United Kingdom John Williams and Friends: Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Richard Kaufmann (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 24.2.2017. (SRT)
Music by John Williams, Maurice Jarre and Henry Mancini, including music from E.T., Saving Private Ryan, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars
This is the fourth year in a row that the RSNO have held a John Williams evening, and every year it has grown. It started off as one concert in Glasgow, then they added one in Edinburgh. Last year they did one in Edinburgh and two in Glasgow, and this year they’re adding a Dundee concert to the set. It has grown because it is phenomenally popular: the first three concerts have all sold out, and Dundee is down to its last remaining tickets (get them while you can!).
They’re popular because they’re well-played. The RSNO are really good at film music, exemplified that over the last few years they have played live scores for films showing at the Edinburgh Film Festival, and they have Amadeus lined up for later this season. That means that the string swoops of E.T. and Lawrence of Arabia, the jazzy marimba of Catch Me If You Can and the understated brass of Saving Private Ryan all sound fantastic, and they come to life as independent pieces of music mostly very successfully. Decoupling the score from the screen lifts the bonnet of the music and makes you slightly more aware of how it manipulates your emotions, but that’s no bad thing, and most people are pretty happy to be emotionally manipulated when the results are like this.
The concerts are also popular because they’re full of popular hits, though this time around conductor Richard Kaufmann had curated a careful set including some rarities, such as music from Williams’ scores for Tintin and Always (anyone?…). The orchestra also stretched their boundaries in unusual repertoire, most obviously Mancini’s jazzy Peter Gunn theme which featured some fantastic guitar, sax and trombone improvisations.
Most importantly, however, these film concerts are a brilliant audience-builder for the orchestra. The crowds are younger and I’m sure they feature a lot of people who normally wouldn’t dream of darkening the door of a Beethoven or Brahms concert. However, they come here and have a positive experience and, hopefully, want to come back. People go out to the toilet between pieces, and sometimes kids make noise during the music, but nobody seems to mind, and the atmosphere is decidedly genial. Equally importantly, I’m sure the orchestra get the warmest reception they receive all year, with whoops, cheers, whistles and standing ovations that last for ages after they’ve finished. You don’t tend to get that after a Bruckner symphony.