A Concert experience is I think a very personal one, so it is sometimes difficult to say things about a performance because some one else at the same concert will probably have a different take on it and its performance and content. However, I fail to see how anyone would have been able to give a negative response or review of the Andrea Morricone concert dedicated to the life and the music of his Father the great Maestro Ennio Morricone.
The music as always was sublime, those little black dots on paper put there by a genius to shape and form beautifully haunting musical phrases and passages that would enhance and give greater life to already alluring and mesmerizing stories that were transformed into flickering images and movies on screen to the delight of so many. Phrases, sounds, and themes that will in my opinion live on forever, and in time will become even more iconic than they are already. The music by the Maestro was probably one of the reasons for me starting to write about film music, as his themes, and colourful originality inspired me on so many occasions to share my passion for it. I think I was so fortunate to have been born when I was. Because for me and also for the people of the same generation were privileged to witness and take in so many sights and more importantly sounds, I saw Ennio Morricone’s popularity grow and also was lucky enough to be able to be able to buy LP s of his soundtracks, his influence on music in general has been immense and it still continues today with new fans and new musicians falling under the Morricone spell. He was also the reason I started my blog/website Movie Music International, which was initially christened Movie music Italiano.
The concert on November 28th at the O2 Arena in London, was not just a wonderful listening experience but also a feast for the eyes with sections of various Morricone scored movies being screened as the orchestra performed, the concert was curated in such a way that whilst listening to the music and watching the images being projected on the big screen it allowed the audience to either re-live the movie that they may have watched originally years ago or discover the moments for the very first time. This was certainly Musica Per Gli Occhi (music for the eyes), as it went hand in hand with images creating a unique concert experience. The O2 was not full, which was an unusual sight for a Morricone concert, but the warmth and the atmosphere in the hall was noticeable as we were treated to footage of the Maestro talking about certain cues and his relationships with filmmakers, and also filmmakers talking of their experiences with the Maestro.
Some footage was from the amazingly emotional and interesting documentary Ennio, but there were sections I do not think I have seen before. Most recollections from the filmmakers went down the same road as in they said Ennio was a genius, and the experience of working was a profound and rewarding one. All also admitting that he was right, and they could have been wrong when it came to the music, which as we all know is so true.
I have listened to Morricone since I was ten years old,(1965) which is now quite a time ago, and I have never tired of his style, his sound, and his inventive and innovative musical creations. Yes, as with all composers there are a handful of scores that I will say are not or were not on the top of my favourites list when I first heard them, but as I have matured so has my taste and with a better understanding now as opposed to back in the dim and distant past I do appreciate them and their beautiful, dramatic, and emotive content much more. But such is life and one cannot possibly like everything. But with Morricone it is probably 99-99 percent in favour for me. The concert opened with a short piece of film with images of the Maestro and then the screen went black as conductor Andrea Morricone raised his baton and the title The Untouchables came onto the screen.
This section began with Strength of the Righteous, the driving and pulsating composition ringing out around the hall, whilst on screen we saw scenes from the movie, underlined and perfectly punctuated by the relentless music. As the piece drew to its close the suite segued into Victorious from the score, with the stirring theme came images of Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and his untouchables on horseback riding to apprehend Capone’s henchmen aided by the Canadian mountain police, on the border between the USA and Canada, this was for me the first highlight of the evening (Yes just 5 maybe 10 minutes in), this was followed by The Death Theme, with scenes of Malone (Sean Connery) breathing his last and also of Untouchable Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith) being left dead in a lift with Touchable written in his blood on the elevator walls. For a film that Morricone did not really want to work on the score was and remains amazing, vibrant, stirring, totally consuming and affecting. I am probably the world’s worst to remember the running order of a concert without a programme, and in this case, there is no exception. I remember every single cue, every performance, and each note and how I was affected and how I felt on hearing it, but what order it came in I am not so good. So, forgive me if I in the words of some British Politicians I have mis-remembered. (is that really a word)?
As far as I recollect Once Upon a Time in America came next, with Ennio on screen explaining that Deborah’s theme was originally destined for the 1981 movie Endless Love, but director Franco Zefferelli decided that where Morricone had decided to place the music was going to be underlined by a song instead, Morricone disagreed and because of this the composer withdrew from the ecame what we know as Deborah’s Theme, and I am so glad that Zefferelli chose Diana Ross over Morricone on this occasion.
Because Once Upon a In America is certainly a superior production and the music has gone down in film music history as being one of the best and also probably the most ignored film scores written, it’s a score that should have garnered Morricone an Oscar, but was sadly not even entered, which is criminal. The performance included Deborah’s theme, Poverty, and the Main Title, played over the stunning and haunting images created by another Maestro, the filmmaker Sergio Leone. The images and the music combining brought back so many memories. As the music from Once Upon A Time in America faded the delicate sound of a harp began introducing the section dedicated to 1900 the Legend of the Pianist, a film directed by the wonderfully talented director Giuseppe Tornatore, who’s images on screen seem to just go hand in hand with Morricone’s music on the films that they have collaborated on.
