Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 29 November 2014

John Williams is pure box office

Movie maestro's music hits right note - London Symphony Orchestra at The Venue, Ebrington

The London Symphony Orchestra on stage at the Venue on Monday night
The London Symphony Orchestra on stage at the Venue on Monday night

The statistics alone are incredible: the American composer John Williams has nearly 50 Academy Award nominations to his credit, and has written more than 70 motion picture soundtracks, including all but two of director Steven Spielberg's major movies.

It's the Spielberg connection that was examined in a concert of Williams's film music at The Venue, the first major orchestral event of Londonderry's City of Culture 2013 celebrations.

The orchestra is the London Symphony, and there is probably no ensemble in the world today better fitted to play Williams's music. Their virtuosity is copper-plated, they play with huge boldness of attack and range of colour, and have performed this repertoire frequently under the baton of the composer.

It was not Williams himself conducting the Derry programme, however, but film music specialist Frank Strobel. As the lights dimmed in the vaulted, tent-like interior of The Venue, clips from Jurassic Park flickered to life on the three giant screens around the orchestra. The movie's main theme sounded forth evocatively in the opening solo of principal horn Tim Thorpe, and it was immediately obvious an evening of movie magic was in the offing.

Rugged, lugubrious double-bass rumblings heralded the jaggedly threatening Shark Theme from Jaws, and Strobel drew a sharp, rebarbative account of the Shark Cage Fugue from the players, with clips of Roy Scheider firing shots at the attacking predator as visual accompaniment.

Amplification rendered the famously sumptuous London Symphony string sound a little harsh and glassy, and threw an abrasive echo round it. The effect took some getting used to – Carmine Lauri's sinuous violin solos in two Schindler's List pieces had a tinny resonance which won't have pleased every listener.

Brass, wind and timpani emerged more naturally, however, and the effect of the entire orchestra at full tilt in the Indiana Jones excerpts was thrilling.

Even where Williams's music is obviously derivative – Escape From The City from War Of The Worlds cribs lavishly from Stravinsky – it was never less than expertly crafted and instinctively dramatic.

It stood up robustly to the extra level of scrutiny invited by concert performance, nowhere more so than in the Close Encounters Of The Third Kind selection, with its eerie glissandi and snarling brass attacks. A capacity audience of 2,500 loved it, many rising to acclaim the London visitors at the evening's conclusion.

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