Film Music Night

Saturday 23 June 2018
Christopher Irvin Browne

“Once again Todmorden Orchestra has shown the wide range of its talents, and is unquestionably one of the best larger regional orchestras for voluntary music-making in the North.”

Opening with an unlisted, but immediately recognisable, cinema fanfare a Film Music Night concert was presented by Todmorden Orchestra at the Town Hall on a fine summer’s evening. This set the tone for a performance of highly-enjoyable, tuneful orchestral film favourites.

The near seventy-piece orchestra brought a sonority and range of dynamics (but not often pianissimo!) that thrilled the large, appreciative audience. Condensed musical ideas are the hallmark of popular, commercial soundtrack music. In the sixteen pieces presented, there was evidence of the very best examples of the genre, from the middle decades of the last century until the present day. Fittingly, the doyen of orchestral film music, John Williams, began and ended the programme with Harry’s Wondrous World from the Harry Potter canon, and the iconic Star Wars. More of this later.

Malcolm Arnold’s Whistle Down the Wind brought back memories of the original black and white film from the 1960s which was set in our region. The film and music are real gems, and the piccolo solo was played to perfection by Carisse White, with fine, tender playing too on flute from Charlotte Walls. This haunting melody is probably immortal.

Perhaps the most famous, and plaintive, of all oboe melodies followed with Gabriel’s Oboe performed sensitively by Diana Doherty, and richly accompanied by the strings.

A highlight of the first half was a suite from Howard Shore’s haunting score for The Fellowship of the Ring. Here there is a synthesis of the Epic: angular, menacing, mysterious and pastoral. This must surely be some of the very best orchestral music composed in recent years, and not just for the cinema. A simple version of Henry Mancini’s Moon River brought a calming interlude, with a gentle string passage, and the fine solo horn section.

The build-up to the interval started with Elmer Bernstein’s theme from The Great Escape with its jaunty main tune, later run together with a counter melody. The piece ended rather abruptly without a satisfactory coda. The big sound of the same composer’s The Magnificent Seven was a fine finish, if perhaps the upper strings were by now justifiably flagging slightly!

Part two opened with Pirates of the Caribbean which is fun, but without the finesse of a John Williams’ score. Here we have relentless energy rather than finely-tuned musicality. The ultimate ‘easy listening’ followed with Max Steiner’s A Summer Place with its beautifully-orchestrated melody.

Amongst so many musical treasures, I particularly relished Ron Goodwin’s 633 Squadron. This has everything really great film music needs – brilliant flourishes, a sweeping melody, contrasting moods and a machismo quality ideally suited to the subject matter. Two of Lawrence Killian’s stylish arrangements were included. The first, Colonel Bogey , which Malcolm Arnold had orchestrated in The Bridge on the River Kwai, included whistling audience participation! This was a novel, yet welcome feature, complete with ‘pre-show’ rehearsal. A little later we heard Lawrence play on fleugelhorn his cheerful, nuanced arrangement of Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head which provided a quieter contrast to the bigger, showier pieces.

Two particular items will always remain with me from this half: a Big Band version of Mancini’s The Pink Panther theme played on saxophone with assurance by Helena Summerfield. This was yet a precursor of, for me, the highlight of the entire evening – a saxophone trio (formerly flautists) playing from Star Wars the boisterous, madcap Cantina Band classic, a stunning and electrifying performance from all involved that will long remain in the memory. A short selection from the ever-popular Mary Poppins entertained us further, and the much-played Star Wars main title provided a finale flourish to this truly remarkable concert.

Once again Todmorden Orchestra has shown the wide range of its talents, and is unquestionably one of the best larger regional orchestras for voluntary music-making in the North. This concert was a real family affair, introducing a whole new generation to the thrill of live music performance. All credit must be given to conductor Nicholas Concannon Hodges (and leader Andrew Rostron), whose verve and commitment continues to raise expectations, and satisfy both players and audience alike. Bravo!