As we walk into the Royal International Convention Centre, I realise that this is going to be no ordinary orchestral concert by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.
Men and women – both young and old – are wearing Star Trek costumes, complete with Vulcan ears. If costumes aren’t apparent, then the dress codes are far from your concert hall standards (not that Brisbane ever rises to the white-tie heights of some other cities overseas). We are all here to witness a film music concert performed by the QSO, featuring music composed by Michael Giacchino for the 2009 Star Trek reboot starring Chris Pine as James T. Kirk, and Zachary Quinto as Spock.
This is not your common garden-variety film music concert though. No medleys, no goofy costumed on-stage shenanigans to keep the audience interested. Nope… tonight we are observing film music played in its natural habitat: in the context of an ACTUAL film.
In my opinion, the translation of film music to the performance venue has always suffered greatly. Film scores are in of themselves the size of most classical symphonies, however when films are tackled by most performing orchestras, we are left with six minutes of the ‘highlights’ – a main theme, and perhaps a bit of the more interesting incidental bits that stand alone reasonably well. Throw five or six of these ‘medleys’ from different films together, and you’ve got a concert that is apparently a hit with a wider public audience that don’t necessarily frequent the concert hall.
Star Trek: Live in Concert is a celebration of the symphony that is written for every action film, one that highlights those moments that don’t get included in the medley.
This might be true, but I think this practice of diminishing large film scores to a handful of minutes is damaging. This is for a whole bunch of reasons – most important to me: the loss of context with the original film, and removal of all the amazing incidental material that develops these themes that everybody loves.
How is Star Trek: Live in Concert any different? For starters, QSO plays the ENTIRE score of the film. Secondly, they play the score WITH the film. Star Trek: Live in Concert is a celebration of the symphony that is written for every action film, one that highlights those moments that don’t get included in the medley. It’s those moments, those small developments in character’s themes, those modest passages that make film music worth the time to listen to. Perhaps more importantly, Star Trek: Live in Concert recognises the symbiosis of listening to film music in context with its visual counterpart. With this context in place, we can listen to those modest incidental passages, and recognise the importance of the music in contributing to the mood and development of a film.
From that opening horn line over the titles, I was absolutely hooked. The QSO performed with the finesse and professionalism of any recording orchestra. There was more than one moment I found myself forgetting I was watching a live orchestra perform the score, a compliment to the level of playing – AND the level of sound desk wizardry on display. The tools were all on display too – every square metre of each section canvassed with a complement of condensor mics giving the stage a look that would be right at home at any orchestral recording studio. During interval, the stage was scrutinised by hundreds of eager selfie-taking trekkies and orchestral fans alike (including me) checking out the instruments and technical gadgetry on show.
By far the show-stealers were the brass section, who get ample chance to let it rip during the film. The long and shallow shape of the stage meant much of the percussion was split between two sides of the stage, bringing the timpani pretty much into the front row – and was pretty damn great to watch… sometimes you forget how important timpani can be to the epic timbre of film music.
I found myself realising after the film that Michael Giacchino’s kick-ass epic tom flourishes didn’t feature in the QSO rendition – probably filled out by the timpanis, although I didn’t really notice myself. If I had one criticism, I found that the string sections were often too quiet, especially when battling against the brass section, who were obviously having a hoot (literally). This was most apparent during the credits, as they played Giacchino’s amazing rendition of the original Star Trek theme.
This is film music performed correctly. Orchestras of the world, please take note. Although QSO is done with this show, if you get a chance to see it elsewhere – please PLEASE do. This is something that shouldn’t be missed. Thanks QSO for an amazing night! Thanks Michael Giacchino for an amazing score!