Where would films be without soundtracks? As we all know, the choice of music has a huge impact on how we react to what we are seeing on screen from the swelling sounds that help bring tears to the eye, even when you know you’re being emotionally manipulated, to the creepy strains that raise the hair on the back of your neck in horror films.
In its latest concert Music from the Movies, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs put together a program of choral music from films, ranging from existing classical masterworks like Mozart’s Requiem used in Amadeus, to specially composed soundtracks such as Ennio Morricone’s famous score from The Mission. Some of the pieces are exceptionally well-known, others were much less familiar, particularly when performed in concert without the accompanying film, but it all came together in a well-considered program.
The 400 choristers ready for the start of Music at the Movies. Photo courtesy of Sydney Philharmonia Choirs
Featuring 400 voices from the Festival Chorus and the young adult ensemble VOX, together with the Sydney Philharmonia Orchestra, it proved an uplifting evening, with conductor Elizabeth Scott an elegant presence on the podium, encouraging the massed forces with warmth and expressive gestures.
The evening began with the full massed choir singing the Choral Suite from the mega-hit movie Frozen, Disney’s computer-animated musical fantasy. The number, in which the Sámi people chant in Old Norse, is sung in the film by the chapel choir at Elsa’s coronation, and got the concert off to a soaring start.
With presenter Fenella Kernebone introducing the next section, VOX then donned knitted scarves (causing appreciative laugher from the audience) to sing Double Trouble from John Williams’ score from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. This was the first in a section dedicated to music by Mozart and John Williams, which moved back and forth between the two composers. Williams’ scores included the poignant Hymn to the Fallen, which opens the film Saving Private Ryan as soldiers are mown down by gunfire, Duel of the Fates, a Suite for Orchestra from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, and Dry Your Tears, Afrika from Amistad– a selection showcasing Williams’ extraordinary, rich range. But for me anyway, it was the Dies Irae, Confutatis and deeply moving Lacrimosa from Mozart’s Requiem, used in Miloš Forman’s film Amadeus, that had the most powerful emotional impact.
The next section, entitled Religion – For Better or Worse, included music from Morten Lauridsen’s luminous, light-filled Lux aeterna used in Angels and Demons, and Ennio Morricone’s sublime On Earth As It Is In Heaven from his famous soundtrack for The Mission. Nicola Bell played the famous ethereal oboe solo, but though miked at the front of the stage, she was somewhat overwhelmed by the orchestral and vocal forces.
Act One ended with the Choral Finale from Beethoven’s Symphony No 9, the composition so loved by the brutal Alex in the book and film A Clockwork Orange; another musical highlight of the evening.
Act Two opened with themes from Gladiator, composed by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard, featuring Atalya Masi as soloist who sang beautifully from the organ loft, then segued into the eerie swirling sounds of Danny Elfman’s Alice’s Theme from his score for Tim Burton’s film Alice in Wonderland. A section from Australian films included music from Craig Armstrong’s score for Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, including the beautiful, simple piano solo (played by Kate Johnson) at the start of O Verona composed for the Balcony Scene with its reference to O Fortuna from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana; musical themes from Luhrmann’s film Australia; Jonathan Hodge’s If I Had Words from the film Babe, based on a theme from Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony and sung by Farmer Hoggett to the pig Babe; and Nigel Westlake’s achingly elegiac O Sol Almo Immortale from his Missa Solis Requiem, used in the film Solarmax.
The final section of the evening, wryly titled The Mad King and The Lion King, included Handel’s Zadok the Priest, used in the film The Madness of King George – Handel’s music has featured in 555 films, said Kernebone – the Suite from The Lion King (which didn’t quite have the same impact in this massed choral version as in the film), and finally O Fortuna from Carmina Burana – one of those ubiquitous pieces that still gets the pulse racing when sung as well as it was here.
All in all, a successful, well-sung concert with repertoire that had popular appeal as well as musical credibility, which together made for an uplifting celebration of the power of the human voice.