TSO, Reineke and Williams

Roy Thomson Hall was jammed tonight, fans of every age including parents & their children. The programme presented by the Toronto Symphony was a small sampling of the film music of John Williams.

There’s no mistaking the interest. In 2016 the TSO presented a similar program that was wonderfully well-received conducted by the same natural showman and evangelist, namely Steve Reineke.


Conductor Steven Reineke (photo: Michael Tammaro)

From what I hear, the 2017 concerts are selling very well. Tonight looked to be sold out, with few empty seats, so if you’re hoping to catch one of the remaining concerts don’t wait until the last minute before getting a ticket.

Film music is a big thing. I’m obsessed, personally, and not just because I teach a course on the subject. This is another side of popular music that can get lost in the shuffle if you only think of rock or hip-hop. John Williams reputedly charges a million dollars per film, and I saw elsewhere that others such as Danny Elfman charge comparable amounts. So when someone asks you who is the most successful Canadian composer, you might consider answering “Mychael Danna”: whose new orchestral suite based on his score to Life of Pi debuted last week with the TSO.

Tonight it was music from such films as Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T.,  and Jurassic Park. Whether you’re a fan of Harry Potter, Star Wars or one of the Spielberg – Williams collaborations such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, there was something for every nerd in attendance.

We began with Toboggan, Darren Fung’s Sesquie (and in case you haven’t heard, the TSO and other Canadian orchestras commissioned several of these two minute fanfares as a celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary, our sesquicentennial, which begat the “Sesquie”).  Reineke gave a wonderfully theatrical intro to the piece, which has a very cinematic feel, matching the rest of the program. Fung takes us on a musical ride, an impression of the adventure of going down a hill as a child, complete with the sense of triumph and the comical recognition that nobody was really paying any attention (with the wacky last note).

It was the perfect beginning to a concert where we were entertained in the same spirit, as though we were all children. Reineke gave us all an overdone backward glance during the Jaws music, as everyone started giggling uncontrollably. No the movie isn’t funny, but this is different, right? Listening to the shark music without any visible shark is hysterically funny: which is why Reineke got that out of the way to begin.

But it’s a valuable exercise. People watch films without recognizing the powerful components at work. You discover just how good Williams’ scores are when you hear these suites in a concert hall, with no visual accompaniment. All we have is our imaginations, which have no trouble filling in the rest, in the presence of this larger than life music.

I wonder if the TSO will change their programming philosophy. Last week, after all, they programmed Danna’s orchestral suite. That’s a different sort of music from the fun kid-friendly stuff Reineke gave us tonight. If orchestras can present opera excerpts such as “The Ride of the Valkyries” in a symphonic concert, there’s no reason they can’t do likewise with some film music compositions.

I’d love to see them probe connections, for instance giving us some of the Star Wars music alongside Mars Bringer of War from Holst’s The Planets Suite, which exerted such an influence on Williams. I thought tonight that the Jaws theme sounds like a cruder version of what Herrmann wrote for Psycho’s shower scene: possibly because the killer is so much bigger and nastier, but I wish I could hear them side by side in the same concert, for comparison. That sort of thing would be lots of fun.

Reineke could probe some of the connections between Williams’ scores. Harry Potter sounds a bit like the pirate theme in Hook for example. Superman and Star Wars have some resemblances. And—while I’m dreaming in colour—wouldn’t it be wonderful if the TSO could do some of the things I do in the film music class, when I play a powerful scene first WITHOUT the music (that shower scene for example), and then play the music without the visuals, and finally bring them all together.  But it would be so much better on the TSO’s big screen with the orchestra.

The program (minus the Sesquie) repeats twice On October 4th and again October 5th.

This entry was posted in Cinema, video & DVDs, Music and musicology. Bookmark the permalink.

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