It was in 2010 when I first became aware of the Royal Albert Hall’s film screenings, accompanied by a live orchestra playing the score as you watch. It sounded like a brilliant idea and I managed to see The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers that year. Since then I’ve been trying to go to another such concert and ironically, the last week of May saw me making three trips to this famous concert venue to do just that!
My first outing was to see one of my favourite films – Ridley Scott’s sweeping epic from 2000 Gladiator starring Russell Crowe in probably his most recognisable role to date. Every time I watch this film I remember what a fantastic classic it is. The story has everything – tense and exciting battles, political intrigue, vengeance, romance and a deeply heroic but also spiritual ending for its central character. The whole cast is excellent, with long established British actors, such as Sir Derek Jacobi and Oliver Reed (whose sudden death during shooting adds a deeper poignancy to the film) alongside younger up and coming talent, including Joaquin Phoenix, together with Russell Crowe’s thoroughly deserved Oscar winning performance. Despite being 14 years old now, the visuals and the action sequences still look impressive on a big screen.
Then there is the other pivotal part of the film and the reason for last month’s concerts (Gladiator had four such screenings in one week) and that is its utterly beautiful score by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard (whose input in to it earned her a co-credit). Gladiator’s score was developed by Zimmer much earlier than is usual in the film production process, as he was able to be on set and soak up the tone of the film before writing the score and the programme notes for the concert explain how the editing process and Zimmer’s composing impacted on each other. The end result is a score that captures the various moods of the story – from intense, epic battles and gladiatorial fights to the death, through to the emotionally stirring piece that underpins Maximus’s love for his home and family. It is one of a select group of film scores that I can listen to independently from the film itself.
The Royal Albert Hall was a wonderful setting for this sweeping epic and the combination of film and live orchestral (and choral) score was incredible to witness. The Philharmonia Orchestra was on stage, accompanied by the Philharmonia Chorus and guest vocalist Lisa Gerrard, providing the beautifully haunting voice instantly connected with Gladiator’s score. Hearing “Now We Are Free” at the film’s end, played live by such talented musicians and singers was something I will never forget. If Gladiator ever returns to the venue, I urge you to go along, whether as a fan of the film or just of wonderful evocative live music that stirs the soul.
Next up was the UK premiere concert of J.J. Abrams’s first Star Trek reboot from 2009. Again the atmosphere in the Royal Albert Hall was one of excitement and enthusiasm, with some of the crowd dressed up in their Starfleet uniforms!
Before the film began we were treated to an introduction from Simon “Scotty” Pegg, who then introduced to the stage J.J. Abrams himself (who he said was currently busy on a new low budget film that wasn’t worth mentioning, which earned a laugh from the audience)! J.J said some lovely words about the composer Michael Giacchino, who then also appeared, together with the night’s composer Ludwig Wicki. The screening was fantastic and having the orchestra (the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and Chorus) there truly made me appreciate how much the music adds to the excitement of the film.
I was never really a fan of Star Trek until the reboot, which through the introduction of Spock, Kirk and the crew in their younger days added a fresh and exciting new slant on something that had always seemed a bit unappealing to me. I’d also forgotten just how funny this first film is (the calm before the darker sequel). Chris Pine is fantastic as the young, cocky but loyal Kirk and Zachary Quinto has truly made the role of young Spock his own. Once the film ended, Michael Giacchino reappeared on stage and took the conductor’s podium himself to play an extract from his upcoming score from the new Planet of the Apes film, which was very good and seemed perfectly suited to the film.
Finishing off a week of music at the Royal Albert Hall was the UK premiere of Star Trek: Into Darkness. Only Michael Giacchino appeared on stage to introduce the orchestra, choir and conductor and then the film began. After watching both in two consecutive nights, I certainly prefer the second one (and that’s not just because Mr Cumberbatch is in it). The crew of the Enterprise is already assembled and so the action can begin as soon as the film starts and we are able to see the characters continue to develop.
I think Chris Pine is fantastic as Kirk, moving from confident and slightly arrogant to a man ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for his crew. By the end it definitely seems that he has grown up. I also love Simon Pegg in this film, in which he has a far larger role, bringing a good dose of humour through Scotty and it would’t be the same without him. For me though the highlights of the film are Cumberbatch’s villain John Harrison and Zachary Quinto’s multi-layered portrayal of Spock. Mr. Cumberbatch may not immediately scream big blockbuster villain, but his performance is fantastic here. As “Harrison” he is measured, methodical, quietly calculating and absolutely ruthless. He is a coiled spring, waiting to be unleashed, which he does wonderfully towards the climax of the story. However he also manages to bring an emotional edge to him too, and asks Kirk if there is nothing he would not do for his family (crew). Benedict is always superb and it was great to see him tackle a different type of role.Zachary Quinto’s Spock continues to be fantastic, experiencing so much in this film and we get to see a different aspect of his personality. I love seeing him become overcome with the loss of his friend and his showdown with Harrison is fantastic.
As for the score – it’s a bigger, grander, louder spectacle than the first film. Themes already created return and others join them – the fantastic villain theme for Harrison is an example. Watching the orchestra and choir bring it to life before us was incredibly exciting and they were given a much deserved standing ovation. As before, Michael Giacchino conducted his extract from Planet of the Apes (well, why not when you have a chance to conduct at the Royal Albert Hall?!).
Overall this was a superb week of concerts at this iconic London music venue and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. These events are a superb way to bring a new audience to classical music. A live orchestral concert is a unique experience and some may not think to go without something linked to it that they are familiar with. By screening popular films that also have outstanding scores, the Royal Albert Hall is encouraging a wider demographic of people to go and see live orchestral music and that is certainly something to be applauded and supported.
I certainly intend to go to many more of these events and hope the Royal Albert Hall continues to include such events within their annual concert schedule. Upcoming screenings currently on sale are West Side Story (4-6 July) and Titanic, conducted by James Horner himself (in April 2015), as well as a concert in October this year to celebrate the film music of John Williams.
For more information about upcoming events, visit the Royal Albert Hall’s website at: