One of the perennial oddities of the London concert calendar lies in the fact that at that point of the year when people are keenest to go to concerts, there are fewest on offer.
Thus it is that Raymond Gubbay cleans up at the Barbican each Christmas, with stocking-filler events. But there are duller stocking-fillers than the one presented by Gubbay’s long-standing band, the London Concert Orchestra, under its conductor Anthony Inglis, who here gave us wall-to-wall John Williams film scores.
Never underestimate the power of film music. ‘No one really knows why music is needed,’ said Bernard Herrmann, composer for ‘Psycho’ and ‘Citizen Kane’, before going on to add, ‘but no film is complete without it.’ In the days of silent movies, off-screen music filled the void. When Al Jolson opened his mouth in ‘The Jazz Singer’, on-screen music was enshrined forever. And in the early days, the best composers queued up to have a go: Strauss, Stravinsky, and Schoenberg; Britten and Walton; Shostakovich and Prokofiev. They wanted to harness cinema’s power to their musical ends.
This also led to some brilliant composer-director partnerships, of which the one between the two Sergeis – Eisenstein and Prokofiev – was the most notable. Meanwhile Herrmann collaborated with first Orson Welles, then Hitchcock, Truffaut, and Scorsese. But the collaboration par excellence – which this Barbican programme largely focused on – was that between John Williams and Steven Spielberg, all of whose films bar two have been scored by this versatile former jazzman.
So on, to delighted chuckles from the audience, came the main theme from ‘Jaws’, followed by the themes from ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Raiders from the Lost Ark’. Williams had written the Yiddish melodies in ‘Schindler’s List’ for Itzhak Perlman, but the leader of the LCO here stood in for him with confident ease. ‘Sayuri’s Theme’ from ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ had been written for Williams’s favourite cellist Yo-Yo Ma, but here that too surfaced gracefully. ‘Close Encounters’ followed ‘Superman’, and ‘JFK’ led on to a medley from ‘Star Wars’, which had a kind of magnificence. With his aesthetic roots in Wagner, 78-year-old Williams has done more than anyone else alive to bring good symphonic music to the masses, so let no one begrudge him his royalties.