Finlandia Hall, Helsinki (Finland)
Saturday, September 6, 2003
The Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Atso Almila
‘An Adventure in Space: Helsinki Philharmonic Perform the Music from the Unforgettable Space Movies’
Concert Review by Mikko Ojala
I was thrilled when I first read in the paper about a concert where the Helsinki Philharmonic orchestra would be performing music from the famous space movies including Star Wars as a part of the annual Helsinki Festival, a series of culture events all around our capital. I can tell you that film music is rarely performed in Finland since not any major orchestras seem to be too keen on playing the music from the movies for it is seen as something less exalted than the classical repertoire. Since I have moved in our capital I have heard of two film music concerts and they were not exactly advertised for the general public.
Of course I rushed to buy the tickets to this one in a decade event and I happened to get the best seats in the Finlandia Hall since not many were buying theirs so early in advance! I waited patiently the concert for a month and finally the evening came. I was standing nervously with my friend in the lounge of the Finlandia Hall hoping the performance and the programme would be good (they had not annouced it too specifically beforehand). I became little concerned because the concert was named “A family concert of music from unforgettable space movies”. A family concert? Was I about to see a horde of little children babling and shouting over the performance? Well, there were quite many small children with their parents but gladly not one of them succeeded to disturb the concert and they responded with enthusiasm to the music. I think these concerts are a good way to introduce children to the world of classical and film music.
The concert started of with a good note. The first pieces were from 2001:The Space Odyssey. We heard the classic Richard Strauss? ‘Also Spracht Zarathustra’ accompanied by the organ which gave it a strickingly forceful and spacious sound. It was performed with skill and enthusiasm and was an appropriate opening for the evening. Next in order was Johan Strauss? the Blue Danube which was an abreviated version. As a sidenote this came to me as a surprise. Do the concert arrangers think that the concentration span of the children is so short that a 9 or 10 minute piece forces them to squirm impatiently in their seats? I don?t think so. But the conductor obviously did as the Blue Danube was not the only shortened piece of the evening.
Next came the moment I had personally been waiting for, the Star Wars Main Title. The orchestra was in the full stride with it and it was one of the best performances of the evening. Just amazing! The music of John Williams truly comes alive in the concert hall and it is wonderful to observe the orchestration and the tiny nuances that one might miss on a recording. The brass came across very nicely, actually better that I had hoped for (My only fear had been a weak performance from the brass in a piece like this).
This was not the last of the Williams pieces performed that night. In fact Williams stole the show since six of the ten pieces performed that evening were by the Maestro. ‘The Imperial March’ from The Empire Strikes Back was as impressive and powerful as ‘Yoda?s Theme’ was delicate and full of emotion. But it came to me for the first time that these pieces are deceptively simple when you listen to them but to perform them must be a complitely different thing all together. I could hear small mistakes from snaredrum in the pace of the March and not enough precision in the brassk, but altogether not bad from the Philharmonics (I tend to be overly critical when judging a piece so familiar to me that I can find mistakes or complaints even in the smallest of things).
The next piece is one of my favourites among the concert suites of John Williams. ‘Adventures on Earth’ from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial was performed with the gusto and grandness it deserves but sadly it was abreviated. The whole Flying theme section in the middle was cut and it went straight for the Saying Goodbye and Ending cue.
James Horner’s Apollo 13 Main Title was somewhat lacklustre and the only thing worth mentioning is the fine trumpet solo in the beginning. Orchestra played well but the piece was without energy and true substance (And I am not saying this just because I?m a Williams fan). Short and uninspired.
And who could do without Gustav Holst?s The Planets. We got to hear what must have been the most enthusiastic performance of the evening in the Mars Bringer of War. It was played both lively and loudly and the sound it made was phenomenal. This piece of music truly is huge. The influence of it can be clearly heard in Gladiator, Star Wars and other scores.
The evening came to close with Star Wars. Much to my surprise and delight the Philharmonics played something I had hoped they would, Across the Stars fromAttack of the Clones. I must say it is one of the best love themes I have heard in a long time and the tragic quality of the Padme/Anakin loveaffair is perfectly captured by it. It was great to hear it played live and the performance came up to par in all but one aspect. The brass faltered in the dark C section of the piece badly and almost ruined the piece. Main complaints to the tuba player who played far too loudly and to the horns who did not.
But the finale of the evening was flawless. ‘The Throne Room and Finale’ was great with the whole orchestra playing vigorously and obviously enjoying themselves. This was the lengthier concert version with extended Force theme and Throne Room material reiteration which is brought to conclusion with the usual Star Wars Main Title. When the piece got to the point where the End Credits music should have started the Force theme suddenly came in and I was surprised since I had not heard this version before. But I think it is a good addition to the Finale. After the piece ended the audince burst into applauce. We applauded for nearly 10 minutes but the only encore they were willing to play was ‘Also Spracht Zarathustra’. Sadly they had not reserved more Williams for encore :-(
I just hope they saw now how much people enjoy the movie music and it would encourage orchestras to perform it more often. It is just as good as classical music and even more accessible to the public. All in all a great concert with very good performance by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and the conductor Atso Almila.
– Mikko Ojala (Incanus)
- 2001: Space Odyssey
Also Spracht Zarathustra (Richard Strauss)
The Blue Danube (Johan Strauss)
- Star Wars (John Williams)
Star Wars Main Title
The Imperial March
- E.T. The Extra-Terrestial (John Williams)
Adventures on Earth
- Apollo 13 (James Horner)
Apollo 13 Main Title
- The Planets (Gustav Holst)
Mars, the Bringer of War
- Star Wars (John Williams)
Across the Stars, Love Theme from Attack of the Clones
The Throne Room and Finale