Review: Stage and Screen

  • Photo of the orchestra after playing Stage and Screen

by Trevor Keeling

With all the indications of a Royal Albert Hall Prom Night, the Barrier Reef Orchestra under the baton of Richard Davis was a triumphant evening of delight on Saturday evening for the concert entitled Stage and Screen.

An orchestra is something that regional cities in Australia struggle to create – and maintain. While youth orchestras and concert orchestras exist in many areas, it is possible that few regional cities in Australia can claim to have its own symphony. But while the orchestra may be regionally based, there is nothing provincial about either the content or presentation of the Barrier Reef Orchestra. For the past 18 years, it is something that Townsville has been able to claim, but sadly – like many artistic achievements – these efforts are not appreciated because they do not acquire much publicity.

Thanks to a many dedicated volunteers, this orchestra manages to survive artistically by producing three or four annual concerts by combining a wealth of Townsville classical musicians with visiting professionals – conductors and musicians. And this concert was no different. With a group of 13 visiting musicians from Brisbane’s Queensland Symphony Orchestra augmented the 62-strong local musicians under the entertaining baton of Melbourne-based English conductor Richard Davis. After a few days of workshops and education in the community, as well as rehearsals with local musicians, the result was effectively a “prom night”.

The title of the concert suggested that we would hear music from stage and screen, but really it was a selection of light classics themed around the movies. I was expecting – and would have liked to hear – some Broadway scores and/or overtures under this banner, but this is really a minor not-pick in the overall scheme of things.

To attend a concert and be familiar with every piece always adds significantly to the enjoyment factor, and from start to finish this was a delightful, enjoyable – and joyfully accessible – evening of pure entertainment. And – what’s more – there was no amplification! It was natural sound even though the Civic Theatre itself does not have the best of acoustics for orchestral concerts. The concert began in familiar classical territory with a rousing version of Mozart’s Overture from The Marriage of Figaro. In his amusing chat, conductor Richard Davis – an entertaining personality who enlivened the program with amusing snippets – pointed out that 198 years before Mozart didn’t know he was writing for the soundtrack of Amadeus!

Representing traditional classical repertoire used in the movies were selections from Grieg’s Suite No 1 from Peer Gynt (used in so many films – probably most memorably The Hall of the Mountain King was used as a leitmotif in Fritz Lang’s terrifying 1931 thriller about a serial child killer –M), and the ever-familiar suite from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, featured recently in Black Swan.

I have long held the personal belief that the film composers of today are the classical composers of yesterday. After all, where else would composers have the opportunity to write music for a symphony orchestra for such a large audience? And, as conductor Davis pointed out, we can thank John Williams for giving today’s children the opportunity to hear a symphony orchestra. And most would not even know it!  Modern and contemporary composers were represented in a wide-ranging choice of work. There was a delicate orchestration of Barber’s sad piece Adagio for Strings (written in 1936 and used in such films as Platoon and The Elephant Man).

Danny Elfman’s Theme from Batman visited some darker territory and then we had pieces from the vast body work from John Williams. There was the sentimental and evocative Flying Theme from E.T. the theme from Superman, and the broad sweep and martial rhythms of John Williams’ Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme) from Star Wars. And, finally, as an encore the stirring Theme from Star Wars which ended the evening with a well-deserved standing ovation.   Altogether a triumphant evening of delight which stimulated many memories and created some new ones.

(This review was originally published at Stage Whispers)