Conductor: Pete Harrison
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
‘In space, no one can hear you scream’ was the tagline to Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien. Of course, with no air to carry sound, no-one can hear anything else either, which is a problem for film and tv franchises that have at their heart wars between opposing regimes set in space – explosions might be spectacular, but necessarily silent. So the makers turned to music, specifically classically inspired music ever since Stanley Kubrick’s masterful use of The Blue Danube from Johan Strauss II and Sunrise from Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra in 2001: A Space Odyssey. So the choice of Also Sprach Zarathustra to open this year’s incarnation of Space Spectacular from Raymond Gubbay Ltd and the London Concert Orchestra is an excellent choice.
Raymond Gubbay Ltd has something of a reputation for producing accessible classical concerts, often with a little extra, and this year’s incarnation of its Space Spectacular is no exception. The programme takes popular classics inspired by, or associated with, outer space and combines them with a laser light show and occasional pyrotechnics … and even a visit from some Stormtroopers direct, it seems, from a galaxy far, far away.
As well as music from film and tv, the programme also includes excerpts from Holst’s The Planets which prove to be highlights of the concert. Given the nature of most space SF films, it’s reasonable to expect plenty of martial music and strident horns – and we certainly get them, though there is also a measure of light and shade provided with the more introspective suite from Gravity (Steven Price), the slightly more whimsical Adventures on Earth from John Williams’ score for ET the Extra-Terrestrial, or indeed, Williams’ ethereal theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind with its disconcertingly discordant opening, though the programmer maybe missed a trick not including anything from A Grand Day Out with Wallace and Gromit….
Our host for the evening is conductor Pete Harrison. He conducts with precision, wielding his baton like a surgical instrument, while also presenting an affable character when discussing the various pieces on the bill. There’s also a twist of humour in his cocktail for example, when the audience is invited to provide the countdown that starts Barry Gray’s theme from Thunderbirds.
Accompanying most pieces are abstract shapes in the air from onstage lasers, as well as more traditional lighting effects. While the pyrotechnics are undoubtedly technically well done, it’s not entirely clear how they and the lasers add to the enjoyment of the music which is of sufficient quality to stand alone.
The London Concert Orchestra is certainly a crowd-pleaser, it plays well in general, filling the cavernous Symphony Hall with sound. However, just occasionally, some brass is a touch hesitant and the violins sometimes feel a little underpowered. These are minor criticisms, however, as the quality of the playing more than does justice to the writing for almost all of the time.
So overall, an enjoyable, if undemanding, afternoon spent with the London Concert Orchestra and Pete Harrison.
Reviewed on 22 June 2019 | Image: Contributed