[REVIEW] JAMES HORNER: A LIFE IN MUSIC AT THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL
A few days after the death of James Horner, Robert Folk had suggested on Facebook the idea of producing a tribute concert bringing together his closest collaborators. Three and a half years later, this concert finally took place, thanks to Avex Classics, already responsible for Titanic Live and Aliens Live.
Vocalist Clara Sanabras, who worked with James Horner on For Greater Glory(2011), and legendary Irish bagpiper Eric Rigler (Braveheart, Titanic) were on stage. The collaborators Simon Rhodes, faithful sound engineer since 1998, and Joe E Rand, musical publisher on about thirty projects, were among the spectators. Sara, wife of James Horner, and daughter Emily were also present. The Cinematic Sinfonia was brilliantly directed by Ludwig Wicki, who already worked on Titanic Live and Aliens Live, as well as the Crouch End Festival Chorus and various soloists depending on the pieces. Finally, add the majestic beauty of the legendary Royal Albert Hall where James Horner made one of these last public appearances on April 27, 2015 for Titanic Live, and you get a memorable event with a unique character.
Menu of JAMES HORNER: A Life in Music
1. Universal Studios – Logo
Faithful interpretation of the 22-second piece that accompanied the Universal logo from 1991 to 1997. An ideal introduction to the world of the maestro and for a concert of film scores.
James Horner gave an interview in March 2015 for Avex Classics, which was published in the Titanic Live program. The interview was filmed and two clips were broadcast during the evening. In the first extract, he shares the story of the moment he decided to become a composer. Aged 10, he had heard at school the 2ndmovement of Beethoven’s 7thsymphony, the Allegretto movement.
"…and I already had known the piece, but for some reason it just really struck me as really especially stunning that day. And I went home and listened to it I think twenty times…. That was the day that I decided I wanted to compose."
"And I was so impressed by the sound he got [on] such a low budget film. This big, orchestral, very bravura score. We were all kind of, on this little movie, blown away by it…. So a few years later when I was doing Aliens, he was a natural choice, and he was available, and he had some big ideas for the score."
"We shared Roger Corman as a kind of a mentor, as much as that makes me smile. Because in his own way, he was both mentor and absolute exploiter of young, needier talent, but, you know, thank God for him. »
In our exclusive article detailing the program of the concert we had already expressed reservations about the choice of The Battle In The Swamp. Indeed it is not the most representative piece of this score, even if the progressive strength of the strings during its opening was enough to give chills. A new proof that Krullis a spectacular work, which should more often be part of the concerts of film music.
Before the Apollo 13Suite, Howard said that Horner was his “first and only” choice for the music.
We had serious doubts about the quality of this Suite, given the poor interpretations visible on YouTube. This was one of the good surprises of this evening, because the version presented was respectful of the original score. The drums, the trumpet solo, the strings were perfect and the editing of Main Title – Re-entry & Splashdown succeeded.
As an introduction to The Flying Circus from The Rocketeer, director Sir Richard Eyre shared a philosophy that Horner himself often discussed, that in film, "music and picture are, or should be, indissoluble elements…. Invariably, I think, with James Horner's films and scores, they are tied together."
It takes a lot of courage to get into the interpretation of this spectacular piece. The orchestra made a near perfect copy. A feat !
Next, Mel Gibson admired Horner's ability to compliment a film with music.
"James was really good at that, positioning himself and his music against the image…. Sometimes he'd counter it, sometimes he'd roll with it. He knew which strings to pull."
His comments led to the main titles of Star Trek II : The Wrath of Khan, complete with two percussionists swinging plastic tubes to create the otherworldly sound effects of the opening. While a slightly comical sight to see, it also demonstrates the creativity in James Horner ́s music and how he employed various devices to create his soundscapes. The energetic and adventurous main theme sounded exquisite in the Royal Albert Hall, really letting the brass section shine. It left little to be desired, apart from maybe switching the main titles for the end credits piece, for the classic Horner finale of the piece.
The beginning of The Ludlows was wasted because the sound engineer did not lower the microphone of the pianist after his intervention causing a background noise mingling with the strings for about fifteen seconds. However the interpretation was at the height of that of Hollywood in Vienna 2013 and the album Collage in 2016 that is remarkable.
Cameron and Jon Landau introduced the Aliens suite by admiring his body of work as a whole.
Cameron said: "I like scores that have memorable, kind of melodic riffs that are consistent throughout the score, from end to end. And even in James's case, consistent throughout his body of work."
Landau praised the variety of Horner's music from score to score.
Spectacular suite composed from the Main Title and the legendary Bishop Countdown. A slight downside, however, is the introduction, much less striking than on the disc. However the percussive madness of the finale was a highlight of the evening.
Sir Richard Eyre said he originally wanted a "chamber score" for Iris.
"...something very, very small. So when James was suggested to me initially, I reeled back because the most recent score I'd seen of James was Titanic. And I thought…'If a score of that size, a Hollywood score, isn't that going to crush the life out of this fragile little film?'…. James was very, very smart about how he scored the film. And I don't feel that the score ever did anything more or less than support the film at every stage. »
Played beautifully, the solo violin permeated every molecule of air in the auditorium. After the original performance by Joshua Bell and Mari Samuelsen ́s interpretation on the Collage-album, soloist Elizabeth Cooney had large shoes to fill, and did so wonderfully. Ludwig Wicki found the perfect balance between soloist and orchestra, sweeping the audience along on a lyrical and emotional journey. One of the highlights of the evening.
