Review: Epic Film Scores on 8th June 2024

The following concert review by Trevor Keeling appeared in the Townsville Bulletin on 11th June.

Musical flair on display

Barrier Reef Orchestra tackles film scores with finesse

A capacity crowd welcomed conductor Theodore Kuchar for Saturday night’s Epic Film Scores concert with the 59-piece Barrier Reef Orchestra.

Many take film scores for granted, but this performance would certainly have given the audience an appreciation for the complexities of the film score. As Kuchar pointed out, much of this work is more difficult and demanding than the great works of classical music, as he led us on a musical journey of 20th century works from the medium of cinema.

The journey began with a stirring start with Mambo from West Side Story, written by Leonard Bernstein in 1957, that features in the film as the two warring gangs face off in what amounts to a dance contest. The music is both rousing and intricate with its syncopated jazz rhythms and driving Latin American beat, and certainly prepared the orchestra for what was to come next.

Continuing with Bernstein, Kuchar lent his conducting flair to the difficult Symphonic Suite from the 1954 film, On The Waterfront. This has the distinction of being Bernstein’s only film score not sourced from stage works, which Kuchar described as a combin¬ation of “Stravinsky, jazz and Latin American music”.

The orchestra featured an extended percussion section for both Bernstein pieces, which provided a solid base as they rose to the challenge of the complicated pieces.

The 20-minute Symphonic Suite has 13 sections which move through many distinc-tive moods and variations. One minute the music was harsh and strident, then soulful and plaintive, and then almost Oriental in feel. But one thing was clear — to perform it well, at all times this demanding piece required not only enormous concentration and dexterity from the musicians, but also extraordinarily precise orchestral leadership from Kuchar.

There was outstanding solo work from flautist Monika Ortloff, Erin Smart on alto saxophone, Arthur Florence on trumpet and Andrew Ryder on French horn.

The final programmed piece was Star Wars — Suite for Orchestra — especially written and arranged for concert performance by its composer, John Williams (who recently celebrated his 92nd birthday), whom Kuchar described as “the greatest musical figure of our time”.

It is hard to believe that this familiar music has been with us for nearly 50 years.

The piece makes use of the musical themes of characters and events in the Star Wars films, from the martial sounds of the Main Title with its bold brass and percussion, to lush strings, through Princess Leia’s Theme, Darth Vader’s Theme, Yoda’s Theme and to the End Title, the piece highlighted by individual contributions, including from Andrew Ryder (French horn) and Stephen Frewen-Lord (violin).

As familiar as this music is, it is only through seeing it performed live that one truly becomes aware of the complexity and great beauty of this music.

The concert finished with the Jupiter movement from Gustav Hoist’s The Planets (1918), with its colourful and inventive orchestration which has a direct link to the development of the large-scale orchestral film score.

The evening served as an-other triumphant contribution to the performance repertoire of the Barrier Reef Orchestra.

It is hard to believe that this extraordinary group of musicians are all volunteers.