Prom 20 – Wallace and Gromit: Musical Marvels
Helen Wallace is wowed by one man, his dog… and an orchestra
One raised eyebrow, and he’s got an audience of 6000 in the palm of his paw. Move over Scooby Doo, Gromit has replaced you as the world’s favourite dog. And he can play the violin...
This being the Wallace and Gromit Prom (hottest ticket of the season as those who bore 19 hours in the on-line waiting room can attest), we were treated to bespoke new footage of the lovable duo. A running gag followed the gradual destruction of a piano before it reached the stage for its concerto ‘in Ee, lad’ and Gromit furiously scribbling the music for a last-minute double violin concerto, sent up a characteristically elaborate tubing system before it popped up on the conductor’s podium.
Harnessing the genius of Nick Park and his team of animators, this event by the Aurora Orchestra could hardly fail, and in some ways it was more film celebration than concert: specially-edited sequences from their feature films were played with some well-chosen repertoire: Debussy’s Claire de lune (love scenes, subtly done), scary villains (Stravinsky’s Infernal Dance from The Firebird) and breathless chases (Shostakovich’s frenzied march and fugue from the first movement of Symphony No. 4, performed at impressive speed, something that escaped my daughter, who was too busy watching the film…)
This was not the case throughout: a fine delivery of Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man drew rapt attention, as did John Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine (was it this performance, or does Adams’s tendency to the elegiac drag this supposedly fast ride down to earth?) The slow opening to the Overture to The Magic Flute was cleverly interrupted by Wallace crashing about in search of a light switch, while Gromit's double violin concerto was sweetly dispatched by Little (and, off-stage, Gromit himself).
Most successful was Iain Farrington’s deft, jazzy and very 21st-century young person’s guide to the orchestra, Wing It. Needing only the briefest of cues from Collon, the piece springs into life with a walking bass and spotlights each instrument and section with flair, mixing ‘I’ve got rhythm’ with the Wallace and Grommit theme tune. It was presented as a spur-of-the-moment improvisation – and genuinely sounded like it.
Refreshing too was the admirably understated commentary of Nicholas Collon. Neither matily patronising nor creepily saccharine, he was simply himself, hitting the right note for an audience equally split between adults and children.
It was in the second half that we lost a balance between film and music. Nott’s score for the bakery comedy A Matter of Loaf and Death is a hugely entertaining, consummate parody of film music: I’m just not sure why we needed to sit in the Royal Albert Hall to see it on a big screen with live orchestra? With dialogue to be followed and the lights down, my children rapidly forgot there were musicians playing on stage at all….
Knowing the eye-watering number of hours it must have taken to make the films of Gromit composing or Wallace revving up his souped-up piano, the re-use of existing film was probably the only solution. It just felt like a bit of a cop out. (No word of protest from the kids, though – obviously).