Soundtracks as thrilling as the movies



Metropolitan Festival Orchestra/ Anthony Inglis (conductor)

Marina Bay Sands Grand Theatre Last Friday

This show was big, bold, brash and brilliant.

The iconic film scores of John Williams get plenty of exposure outside the cinema.

Symphony orchestras boost their coffers by putting on programmes of Williams' music, guaranteeing a capacity audience which, despite sitting in serried ranks in a sterile concert hall, finds the power of music alone is enough to recreate those imaginary worlds of Jaws, E.T., Jurassic Park, Harry Potter and, of course, Star Wars.

This one was different.

Despite an advance warning - "there will be no movies screened" - the show was every bit as much a visual experience as it was a sonic one.

The light show was spectacular, if occasionally a little too fussy, and the whole thing was atmospherically enhanced by the swirling smoke which billowed around the theatre even before the show had begun.

No movies, maybe, but plenty of cameras. And it took a gentle plea from the British conductor Anthony Inglis to get the flashes switched off so that the light show had its full impact.

Inglis is a born communicator. He peppered the performance with anecdotes, reminiscences and occasional rebukes ("I came from London yet I still managed to be here for the 7.30pm start"), and not only sounded like a master at Hogwarts, but also came up with a pretty fair vocal - not visual - imitation of E.T.

For its part, Singapore's Metropolitan Festival Orchestra had a massive hill to climb.

On top of audience expectations - everyone knows the music through highly polished and sanitised studio recordings - they had to contend with Inglis' anecdotes.

These included a story about the violins needing 27 rehearsals for the original soundtrack of Harry Potter (with just three rehearsals, the orchestra's violins did it live absolutely brilliantly) and how for Star Wars, Williams had a specific trumpeter in mind because of his "unique sound" - his Metropolitan Festival Orchestra counterpart gave a fabulous alternative version.

The pressure showed with some wobbly tuning and split notes - all mercilessly exposed by some very close miking which, as the show progressed, evolved into a more natural sound.

The orchestra, seemingly overwhelmed at the start, very quickly got into its stride.

Williams' scores require a lot of hard work and the ensemble knuckled down to produce playing which, while you would never mistake it for the original soundtracks, had an edginess that was every bit as thrilling.

An invasion of Star Wars characters during the interval (don't tell the kids they were just local actors in costume) helped make this show every bit as big, brash and brilliant as the original movies.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2016, with the headline 'Soundtracks as thrilling as the movies'. Print Edition | Subscribe