To introduce Braveheart, Gibson explained that they chose a "pre-Gregorian" era of music for the score.
"Or we kept the idea of that…. But he went back further, to Celtic music, to the more melodic sounds of Ireland and Scotland…. He used the uilleann pipe, for instance, and not the Scottish bagpipes, because they're more melodic."
First appearance of Eric Rigler for this summit of the Hornerian music. The emotion was palpable in each of his notes.
A memorable conclusion for this first part, intense and varied.
Before Titanic, another segment from the Horner interview was shown, in which he continued to reflect on his growth as a composer. He talked about his realization of how his music could be changed by a film. Cameron then explained his process of working with Horner, and challenging him to write a strong theme.
"So he played me, it turned out, three themes. One for the ship, one for Rose, and one sort of for the movie, general theme. And they were all brilliant, emotional, I mean I literally wept. And he's just playing the piano. Just solo, nothing, no support of any kind. And so I felt that he had conquered the biggest challenge of the score right at the beginning."
Suite specially created for the event (Avex Edition) and using extracts from the music heard in the movie, i.e. for Titanic Live. Movie version of the Main Title (unpublished on disc) – Southampton – The Winning Ticket (from Heaven Help Us – 1985) – Hard to Starboard – The Dream (Final scene – Rose and Unable to Stay, Unwilling To Leave)
That Avex went ahead and created their own suite was a peculiar choice. Horner already wrote a Titanic Suite for Back to Titanic. This suite was later updated and revised for the premiere of Titanic 3D, shortened for Hollywood in Vienna and then again slightly revised by Horner for his final performance as conductor with the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra in 2015. It seems a bit strange why this suite was not employed, as it encompasses the entire emotional journey of Titanic, including a part of My Heart Will Go On. Avex ́s suite, while interesting in that it included some of Horner ́s action material, does not contain the same flow and structure as the original suite. Still, the performance was stellar, letting both Eric Rigler ́s bagpipes and penny whistles shine, and Clara Sanabras ́ vocals soar.
Disappointment here because the piece was largely truncated while its emotional power lies in its gradual rise over more than nine minutes. Only the last three minutes were presented here.
Jon Landau proceeded to talk about how James Horner came up with My Heart Will Go On, how he wrote the song in secret. He got Will Jennings to write the lyrics and demoed the song for Celine Dion, who loved the song.
Cameron talked about how he was skeptical, and that if Horner had asked him outright about an end credits song he ́d just reply sarcastically « Yeah sure, like the one at the end of Schindler ́s List ». He then talked about how when he heard the song, he immediately loved it and predicted it would be a huge hit.
A bit strangely, instead of including My Heart Will Go On as a part of the suite from Titanic, it came as a separate piece after Field of Dreams. The arrangement is the same as Avex uses during Titanic Live, and Clara Sanabras as always knocked it out of the park. In her performance she manages to pay respects to both Celine Dion and Sissel, while still infusing the song with her own creative energy.
Ron Howard reflected on their approach to A Beautiful Mind, mentioning that they were influenced by composer Phillip Glass (known for his ostinato-driven music). Still, he also emphasized that the score did not try to emulate Glass, only use the concept of small repetitive ideas.
Clara Sanabras ́ did the vocal part done in the film by Charlotte Church. The performance was good, but it felt slightly rushed due to Wicki conducting the piece at a slightly higher tempo. The result was that at times the orchestra felt like they were just working to keep up rather than let the music flow as it should. Nitpicking, to be sure, but something easily noted by avid Horner-fans. The piece was in fact played slightly slower during the dress rehearsal earlier in the day and it is therefore a bit of an open question why the tempo was changed. However, we still got to hear the wonderful interaction between voice and the interlocked pianos imitating the changing patterns in mathematical models.
The instrumental part was very successful with a subtle presence of choirs in the second part, but what curiosity to sing a duet by a single performer! Alice Zawadzki did what she could to make up for the absence of a male voice.
Dynamic piece, not representative of the work. The other pieces would have required the presence of Flamenco dancers. The absence of Kazu Matsui on the shakuhatchi was detrimental to the power of the piece.
For Avatar, Cameron explains how Horner pushed himself to find new musical colors that would serve the world of Pandora, and the difficulty in balancing familiar sounds with exotic.
Note a feedback of several seconds that could have been avoided if the sound engineer (still him) had been scrupulous.
As with Titanic, this was a new suite created by Avex for the event (Avex Edition).
Avatarwas again a case of Avex developing their own suite when another well- functioning suite exists. However, the result was largely very enjoyable, the highlights being the inclusion of Climbing up Iknimaya and the final, rousing part of Gathering the Na ́avi Clans for Battle.
The emotion was palpable on stage in the performances of Clara Sanabras and Eric Rigler, and also in the stands of the Royal Albert Hall. At the exit, the public seemed conquered by such beautiful melodies and colors. Thanks to Avex Classics for allowing James Horner's music to resonate again in the heart of London.
On our side every piece has revived memories and emotions deep within us. The music of James Horner has followed us for so long that it has marked forever several periods of our existence. James Horner: Our Life in Music.
Special thanks to Kim Østenfor Spildrejorde, Nick Martin, John Andrews and Etienne Walter.