Ennio Morricone's music has an ability to affect people like no other film composer. His previous concert in London was 7 years ago so his concerts are a rare event. No wonder the concert hall was filled to capacity with 5000 fans and admirers wanting to see and hear the great composer and his music at first hand. The stage was also packed with the 100 strong orchestra "Roma Sinfonietta" and a large choir of 110 members from the Crouch End Festival Chorus.
The event began with a half-hour documentary film called "A Life in Music" directed by the composer's son Giovanni Morricone. This set the scene with a selection of clips and events reminding people of the composer's main accomplishments. Two comments stuck in my memory as they highlighted the composer's relationship with film directors. The first was to do with Morricone's expectation of trust from directors - allowing him to bring his own creative ideas to the film. If a director said they wanted something to sound like Tchaikovsky for example, he would "fire" such a director and not work with him. The second comment seems to partly contradict this by showing that he does bend a little to meet directorial expectations. Sometimes he will create two versions of a cue - his A-version that he wants to use, but if he feels the A-version might be seen as too extreme he might also create a B-version as a standby which might be more acceptable to a timid director.
Following the film was an introduction by Sir Christopher Frayling, Chairman of the Arts Council, writer and broadcaster who has studied Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns among other aspects of popular culture. He recalled how The Maestro had not won an oscar for any of his film scores, but that was rectified by The Academy when he was awarded an honorary oscar for career achievement in 2007, recognising that this classically trained composer with his gift for melody and inspired instrumentation had tapped into popular consciousness like no other composer before or since.
Ennio Morricone came on stage to conduct The Roma Sinfonietta Orchestra. Morricone's orchestra is a large but fairly typical symphony orchestra with the addition of a drum-kit, keyboard, electric and bass guitars, and of course the wordless voices characteristic of much of Morricone's music - soprano soloist Susanna Rigacci and the Crouch End Festival Chorus.
The concert opened with a piece called "Icaro Secondo". I think this was a recently-composed concert piece, demonstrating that the composer certainly hasn't retired from composing and it served to warm up both orchestra and audience before the more familiar film tracks. The next part consisted of film tracks dating from the late 60s and early 70s, and featuring Gilda Buttà on the piano. The first was from the rather obscure surreal Italian film called "H2 S". Though this film may not be shown very frequently these days, its music with its rythmic piano patterns and busily cheerful music clearly lives on. Then we heard "The Sicilian Clan" with sax intro handing over to the electric guitar to lead the work against a constantly descending motive - giving a sombre yet timeless feel for this gangster movie made many years before "The Godfather". Then we had two pieces from "Love Circle" (also known as "Metti, una sera a cena") - the main theme being kicked off by disturbing sounds on the piano before being joined by plucked cello, horns and the rest of the orchestra and drum kit producing a distinctly jazzy feel, followed by the track "Uno Che Grida Amore" from the same film where the jazz idiom becomes more obvious. This section then closed with "Come Maddalena" from the film Maddalena with the first appearance from soprano Susanna Rigacci.
The final section of the first half of the concert was called "The Modernity of Myth in Sergio Leone's Cinema" and featured the music for which Morricone is most popularly associated, the Sergio Leone films. We heard the main theme from "The Good, The Bad and The Ugle" with its Coyote call on clarinet. It's worth noting that there are many arrangements of this theme. The programme states that the orchestration is the same as the original soundtracks. It sounds different to the film soundtrack, though key highlights such as the military trumpet call and powerful chorus are unmistakeable. This was followed by the dreamy timeless music from "Once Upon a Time in the West" which is quite different in approach from the earlier Dollar films, when Leone asked Morricone to compose the music first, setting the mood before filming began. A Fistful of Dynamite came next with its strangely serene but very catchy theme. The section was rounded off with "The Ecstacy of Gold" from "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" - this starts on Cor Angalis against an ostinato pattern on piano, with sections of the orchestra and the soprano soloist joining in, building to a great climax with full orchestra and chorus based largely on just 4 notes.
The first section is called Tre Adagi and these three works feature the leader Marco Serino as the violin soloist. It starts with the thoughtful yet romantic "Deborah's Theme" from Once Upon a Time in America. Then comes Vatel the theme from a 2000 film which has a sort of dreamy Cinema Paradiso quality, followed by the lighter Addio Monti which finishes with a little Beethoven quotation. This work is from "I Promessi Sposi" listed as a film in the programme but actually a TV mini-series from 1989. This is followed by music from another TV Mini-Series - "Nostromo" based on the novel by Joseph Conrad. It is an epic saga which brings out many of Morricone's story-telling trade-marks. The next section of the concert is a Tribute to Mauro Bolognini featuring Monica Berni as the solo flautist. The two lyrical tracks are called "Per le Antiche Scale" and "L'eredità Ferramonti".
The final programmed part of the concert consisted of three tracks from The Mission starting with the sublimely beautiful "Gabriel's Oboe" which allowed yet another member of the woodwind section (Carlo Romano on Oboe) to shine with a solo part. Then the "Falls" (with its breathy bass flute) and "On Earth As It Is In Heaven" where the counterpoint of choir, orchestra and drums interweave threads of Nature and Culture and Religious ideals, bringing together seemingly incompatible elements in a glorious climax.
A standing ovation followed after which the audience fell silent, perhaps not quite believing that the concert could be over. Of course it was not over as the Maestro returned to play a first encore which was a small suite of music from the film "Cinema Paradiso" consisting of the Main Theme and the Love Theme. Numerous standing ovations were to follow as Ennio Morricone returned to the podium to conduct two further encores in a reprise of "The Ecstacy of Gold" followed by "On Earth as it is in Heaven". No doubt many people left the hall with their minds continuing to buzz with these haunting melodies as they headed home.
Here is the full programme, which we have tried to recreate as best as possible using available videos from YouTube. Just click the video links to hear the music in another window. The quality and editing are variable but the music shines through.
Film "A Life in Music" directed by Giovanni Morricone
Introduction by Sir Christopher Frayling (here he is talking about Spaghetti Westerns)
First Act, Part 1
1) Icaro Secondo
First Act, Part 2: Scattered Sheets (Piano: Gilda Butta)
2) H2 S video
3) The Sicilian Clan video
4) Love Circle video
5) Uno Che Grida Amore (from the film Love Circle) video
6) Come Maddalena (from the film Maddalena) video
First Act, Part 3: The Modernity of Myth in Sergio Leone's Cinema
(with soprano vocals by Susanna Rigacci and chorus)
7) The Good, the Bad and the Ugly video
8) Once Upon a Time in the West video
9) A Fistful of Dynamite video
10) The Ecstacy of Gold - from the film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly video
Second Act, Part 1: Tre Adagi (with Marco Serino - Solo Violin)
11) Deborah's Theme (from the film Once Upon a Time in America) video
12) Vatel video includes next track
13) Addio Monti (from the film I Promessi Sposi)
Second Act, Part 2
14) Nostromo video
Second Act, Part 3: Tribute to Mauro Bolognini (Flute: Monica Berni)
15) Per le Antiche Scale video includes next track
16) L'eredità Ferramonti
Second Act, Part 4: The Mission
17) Gabriel's Oboe (Oboe: Carlo Romano) video
18) Falls video
19) On Earth as it is in Heaven video
20) Cinema Paradiso - small suite, with Main Theme and Love Theme video
21) The Ectasy of Gold (reprise) video
22) On Earth as it is in Heaven (reprise) video