Klassik Radio in Concert has been quite a name in the German film music landscape for the last couple of years. Klassik Radio, THE biggest classical music radio station in Germany with a whole online stream exclusively dedicated to film music, was already doing concert tours through Germany playing live film music before touring became popular among film music composers (e.g. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard have been on the road recently).
The programme of these concerts is determined by popular vote on the Klassik Radio website. Since these votes are rather predictable and usually result in a set of very well-known film scores, our expectations were geared less towards discovering new music, but we were looking forward to enjoying live renditions of some of our favourite classics.
The concert was held in the very beautiful art noveauish Laeiszhalle in Hamburg. Unfortunately, the solemn flair of the venue was undermined by the laser show and the heavy effect smoke that made it difficult to see the orchestra from further back. The venue was reasonably well-filled, but very noticeably not sold out. The audience made up for their lack of numbers with enthusiastic applause though.
After an introductory fanfare and a pleasing performance of the overture to Lawrence of Arabia, the evening’s hosts, Svenja Sellnow and Thomas Ohrner, were introduced by a rather strange pre-recorded radio voice. They proceeded to guide the audience through the evening in exactly the same way they (probably) present their morning radio shows. In between some basic movie facts, mindless chatter, shameless bootlicking (we are, as it seems, the best looking, nicest and cleverest audience they had so far) and a rather inane “spontaneous quiz” (the answers of which were helpfully the next tracks in the programme), we found ourselves in the middle of entirely too much talking and too little music.
When finally a piece from the La La Land score was announced, we were hoping for some diversity, as this was one of the few tracks that were not voted into the programme. The orchestra performed an actual score piece rather than one of the more popular songs from the movie, but sadly it did not manage to convey the cheery feeling of Justin Hurwitz’s music. As a result, the concert’s only potentially surprising piece fell rather flat.
The next block of music was completely determined by the audiences’ choices. At times, during the renditions of Jurassic Park, Lord of the Rings and Dances with Wolves, it felt like we could actually hear the hundreds of times the orchestra had played these pieces before. The presentation was very routine and completely devoid of any emotional involvement on the orchestra’s side. The conductor, Nic Raine, led the orchestra to rather surprising speeds which finally resulted in the brass not being able to keep up with the main theme of Jurassic Park and cutting off some notes here and there. Another issue that became evident during the performance of these pieces was the electronic amplification: It resulted in a sound more reminiscent of a recording than a live orchestra.
The Beauty and the Beast track that came next in the programme was sung by Jana Degebrodt. Having the “Tale as old as Time” song sung by a soprano was a quite surprising choice, but also a pleasing one, since, for once, they would not attempt to recreate the movie version 1:1. Degebrodt gave a vocally spectacular rendition of the song, which unfortunately failed to raise any of the right emotions because the very classical soprano voice just did not match the mood of the song. The audience seemed not to mind though − they rewarded the singer with enthusiastic applause.
A ray of hope came with the last two tracks of the first half. First off was Braveheart’s “For the Love of a Princess,” which was lovely despite a rather noticeable misstep in the brass section, followed by a Game of Thrones piece. It may just have been imagination, but playing the relatively new music of Djawadi seemed to breathe some life and enthusiasm into the orchestra. Unfortunately, the microphone settings resulted in the brass section completely drowning out the rest of the orchestra during the more epic passages.
Considering the let-downs of the first half, it was a relief to see (and hear) that most of the issues were actually fixed in the intermission. The mix of the microphones was adjusted, the conductor calmed down enough to play the second half at normal speeds, the orchestra seemed a lot more enthusiastic after the break and even the music selection became a little more diverse. As a nice gimmick, the sponsor of the concert supplied a couple of e-pianos for the guests to try out during the break.
The second half of the concert started with John Williams’ newest Star Wars score. We heard “Rey’s Theme” and the “March of the Resistance”. Not hearing the Star Wars main theme was a pleasant surprise, as the programme so far had been relying too much on melodies you can sing in your sleep. Despite a general Star Wars tiredness (the main theme is simply played too often) these two pieces actually made for one of the evening’s highlights. However, all this rebellious deviation from main themes was destroyed by the Out of Africa score that followed afterwards. Nevertheless, John Barry’s piece was played quite lovely (and in the right tempo!) and it made for a nice contrast. The lovely Jana Degebrodt had another chance to shine as she sang the love theme from the Godfather. And shine she did: In our humble opinion she did an even better job with this song. Her classic soprano gave a nice twist to the Italian lyrics of “Parla più piano” and even though classical singing can be a divisive affair, we found ourselves deeply impressed by her performance. So was the audience.
Another nice mood twist was the action- and brass-filled Mission Impossible theme that followed suit. The orchestra, for once, seemed to enjoy playing and the piece was fun to listen to. The accompanying laser show was a bit over the top though, so the music was best enjoyed with closed eyes.
After a rather lengthy announcement of the following Hans Zimmer scores, we were treated to a beautiful rendition of “503” from Angels and Demons and “Tennessee” from Pearl Harbor.
Last in the programme was Klaus Badelt’s Pirates of the Caribbean score. This score was awaited with as much apprehension as the Star Wars piece − both soundtracks have been overplayed well beyond what they’re worth and it is easily permissible to be sick and tired of the respective main themes. We were in for another surprise though, because quite like with the Star Wars music, the orchestra avoided nearly all mention of the much-played main titles and instead took us on a very thorough ride through all the other themes of the movie. This helped some listeners in the audience to remember why they used to like this score. There are lots and lots of lovely melodies and moods in the music, but sadly they are all too easily buried because of overexposure to the film’s main theme. It was this revelation that accompanied us through the very well played and well-worn encore of John Williams’ “Raiders March” and all the way home.
Where and when: Hamburg, Germany – November 14th 2017
Orchestra: Klassik Radio Pops Orchestra from Prague
Conductor: Nic Raine
Singer: Jana Degebrodt
- Nic Raine − Klassik Radio Fanfare (fanfare, march)
- Maurice Jarre − Lawrence of Arabia (overture)
- Justin Hurwitz − La La Land (“Planetarium”)
- John Williams − Jurassic Park (theme)
- Howard Shore − The Lord of the Rings (“Concerning Hobbits”)
- John Barry − Dances with Wolves (“John Dunbar Theme”)
- Alan Menken − Beauty and the Beast (“Beauty and the Beast − Tale as old as Time”)
- James Horner − Braveheart (“For the Love of a Princess”)
- Ramin Djawadi − Game of Thrones (theme, “Mhysa”)
- John Williams − Star Wars – The Force Awakens (“Rey’s Theme”, “March of the Resistance”)
- John Barry − Out of Africa (theme)
- Nino Rota − Godfather (“Parla più piano”)
- Michel Legrand − Mission Impossible (theme)
- Hans Zimmer − Angels and Demons (“503”)
- Hans Zimmer − Pearl Harbor (“Tennessee”)
- Klaus Badelt − Pirates of the Caribbean (suite)
- John Williams − Indiana Jones – Raiders of the lost Ark (“Raiders March”, encore)