Film Music of the 1980s and 1990s – Kensington Symphony Orchestra

La forza del destino – Overture [Jean de Florette; Manon des Sources]
Suite for Variety Stage Orchestra [Waltz 2 used in Eyes Wide Shut]
Finlandia [Die Hard 2: Die Harder]
John Williams
E.T.: The Extraterrestrial – Adventures on Earth
Schindler’s List – Theme
Adagio for Strings [The Elephant Man; Platoon]
Batman – Suite
John Williams
Indiana Jones – Raiders March

Kensington Symphony Orchestra
Russell Keable

Reviewed by: Alan Pickering

Reviewed: 15 January, 2007
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

The Kensington Symphony Orchestra here continued its film-music retrospectives.

The concert opened with the overture to Verdi’s opera “The Force of Destiny”, used in both “Jean de Florette” and “Manon des Sources”, and was well played by the KSO, if rather tepid as a performance. Such are the oddities of life today that this music has become associated doubt with rural life in France; and was also used in association with an advertisement for a French lager. Quite what the chauvinistic French feel about an Italian composer being afforded such an honour is not clear, but then perhaps their dislike of things foreign is reserved for the English.

There then followed a rendition of Shostakovich’s Suite for Variety Stage Orchestra, one of the movements being used by Stanley Kubrick for “Eyes Wide Shut”. Some confusion exists as to this (composer-compiled-and-orchestrated?) Suite, for the keen Shostakovichian will recognise pieces from the Ballet Suites and Jazz Suites and also from The Gadfly; here the orchestration differed, though, and included saxophones, guitar, accordion and two pianos. A circus-like atmosphere is suggested, the pastiche-like music often witty; it received an energetic performance by an orchestra that obviously relished the challenge. The first half concluded with a stirring performance of Sibelius’s Finlandia, used for the film “Die Hard 2: Die Harder”, directed by Sibelius’s fellow-Finn, Renny Harlin. Perhaps it was a given that a Finnish director would choose a piece by Sibelius but the struggle inherent in the music well suits the movie.

After the interval we learnt why music composed specifically for a film is generally a better match than music borrowed. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but generally the rule holds good. First up were the themes for “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial” and “Schindler’s List”, both composed by John Williams for Stephen Spielberg. Both were played superbly, with the violin solo in the latter essayed by the KSO’s leader, Alan Tuckwood. To say that the music perfectly complements the films is almost an understatement – perhaps it would be better to say that it helped to make them the successes they are. As mentioned there are exceptions to most rules and the choice of Barber’s Adagio for Strings for Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” is one such. (And “The Elephant Man”, too.) A violent film that does not seek to glorify war, the music provides a fitting and resigned backdrop to one of mankind’s less glorious deed. It was played here with real feeling and compassion.

Danny Elfman can be relied upon to provide something quite different and his score for the first of Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’ movies was just such – another splendid rendition – matching the extrovert nature of the film ‘wow for wow’ and ‘splat for splat’. Are all superheroes really like this? Maybe some James Bond themes were needed to tip the balance in favour of the suave Englishman.

The evening ended with another of John Williams’s classics, the Raiders March from the ‘Indiana Jones’ trilogy. A veritable tour de force by the entire orchestra and not least the hard-pressed percussionists, a performance equal to that of Harrison Ford; hardly a moment passed without a change of instrument, music scores being shuffled back and forth, and sticks grabbed with seconds to spare.

There was much to learn this evening, not least that the most able Russell Keable is a fan of “The Simpsons” and (Tim Burton’s) “Mars Attack”, Danny Elfman the composer common to both.

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