How do you begin when you are dealing with a Legend in film music, how do you say that this individual has brought much to the world of movie scores, has enriched ingratiated and enhanced so many movies making them better, making them more powerful and more impacting, well I suppose you begin back in 1966 when a young teenager decided he would spend his pocket money all 13 shillings and 11d on an LP record that was priced wrongly in his local Telefusion shop. The LP was THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY and the teenager was me. Who was Ennio Morricone, what was this movie? These were the questioned I asked as I sat on the bus with the record in my hands looking at the cover. Well that was the start of it for me, Ennio Morricone was from then on a part of my life, and he was also a big part of my voyage of discovery as I started to become more immersed and interested in film music in general.
Little did I realise that Morricone would become the composer that I most favoured and the composer who would start to overtake my collection of records then compact discs. On Monday 26th November 2018. I went to London to see the Maestro for what was billed as his last ever UK concert, now I am always somewhat sceptical when I hear of artists or composers announcing that they will not again be stepping up to a podium or appearing on stage in front of an audience. But, at 90 years of age Ennio Morricone has surely earned the rest from touring. I have seen Morricone five times previously in concert, but this night there seemed to be an air of something special present in the vast arena of the O2. As the people filed in I watched in amazement as the arena filled to capacity, and as the Maestro came on stage the entire arena was on its feet, a standing ovation before anything had been performed.
The Maestro took his place on the podium in front of the CZECH NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA and also THE CROUCH END FESTIVAL CHOIR, an impressive sight of over 200 musicians and singers. A hush fell over the arena a hush of anticipation and an excitement because we all knew what was coming. The Maestro raised hisbaton slowly and the tones of his gorgeous theme for 1900,THE LEGEND OF THE PIANIST began to slowly build and build to the sweeping and luxurious crescendo which every time sends shivers all over my body, the strings literally taking off and purveying a sensation of lush and romantically infused excellence, the cue continues to build and horns are added giving the piece a depth and presence that is to be honest overwhelming. The crescendo subsides and the music reverts to how it began with piano and clarinet being underlined by sliding strings and an emotive violin solo which is filled with melancholy and poignancy. As the music faded and came to an end it drew much applause and shouts of Ennio bravo from the audience, what an opening for the night, could it get any better, well that is a stupid question really as we all know what the response is to that. The applause melted away as on the large screens appeared SCATTERED SHEETS. Again the audience settled down in their seats and awaited the delights of the Maestro.
This section of the concert began with, CHI MAI the unmistakable opening bars drawing applause, CHI MAI was the track that was a big hit in the UK when the BBC used it as the opening theme for one of their popular TV series back in the 1970’s. Originally composed by Morricone for the movie MADDALENA, this neatly segued into the theme for H2S, which is a theme I have always thought was so beautiful, this was followed by UNO CHE GRIDA AMORE which is taken from the ever popular Morricone soundtrack, METTI UNA CERA A SENA. Again the piece being met with much approval from members of the audience, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA was represented next in the form of the lilting and yet rich and haunting theme for DEBORAH from the Sergio Leone masterpiece. BAARIA came next in the running, the film which was directed by respected film maker Guiseppe Tornatore is a comedy drama and was released in 2009, Morricone’s emotive and alluring themes graced the movie and the combination of the Maestro’s music and the visionary film making of Tornatore are unbeatable and the music performed here in concert although fairly brief was in a word stunning. The TARANTELLA from the 1974 film ALLONSANFAN was next and this driving and dramatic sounding piece brought the SCATTERED SHEETS section of the concert to a close. I for one was so pleased with hearing Allonsanfan as I had not heard it performed live before and it is in my opinion a classic Morricone score from a period in his career when his was so innovative and productive. The audience were on their feet again (this happened a lot during the evening). Next we were introduced to the excellent soprano Susanna Rigacci who has accompanied the Maestro on so many of his concert tours, NOSTROMO was next, three selections from the score were performed.
The Title track, plus TROPICAL FANTASY and SILVER OF THE MINE wonderfully performed by orchestra and choir who supported the unique and soaring wordless vocals of the Soprana. Again a massive applause resounded around the arena and deservedly so. Up next was a section that has always been popular, THE MODERNITY OF THE MYTH IN SERGIO LEONE’S CINEMA, this section opened with the dramatic and sinister strains of the harmonica from the MAN WITH THE HARMONICA composition which is as we all know taken from the score to ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, we could not see the harmonica soloist as he or she was not on stage but was playing in the wings, the performance was flawless and led into the familiar and powerful composition performed by orchestra and choir. This was neatly followed by THE STRONG from THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, which in turn led into the central theme from the movie, there was much applause again for the Maestro as the strains of the theme commenced and then THE ECSTACY OF GOLD and all I can say is WOW, WOW. Or should that be WAH WAH? This was something truly special something, that is excellent and emotional and such a commanding piece of music that has endured and become classic piece.
So the arena went wild literally wild with shouts and applause whistles as the first half of the concert came to an end. The O2 was packed and I thought it was best to stay seated rather than run the gauntlet of the bars food places and other amenities. The choir and orchestra returned after approx 15 mins, the concert had started 15 mins late, we did not know why but I now think it may have had something to do with the announcement of the death of Bernardo Bertolucci.
The Maestro returned as always bowing so low to the audience as he turned to face them on the podium. THE HATEFUL EIGHT was next LAST STAGE TO RED ROCK. I have to admit not my favourite score from the Maestro, but its Tarantino so its bound to be different, and it won Morricone his Oscar at last. The lengthy suite was followed by The SOCIAL CINEMA section of the concert with guest vocalist Dulce Pontes, again flawless and excellent Morricone conducted the orchestra and choir whilst Pontes sang in a way only she can, performing her magic on cues from SACCO AND VANZETTI (the ballad of Sacco and Vanzetti) LA LUZ PRODIGIOSA (the end of a mystery) and also getting involved in ABOLICAO from Quiemada. The Maestro also conducted selections from CASUALTIES OF WAR, BATTLE OF ALGIERS, INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION, SOSTIENE PEREIRA and THE WORKING CLASS GO TO HEAVEN. So this was a real treat for the die hard fans of Morricone and contains music from a varied selection of movies. The arena erupted people standing whistling, shouting and enjoying the night so much, you could actually feel the love in the air, the warmth the adoration for the Maestro. The time was getting on sadly, its at this time in a concert that one wants to go and put the clock back an hour or maybe two just so that you can stay and hear more and more. THE MISSION was next and three cues from his magnificent soundtrack, GABRIELS OBOE, THE FALLS and ON HEAVEN AS IT IS ON EARTH, as always this was truly uplifting and emotional, but tonight it seemed even more so.
The suite came to its end and drew so much applause and a standing ovation, the Maestro bowed and applauded his fans from the podium and then left the stage, but the applause was relentless and yes he came back an encore, the audience took their seats once again and the haunting theme from CINEMA PARADISO floated around the arena, followed by the love theme form the same movie. Again more applause more shouts and whistles, the Maestro once again left the stage, but were the audience going to let him go? No they were not he returned for two more encores, THE ECSTACY OF GOLD and then ABOLICAO, with Dulce Pontas added her special vocal talents to the proceedings. This performance of the piece was even louder if that was at all possible. This did the concert to a close, the Maestro embracing Pontes and then bowing to the arena and waving as he left, this was a concert that was so special a concert of iconic themes and a concert of masterful compositions by a man who is without a doubt the greatest living film music composer. So many memories, so many emotions, so much music that changed so many peoples lives and inspired many more, from the 1960’s through to the 21 century Morricone has been there and will remain via his music old and hopefully new. Thank you Dear Maestro.