Proms 2011 – Spaghetti Western Orchestra

The music of Ennio Morricone from the films of Sergio Leone and others, using up to one-hundred instruments and contraptions. Music from films including A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, A Fistful of Dynamite, Once Upon a Time in the West, Maddalena, My Name is Nobody, Two Mules for Sister Sara, and Death Rides a Horse

Jess Ciampa, Shannon Birchall, Graeme Leak, Boris Conley & Patrick Cronin

Instruments include: bassoon, bells, bird-wings sound effect, body-drop sound effect, bouncy ball pump, castanets, chickens sound effect, child-sized boot, claves, coat hangers, concert bass drum, concert tom-toms, cornflakes (small and large packet), creaky-door sound effect, double bass, drum kit, Dutch clog and tambourine jingles, egg shakers, electronic sampler, bird whistle, finger cymbals, footsteps sound effect, frog clicker, harmonica (working), harmonica (broken), horseshoe, Jew’s harps, Kat midi controller (two octaves), latch-bolt sound effect, mandolin, maracas, melodeon, nail clippers, nail file, ocarina, one-note saxophone, orchestral whip, packaging tape, Pan pipes, pianoforte, plastic bags, policeman’s whistle, ratchet, reel-to-reel tape machine, sticks and twigs, string can, suspended cymbals, synthesizer, tam tam, theremin, timpani, tin whistle, trumpet, tuned beer bottles, two-tone whistle, ukulele, Vibraphone wind machine, and wooden cowbells

Denis Blais – Director & Designer
Glynis Henderson – Producer

Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

Reviewed: 12 August, 2011
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

The Spaghetti Western Orchestra recreating the soundtracks of Ennio Morricone at the BBC Proms 2011. Photograph: BBC/Chris ChristodoulouExcepting sporadic revivals from Kevin Costner and Clint Eastwood, the Western is a genre that seems to have faded from popular culture. The glory days of John Wayne riding through Monument Valley after marauding Indians doesn’t seem to square with today’s cosmopolitan sensibilities and even his greatest adventures (Stagecoach, Rio Bravo or The Searchers) are usually treated as schedule-filling fodder. But there was another way. Grim and gritty paeans to greed and violence played out on thirsty Mexican deserts emerged from Italy during the 1960s to challenge the frontier spirit of Hollywood’s historical adventures. In these Spaghetti Westerns, no-one was good; many were bad and most probably ugly. One man defined the sound of tumbleweed and shoot-outs: Ennio Morricone.

Five Australian multi-instrumentalists formed an ‘orchestra’ to celebrate the Rome-based composer’s music after finding it the perfect accompaniment to a game of cards. In a concert they take the characters of bit players, such as a bank-teller or a Mexican bandit. Patrick Cronin takes the lead, compering in a gruff American accent, and between them the five play their roles with a sly and slightly unhinged humour. Their act, though, is as much a tribute to the Foley artist (those men and women who supply sound-effects for films with a panoply of improvised instruments and objects) as it is to the Spaghetti Western and much of the humour derives from their oddball choices of noises: cornflakes demonstrating cowboy boots treading across gravel, and an entire shoot-out played out only in sound.

The Spaghetti Western Orchestra recreating the soundtracks of Ennio Morricone at the BBC Proms 2011. Photograph: BBC/Chris ChristodoulouTheir musical choices here mixed the instantly recognisable with the less familiar. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was dispatched fairly early on (and again for an audience-participation encore) and music from the other entries on Sergio Leone’s other man-with-no-name films featured prominently. From the greatest of all Leone’s westerns, Once Upon a Time in the West, came Cheyenne’s jaunty but relaxed character-piece and a theremin solo for Claudia Cardinale’s first glimpse of the frontier town she’s married into. Unexpectedly lovely was ‘Chi Mai’ from Maddalena, with its blown bottles and plucked bass accompaniment.

Maybe, though, the act was a little lost in the Royal Albert Hall. Some of the sight gags fell flat because much of the audience was too distant to get the joke, and while the group made use of the great organ in their intro, the demands of television created too bright an atmosphere – like sitting in a cinema with the house lights up. The group never really reached the ramped-up levels of intensity familiar from, say, the mind-blowing final confrontation of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly because the amplified sound-levels stayed so tame. But what a joy it was to revisit the music of faded genre that some of us, at least, still hold up as some of the greatest entertainment ever devised.

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