Culture critic Madeline McInnis reviews Oscar Winners: Music from the Academy Awards at the Symphony Hall.

Written by mmcinnis

From Up! to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and from Ben-Hur to Lord of the Rings, iconic cinematic favourites found their way into Birmingham this weekend.

On Sunday 11 March, the London Concert Orchestra performed a one-day-only event at Symphony Hall in Birmingham, titled Oscar Winners: Music from the Academy Awards. The selections spanned over 85 years of cinematic history, and it featured the music of several of the most iconic winners of the Academy Award for Best Original Score.

It must be so incredibly difficult to play a selection like this because you know that the audience is going to know immediately if anyone makes a mistake. In this case, that nerve was worth the reward — I only noticed a single misplaced note in the entire run-time. What the audience received was a wonderful selection of beautiful music, played with enthusiasm and grace from all those involved.

'a wonderful selection of beautiful music, played with enthusiasm and grace from all those involved...'

It was fun, even cheeky at times, and it played on the audience’s heartstrings and expectations. Starting out with the 20th Century Fox theme on an Oscars Show? You know it’s going to be good. Furthermore, though I hadn’t seen some of the films that the selections were taken from, I still recognized the music. The music was iconic enough to stand on its own and to be enjoyed without any visual accompaniment. It really speaks to the timelessness of the scores that were called into question and the iconic nature of the films that they are from.  

The selection featured many crowd-favourites, including the opening sequence from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the main title theme from Jaws, as well as finishing with the title theme from Star Wars. The program went in roughly chronological order with selections from pre-1990 before intermission and after-1990 following it.

“Married Life” from Up! was what really sent me over the edge, pun intended, in this show. The amount of detail just put into this song — from the perfect swells to the colours of the lighting, matching the bring hues of Ellie and Carl’s mailbox and balloons — was a superb summary of an already fantastic show.

'What really made the show, however, was the conducting of Anthony Gabriele...'

The brass section stood out to be absolutely stunning. In particular, the French Horns and Trombones had such clear, crisp sounds, and the range on these player’s instruments was absolutely phenomenal. That said, the program itself was full of songs that showcased virtually all sections of the orchestra, including several opportunities for solos within the classic songs.

What really made the show, however, was the conducting of Anthony Gabriele. He was not only a leader, but also an entertainer in his own right. He really worked the audience and had them laughing in their seats on various occasions, including turning around several times as the tension was building during the Jaws theme. A particular favourite of mine was when he asked if there were any critics watching only after getting on about the audacity of critics and our taste in film scores. That was the energy that he made the audience have — he was able to have fun and poke fun at the same time.

Another particularly interesting and engaging aspect of this performance was the playful use of lighting. For Lawrence of Arabia, the stage was lit in sandy oranges and yellows, but for Lord of the Rings, it was otherworldly blues and purples. It reflected the tone of the films from which they were taken, but it also kept the audience alert and engaged.

'one of the best symphony concerts I have ever attended...'

This wasn’t just music, it was a live performance. To compete with the CD’s and streaming services that all of us could have gotten at home, they put on a show, and they delivered. My only complaint, perhaps, was that there seemed to be a disproportionate number of ballads in the program, however I think we can blame the Academy for that one, rather than the musicians. And that might be the lesson from it all: slow, sad songs win you Oscars.

Overall, this was one of the best symphony concerts I have ever attended, and I am highly looking forward to the Hans Zimmer vs. John Williams concert that Symphony Hall was advertising on the way out. The London Concert Orchestra will return on 22 June and 24 June for iconic hits from both composers, including Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter, Inception, and Jurassic Park.