a kind of verve or panache, perhaps, or even just pace, and wasn’t entirely up to the real speed of the thing (the performance slowed down on occasions). He also made the occasional error, the most notable being in the final measures of the piece. At this kind of musical/professional level, I’d personally expect the soloist’s performance to be flawless (and certainly without obvious mistakes).
– Memoirs from a Geisha: the usual (great!) concert suite. I wish we had a good sounding recording of this. Doesn’t this have two versions, with differences in orchestration? It was the one with the flute opening the theme rather than the cello.
– Close Encounters of the Third Kind: surely one of the best performances of the evening. This might be the piece that I most enjoyed, and hearing this live is a blast. I can’t remember if this was the long nine-/ten-minute suite, or the shorter 4-/5-minute one. (I think the latter.)
– 1941 – March: never thought I’d be hearing this in concert! This was just plain fun, and pieces like this, along with the more atonal writing like Close Encounters, show the conductor Dirk Brossé at his best.
– Schindler’s List: I was a bit disappointed that they played the theme, because the real highlight of this score is “Remembrances”, in my opinion. Difficult piece to live up to the expectations – often the solo violists will be obnoxious in their sound and speed; but the soloist was really good. His violin also had a really warm and moving sound. If I have one caveat, it would be that near the latter part of the piece, he tried a bit tóó hard to be musical – he tried to play with feeling on every note. Don’t get me wrong, I love how he plays something musically, but you got to realize that there’s an orchestra and there are measures behind it as well. Anyway, very nice performance.
– Jaws: too slow, unfortunately. This was perhaps an artistic choice – because Brossé usually tries to keep the tempo high enough. Too bad, because the performance itself was good.
– E.T. – Flying Theme: nice performance, nothing spectacular, but great to hear this live for sure.
– The Raiders March: always great to hear this live, no matter how many times you’ve heard it.
– The Patriot: very run-of-the-mill/generic Williams score, so I’d rather they played something else (likeSeven Years in Tibet or so). Decent enough performance. I don’t believe the concert suite is available somewhere on CD?
– Saving Private Ryan – Hymn to the Fallen: the first time we heard the choir. This is one of my favourite pieces, and very impressive to hear live. The choirs were all rather good on all the pieces.
– Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone – Harry’s Wondrous World: the Harry Potter pieces were the best evidence that this orchestra has really improved. They did a Harry Potter concert a few years back in Ostend, and there the performances were sometimes quite bad (especially the brass section).
– Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – The Knight Bus: again, much clearer and better performance than a few years back. Really fun to hear this extended concert arrangement live.
– Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – Double Trouble: they had to drop this in Ostend (I think because they had no choir?), so I was really looking forward to this concert arrangement. Good performance from choir and orchestra. Both this arrangement and the last piece are available on Silva’s 2-CD compilation of the series.
– Home Alone: sadly, they only played “Somewhere in my Memory”, which is a piece that’s really well known, if I’m not mistaken, in the U.S., but not really over here, and they didn’t include the wonderful main title of the film, which is for me the real highlight of these scores.
– Amistad – Dry your Tears: the first choral statement of the theme was by the children’s choir (an artistic choice, I guess, since they had that choir available for “Double Trouble” anyway?). The intention was good for sure (nice variation), but unfortunately the children were really out of tone on this one. It became soon apparent it wasn’t really written for children’s choir, I suppose. Rather strange orchestral opening as well (I guess they lacked some of the percussion, and tried to solve it partly through the piano, but it didn’t really sound fully-fledged.) The rest was great though. It was the concert version of the theme. I think this is available on the Silva compilation, but I should check that.
– Star Wars – Theme: great to hear live. Like in the earlier open-air concert in Ghent this summer, Brossé really keeps up the tempo on this one, gets as much dynamics as possible out of the orchestra.
– Revenge of the Sith – Battle of the Heroes: again, here and there perhaps not dynamic enough, but overall chilling performance. The speakers were too loud during the whole evening (esp. second half), and this became really apparent especially during these loud pieces from Star Wars.
– Attack of the Clones – Across the Stars: nice performance, but why did they cut this piece short? It really didn’t have any ending at all, the end came out of the blue. Really strange, and a pity. Do they shorten this in concerts in the US as well in Star Wars suites?
– The Phantom Menace – Duel of the Fates: what a blast; a terrific ending to the programme.
– The Empire Strikes Back – The Imperial March: nice addition to the programme, for sure.
– Raiders of the Lost Ark – Raiders March: too bad they chose a piece they already played. Temple of Doom would have fit in nicely. But hearing this twice is better than not at all I suppose.
Organisation-wise, there’s always something that’s wrong with the Ghent filmfestival’s concerts, in my experience. We had really good seats – par terre, almost in the middle, but I presume for the people in the stands, the sound can’t have been good at all. (The concert was held in a cycling arena.) Of course that’s a structural problem (there’s no venue in Belgium large enough for concerts like this and The Lord of the Rings, etc., I think). But why not spread it over several days in smaller concert venues…? Also, there were problems with the speakers (ideally, of course, you don’t need speakers at a concert with a symphonic orchestra): static in a few instances, mixed too loud esp. in the second half, etc. All respect for the daunting organisation of such an event, but things like this shouldn’t happen. (Especially after problems with the mixing/speakers during the entire first half of The Lord of the Rings concert).
For us personally, however, the worst thing, this time, were the two photographers that were taking pictures during the whole first part of the concert – taking like hundred photographs of the same orchestra. They were just clicking away the whole time, and preferably even during the more silent parts. You just can’t believe the amateurism sometimes.
As I already said, the orchestra has really improved, and the performances were decent; but in the end could be perhaps slightly better for one of the better orchestras of the country… Perhaps they never get much repetition time, (or perhaps don’t bother for film music?), I don’t know. But I was pleasantly surprised, really. Overall, Dirk Brossé, as always, saves the evening, demanding such a high level of performance. He’s just such a great conductor.
In the end, it was a great evening. Just hearing these pieces live for the first time is an experience of its own.
Really too bad for the people that didn’t make it! Next time there’s a really good concert programmed, we should get it planned better.
Incidentally, James Newton Howard was at the World Soundtrack Awards this weekend – really impressive, and even more so considering Trevor Jones was also there (along with meanwhile regulars like David Arnold et al.) – so who knows, perhaps there’ll be a concert of his music too, in the near future. We might meet up then. (Although, talk of a David Arnold concert has been around for a number of years, and they haven’t done that yet either, so this might be false alarm.)
Saturday, October 18, 2008
The Lafayette Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nick Palmer
The Movie Music of John Williams
REVIEW BY DICK JAEGER
Definitive musical scores for movies have long been a staple in the motion picture business. Their purpose is to enhance the action and heighten the dramatic or comedic aura of the celluloid activity.
The name of John Williams bubbles to the top of the group of major composers, and the Lafayette Symphony Orchestra did a great service in bringing a concert program that included only music by this versatile and competent musician.