Review: BSO’s Hollywood Head to Head

The Great Hall, Exeter – Friday 6th March 2020

The Great Hall was at maximum capacity on Friday night, both on stage and in the stalls, as the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra pulled out all the stops for their annual film-themed concert. A massive 84-person strong orchestra filled the stage to bring to life the glorious works of the world’s two greatest living film composers – John Williams and Hans Zimmer.

Given the fun, familiar nature of the programme, it was unsurprising to see a more diverse audience than a usual BSO concert, the typical mature crowd diluted with young children, students, parents and everything in between. It was a welcome change and certainly contributed to a more informal atmosphere.

The premise of the evening was a head-to-head: the works of Williams versus those of Zimmer. Conductor Pete Harrison – a regular at the helm of the BSO and highly experienced stage-and-screen conductor – diverged from standard classical concert etiquette by compèring the evening. It maintained the event’s informal vibe, and made the repertoire more accessible by providing a little context to help us all understand it better.

Of course, much of the programme did not require any introduction; this was exemplified in the opener – Star Wars: Main Title. The iconic brass fanfare introduction is indisputable in its identity, and Williams’ genius use of leitmotivs to represent characters, feelings and environments were perfectly captured by the BSO to provide a thrilling retelling of his ‘space opera’. Jaws: Shark Theme was another item which spoke for itself. Just two notes played by the lower strings were enough to strike a sense of unease into the Great Hall as they felt the menacing threat of an impending shark attack.

Zimmer’s approach to film scoring differs radically from Williams’, and the programme was well structured to emphasise these differences. In stark contrast to the storytelling nature of Williams’ Star Wars, the first Zimmer piece of the evening, Time, showcased the more minimalist style he uses to establish atmosphere and tone. Immediately I was transported back to the mind-blowing dream worlds depicted in Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi action phenomenon Inception.

Eptesicus was equally effective in building vivid images of the Gotham streets where Batman Begins is set. I particularly enjoyed the oboe solos that subtly interjected and added flourish to what was otherwise a deep and complex chordal texture, executed with perfection by Principal Oboist, Edward Kay.

Another stand-out performance of the evening came from Principal Cellist, Jesper Svedburg, who demonstrated mastery of his instrument in two solo items. The Ring: This Is Going to Hurt was a brilliant display of technicality. Later in the night, Svedburg’s talents were once again in the spotlight for solos within Pirates of the Caribbean Suite. His extravagant style and showmanship suited the role of a drunken pirate perfectly.

I could not review a film music concert without congratulating two crucial sections of the orchestra. In Pirates of the Caribbean, Svedburg’s enthusiasm was matched only by the extraordinary percussion section, led by Matt King. The snare was a constant and precise, yet subtle and reliable presence throughout Saving Private Ryan: Hymn to the Fallen. Further, in Harry Potter Suite The Prisoner of Azkaban: The Knight Bus, percussion was cleverly utilised to capture the momentum of the fast moving bus, taking both the orchestra and audience on a thrilling ride.

Meanwhile, the horn section never failed to steal the show and film music provides the ideal platform for them to do so. From the iconic solo from Jurassic Park to open the second half, performed exquisitely by Diana Sheach, to the soaring melodies in Harry’s Wondrous World that they scaled with ease, I was in awe from beginning to end.

Overall, the evening beautifully highlighted the contrast in Williams and Zimmer’s approaches to film composition. Although the concert pitched itself as a head-to-head, it would be entirely unfair to choose a winner when both can captivate audiences with their skill.

The BSO have two remaining performances of their ‘Hollywood Head to Head’ in Bath and Bournemouth at the end of this month, which will undoubtedly continue to delight audiences throughout the South West. I only wish I could travel to see it again.

Their next performance in The Great Hall, and the last of their 2019-20 concert season, will be on Thursday 2nd April with a programme of Beethoven’s finest works.

~ Catherine Edington

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