Space Spectacular: Star Wars and Beyond – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Conductor: Anthony Inglis

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Raymond Gubbay Ltd has long been producing concerts of popular classical music using its in-house orchestras, including tonight’s orchestra, the London Concert Orchestra. This is advertised as a Space Spectacular, comprised of music inspired by space. And it certainly is a spectacle. With over seventy musicians on stage, even Symphony Hall’s stage looks full and the sound produced is powerful, filling the space. Each piece is accompanied by a light show including kaleidoscopic projections on the walls and ceiling as well as laser projections that produce dancing lines, planes and cones of light as well as surreal starscapes around the hall. The final few pieces also have pyrotechnic accompaniment with bursts from indoor fireworks and plumes of flame introducing, for example, Barry Gray’s theme from the 1960s children’s show, Thunderbirds.

The subtitle to the concert gives a further clue as to the provenance of much of tonight’s music: Star Wars and Beyond. Of the 16 advertised pieces, fully 12 were written for science fiction based films or television shows (plus one science fact); the others include Also Sprach Zarathustra, written as a tone poem but subsequently used in 2001: A Space Odyssey and two contrasting offerings from Holst’s Planets suite: Mars and Jupiter. Many sf space films are based around conflict – Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Independence Day, for example, and we get no fewer than six examples from the Star Wars franchise alone – so it is unsurprising that much of the music has a martial feel to it, with strident brass, driving percussion and sweeping strings stirring us into action – or at least into tapping our feet, although it is perhaps Holst’s Mars, written as the First World War was starting, that truly captures the feel of conflict. The programme, is, in truth, a little unbalanced, but there are some fine examples that leaven this: James Horner’s more introspective theme from Apollo 13, Princess Leia’s Theme from Star Wars: A New Hope and the determinedly jovial Jupiter. And, of course, even the Star Wars main theme includes some more pastoral elements, providing both light and shade. The London Concert Orchestra does a fine job of filling the hall with sound under the baton of Michael Inglis, although at times that elements of the brass section are noticeably hesitant.

Inglis is our perfect host for the evening. He has a quietly commanding conducting style, choreographing the various entrances and exits with authority. He is also a fine master of ceremonies, explaining the background to many if the pieces and their composers and driving audience participation, for example, different sections converse using that sequence of five notes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind – which also allows Inglis to show off a fine singing voice himself as he demonstrates the notes. With his easy manner and dry wit, Inglis could easily pass muster on the comedy circuit.

So the evening is indeed spectacular – the lights and pyrotechnics, as well as some surprises in the encores, certainly add to the evening’s enjoyment, though the music selected is pretty spectacular in its own right and could be argued not to need any extra gimmicks.

An undemanding night of decent music, then, thoroughly enjoyed by this Birmingham audience.

Reviewed on 23 June 2017 and on tour | Image: Contributed

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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