“The London Contemporary Orchestra’s Late Night Prom puts a futuristic spin on the best sci-fi music for film and television. Among the soundtracks featured are those for Alien: Covenant, Gravity, Moon and Interstellar.” [BBC Proms website]
London Contemporary Orchestra
Reviewed by: Chris Caspell
Reviewed: 7 August, 2019
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
Attending a concert of Sci-Fi film music, one has expectations: a smattering of John Williams is a certainty (E.T., Close Encounters, Star Wars) and perhaps a bit of Jerry Goldsmith (Star Trek, Alien). Not here – this was a Prom for nerds; and while, as underscoring for a particular drama, the music can be effective, devoid of visual cues it can become bland, all sounding very much the same.
Sandwiched between probably the two most well-known scores (Gravity – with a superb vocal solo by Lisa Hannigan) were a number of first performances – brought about by the composers writing Suites for this particular late-night entertainment. The most thought-provoking was Mica Levi’s music for Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. Glazer’s note to Levi said: “Imagine somebody just chucked 20 bottles down a hill. What does it sound like to be on fire?” – Erik Satie’s instruction to play as “Light as an Egg” comes to mind. Levi’s score is full of microtones and glissandos, is insistent and exciting.
The London Contemporary Orchestra and Robert Ames focus on commissioning new music. Not too challenging here and there was the visual distraction of spotlights more commonly found in a rock concert. John Murphy’s Adagio, taken from Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, is eponymous in its slowness, as is Clint Mansell’s Moon Suite, though a rhythmic middle section provided welcome interest – too much of the same thing at 11 p.m. is quite soporific. Two soundtracks were played, without introduction or even acknowledgement by the conductor or the audience. In a season where gratuitous clapping between movements is rife, this was unusual. Emanating from speakers overhead, if too short, Wendy Carlos’s energetic Scherzo from Steven Lisberger’s Tron was a refreshing palate-cleanser; another electronic piece, from Forbidden Planet was, by comparison, little more than a curiosity.
Carly Paradis’s music is frequently piano-led, and so it was here for the NetFlix series The Innocents. Anna Lena Bruland, EERA, reprised her award-winning performance; her voice, electronically modified, made the sound of more than one singer. With Paradis at the piano and Ames (orchestrator) at the helm this made for an enjoyable reminder of the 2018 TV-show. The RAH organ’s musical weight was experienced in Jed Kurzel’s Alien: Covenant Suite (the original Alien series being scored by Goldsmith) and, more noticeably, in Hans Zimmer’s splendid contribution to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Kurzel’s work is less conventionally orchestrated, utilising a contrabass flute and asking for members of the orchestra to stamp their feet. Despite the novelty value, it’s another of the pieces that works better with than without the moving images. Zimmer’s score, though, sits well in the concert hall, and includes a magnificent crescendo and an unexpected harmonic twist at the end.
- Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 (available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards)
- BBC Proms www.bbc.co.uk/proms