Ulster Orchestra: Film Night
Reviewed by George Fleeton © 2013
The encore, given at the end of the Ulster Orchestra’s Film Night Concert in the Waterfront Hall Belfast on February 23, was Ritchie Valens’ Chicano-rock version of La Bamba.
I grew up with that La bamba and can vividly remember when Valens was killed, age 17, along with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper, on ‘the night the music died’ all of 54 years ago.
What that music was doing in this concert escaped me completely.
For the evening was billed as ‘The Wild Wild West: music from some of your favourite Western films.’
And it was recorded for broadcast later on BBC Radio 3, with guest conductor Carl Davis.
There was no indication anywhere on the night of the rationale behind the musical choices and the orchestral arrangements, nor why the event needed a presenter, Joe Lindsay (who must learn how to pronounce Rossini’s christian name correctly), who talked as much about himself as about the music, when we had perfectly adequate notes on each of the sixteen pieces written into the Programme by Tim Burden.
I have been a student of the western, and film music in general, all my life, have written about the genre and have taught it in Film Studies to degree level for years.
So the omission, from this concert, of the music of Ennio Morricone is inexplicable, as was music composed for the westerns of, for starters, John Ford, Anthony Mann and Sam Peckinpah.
Some of the music chosen was not written for full symphony orchestras yet every piece played was orchestrated like the one before it and the one after.
Why no big screen, playing muted film clips?
Why so much dreary, uninspired music from television’s western series?
And why no vocalists, picking out the songs from High Noon, or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?
These were also missed opportunities in a concept event more thrown together than designed with imagination.
Visually though the whole thing was a pleasant surprise.
Nearly all the members of the orchestra went for it and dressed for the occasion in checked shirts, jeans and holsters, hats and bandanas, droopy moustaches, plus an inflatable mule and a whip.
Carl Davis, at 76, caught this spirit, invoked lots of wind, brass and percussion and pushed out the boundaries of music for the western with selections from Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin and Aaron Copland, appreciated by a large and enthusiastic audience.
Whereas Davis himself may not have composed any music for the western genre, even in those heady days of restored silent films on Channel 4 thirty years ago, in which I had some small involvement, it would nonetheless have been a welcome encore to have been offered a piece of his own music on this occasion.
Then I could have understood a little better the choice of La Bamba.
Next for review here on Down News will be some recent films, including Les Misérables, Lincoln, Quartet, Zero Dark Thirty and Hitchcock.