An extra-terrestrial experience

Jeremy Pound enjoys the RPO's Space Spectacular at the Albert Hall

An extra-terrestrial experience
The RPO's Space Spectacular at the Royal Albert Hall

First, the prep. If he was to get full value out of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s ‘Space Spectacular’ concert, I told my seven-year-old son, he really did need to get to understand the use of Wagner-style leitmotif in the film scores of John Williams. There would be plenty of Williams on show, I explained, and getting to grips with the composer’s methods could only be of benefit. And I, of course, would be his paternal guide to the subject!

Some chance. My words went in one ear, straight out the other, and James went back to his Lego Ninjago.

Evidently, conductor Anthony Inglis is far better at spinning a narrative than I am. When Inglis addressed the audience on exactly the same topic at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, Pound Jnr was all agog, suddenly all too happy to learn how Williams employs a dark and threatening march to indicate the presence of Darth Vader, but a more romantic, lyrical theme for whenever Princess Leia is around. Mind you, Inglis did have a full-scale symphony orchestra to illustrate his point, not to mention a splendid array of lights, lasers and pyrotechnics to help the entertainment along.

And very entertaining this event was, too. And loud. In what was the middle of three concerts over one weekend, the RPO took us through a range of works that were either written specifically for space-related films, were famously used in space-related movies, or simply had a space theme themselves. And so, the likes of Strauss’s Blue Danube Waltz (2001: A Space Odyssey) rubbed shoulders with ‘Mars’ from Holst’s Planets and Williams’s music for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, all linked seamlessly together by Inglis’s affable, and often very amusing, running commentary from the podium.

Much of the music was, of course, pretty familiar to most of us oldies in the Hall – anyone over 40 would have to have been living on, well, another planet not to recognise instantly the Star Wars theme tune, Holst’s ‘Jupiter’ or the beginning to Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra that blazed the show into life (the rumble of the Albert Hall organ really is something else). However, there were also a few discoveries along the way. I, for instance, did not previously know the March that Bliss wrote for the HG Wells film Things to Come in 1936; nor, as someone who has always refused to acknowledge the very existence of the three Star Wars ‘prequels’, was I aware of the sublimely beautiful love theme that John Williams wrote for the second of them, Attack of the Clones.

Williams unsurprisingly dominated the afternoon’s proceedings – Star Wars in various different guises, Close Encounters, ET and Superman were all there (if Jaws had flown rather than swum, I’m sure he would have joined the party too) – as we were invited to explore the craftsmanship of the 20th century’s greatest film composer in all its glory. So recognisable are Williams’s main themes and so remarkable his ability to create an atmosphere that, even without a big screen in front of us, the films came alive.

That said, for all his genius (Inglis constantly referred to him as ‘The Master’), there is only so much of the American’s stock-in-trade strident fanfares, sweeping melodies on the strings and atmospherically rippling harps that one can take in an afternoon. By the end of a couple of hours, I think I’d had my fill. Pound Jnr and his two like-minded friends, in contrast, could easily have spent another couple of hours on board the RPO spaceship, and were abuzz on disembarking out onto the rainy streets of South Kensington.

A special mention, too, must go to the similarly indefatigable RPO trumpets and horns, for whom this must have been something of a fortissimo marathon. I do hope someone put them aside an extra crate or two of beer. Or of whatever it is that people drink in outer space.

  • Article Type: | Blog |
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