From delicate and poignant beginnings, the cue entitled The Legend Of The Pianist, builds slowly gathering momentum as the instrumentation is expanded upon the strings gradually becoming the dominant feature as the vibrant theme builds and develops until it literally soars and lifts the entire audience as if they have taken off and are themselves flying on a sweeping and highly romantic wave of glorious music. Again, another highpoint of the concert.
But you will see that there are many of those throughout the performance. I think just as much as the music if not more in certain cases the images of the Maestro speaking were heartrending and emotional. To think that this man, this composer, this genius has been a part of so many people’s live’s on this planet is remarkable. The music from Sergio Leone western movies was also included in a section, that included The Good the Bad and The Ugly, Giu la Testa (Duck you Sucker) and Once Upon a Time in the West. It began with The Man with the Harmonica, the harmonica performance being flawless, the theme is probably alongside The Good the Bad and the Ugly one of Morricone’s most famous or well-known western themes. It was, I thought, quite a faithful rendition of the cue, apart from a slight variation with the percussive section, that was a little more upbeat than the film version. But this did not in anyway spoil the experience although was noticeable. Jills theme from the same movie came next, with a beautiful soprano performance, that I thought was closer to the original Edda vocal than others I have heard. Sad to say I cannot find out the Soprano’s name. The main theme from Leone’s third Dollar movie The Good the Bad and the Ugly came next, the choir and orchestra combining in a powerful and driving performance of this iconic piece of music. This led into Giu La Testa, with the Sean, Sean theme again a superb performance from the Soprano and the choir, with the romantic and lush strings leading and underlining, this was merely a warmup for The Ecstasy of Gold, this is a classic piece of film scoring and a composition that ranks high as a favourite Morricone on so many lists.
In the film it was performed by Edda Dell Orso, a legend in her own right as a supreme soprano, who worked on so many Italian film scores and not just exclusively for Morricone. It is also a cue that is always much anticipated at a Morricone concert, and under the baton of Andrea Morricone the audience were not in any way shape or form disappointed, it was powerful, commanding, and exciting. Like I explained I am not sure I am getting these performances in the order that they were played but I am just relaying to you my thoughts on the evening its effects and the atmosphere that the images and the music generated.
There was after the intermission an exclusive track performed, it was Theme for Ennio which was written by Andrea in memory of his Father and performed on screen by the renowned cellist Hauser with the piano part being performed live. Within this we could hear phrases from Morricone scores, but also it had a original style that was woven into it, one felt one knew the music but then realized it was something new, something wonderful and something that was a fitting tribute to Il Maestro. Other pieces performed on this special evening of music and memories included, The Battle of Algiers, Queimada, (Burn), Working Class go to Heaven, Malena, the track Chi Mai from The Professional and Maddalena, A Citizen Above Suspicion, The Hateful Eight.
The latter title being interesting because the track from the score Last Stage Coach to Red Rock was performed by the orchestra on stage with Andrea conducting, whilst on screen we saw the recording sessions conducted by Ennio Morricone, watching the images on the screen and then watching Andrea conducting live was stunning as he mirrored his Fathers technique most of the time, a stunning performance of a cue that I have always thought to be a complex one, again the power of Morricone’s music evident and driving, with an uncomfortable atmosphere being purveyed by low woods and strings that are struck and plucked, it is classic Morricone, with brass and voices being added as it builds and progresses.
Other main highlights included The Sicilian Clan with Morricone explaining beforehand on screen the importance of the four notes he used regularly, four notes that he said he used in both The Sicilian Clan and Metti Una Sera a Cena the same four notes but not in the same order, which he said was something he borrowed from Bach. And yes, they also performed Metti Una Sera a Cena, or Hurry to Me as it was called in the UK when the movie was released as Love Circle. I remember getting the soundtrack LP in the UK on the blue CBS label and being slightly disappointed as they had added vocals to some of the tracks, the track Sauna for example was a syrupy sounding song performed by the Mike Samme Singers, the original was the best trust me. The performance of both of these classics was superb.
Cinema Paradiso was also included with three cues from the score being played. With the director of the film telling the story about how Morricone wrote a cue and it did not work, so he wrote it again in ten minutes whilst the orchestra was on a break, and with just 10 minutes remaining recorded the track not once but twice even though the director was happy with the first track, the director laughing saying that we used the first version. The Mission I think was the most emotional section, with the film’s director Roland Joffe, explaining how Morricone was moved to tears after watching it for the first time. And how he initially turned down the project as he felt the film was so good it needed no music, and he could not do it justice. And then how Morricone called the director saying I have a little idea. Which then turned into the score for The Mission.
The music accompanied scenes from the movie, which brought the memories flooding back and made one realize that the film would have been good without the music, but with the score it was great. After a wonderful night of music, memories and emotions, the Maestro Andrea Morricone, did three encores, which were On Heaven as it is On Earth, (The Mission), Here’s to You (Sacco and Vanzetti) and bringing the concert to a close with a hall vibrating The Ecstasy of Gold. The audience loved it and were on their feet every time the conductor tried to leave the stage. I am so pleased that the sounds of the Maestro’s compositions were for the most part kept as we know them, yes a few little orchestration changes and tempo alterations, but overall this was a magnificent and affecting night of music and also images from so many movies, with comments from directors, and a heartfelt statement from actor Jeremy Irons, a totally absorbing night and one I will not forget ever.