Pixar in concert

Y’all know I do some, ah, ‘unique’ things in London. But I was surprised as anyone to end up watching Pixar Movies at the Royal Albert Hall last weekend. On Friday I decided to have a bit of a clean up in my flat, and happened to go through the box that I keep all my tickets and important things in. Low and behold I found a ticket for Saturday night to see the scores of Pixar movies performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. I had booked it in about August last year, put it in the wardrobe and then totally forgot about it – thanks to the power of random cleaning I didn’t miss out!

Top tip for if you ever see something with a screen at the Royal Albert Hall, without a doubt get the cheapest tickets available. The best view is from the very top row of the very top tier at the very back of the hall. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but the screen is so large and the acoustics so good that the only thing that matters is seeing the entire screen without having to turn your head. Trust me, I’ve done this a few times.

This Pixar extravaganza took parts of each score and then paired it with either a complete scene or a compilation of scenes from the  movie. Over the evening we got a taste of Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, Cars 2 and of course Brave.

What was funny was that if you asked me about any of the scores before that evening I would not have had a clue. But as you listed to them all of a sudden the stories, emotions and morals came flooding back. The scores tell the stories so well, and if you closed your eyes and just listened you would have been able to pick out the movie. I couldn’t help but think as the night wore on what an amazing chance this would be to get kids into classical music. Through the magic of Pixar kids would be able to understand how classical music creates emotion and a story.

What proves this most of all was the reaction from the mostly grown up audience. When UP! was showing we were tearing up, with the Incredibles there were cheers and whoops, and with Monsters Inc there were just a lot of happy smiles. The music, the screen and the atmosphere made for a truly magical evening.

xx

I had a spare ticket to Britten’s War Requiem at the Royal Albert Hall and who better to give it to then the Audio Wave Ninja himself. Check out what he thought below:

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Maybe I shouldn’t have been listening to a South American electro-house DJ mix for 45minutes on the Tube immediately before attending a classical music performance? I don’t know if I was just not ‘tuned in’ enough to the music, but Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem at the Royal Albert Hall didn’t quite grab me enough to be anywhere near as affecting as it should have been, given that the performance took place on Remembrance Day.

Britten’s War Requiem was composed in 1961-62 for the consecration of the opening of Coventry Cathedral, a new structure rebuilt within the ruins of the old cathedral which had been destroyed in a WWII bombing raid. It is scored for two orchestras (a full one and a smaller chamber orchestra), a choir, and three soloists to perform (a soprano, a tenor and a baritone, in case you’re interested). The performance I attended at the Royal Albert Hall was true to this arrangement, which included the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Chorus, the Crouch End Festival Chorus, and the Choristers of Westminster Abbey (a boys’ choir).

Yet despite all this ‘firepower’ available, I found the impact of the music to be relatively modest. There were only a few moments when Britten made use of the full arsenal, and for me these were the best parts: ALL the brass blasting, ALL the percussion clashing and booming, ALL the string sections sawing up and down furiously, and ALL the 250 massed choristers singing over the top of each other. The rest of the time, the music wandered around too much to compel me to pay attention, so I have to admit I started LOOKING rather than LISTENING.

But this was actually when my experience got really good, because there really aren’t many more spectacular venues to be in than the Royal Albert Hall. It is an incredible space, one in which the audience really becomes conscious of their place in the performance, because its circular arrangement means your view of the performance is always framed by parts of the seating opposite. My seat was perfect (thanks runawaykiwi!), almost bang-on central, front row of the circle, so I could see the expanse of the crowd down in the stalls as well as the symmetrical arrangement of the choirs behind the orchestra onstage. In particular I noticed the synchronised page turning of the choristers, as well as the careful placement of the boys’ choir from Westminster Abbey way up above the highest level of the audience, under the arches supporting the great dome roof. They were dressed in red, but they were so high up (and so physically small) that it really seemed like heavenly music in the few small moments when it was just them singing.

So although I am unlikely to be humming any catchy parts of the War Requiem (there weren’t any) on my way to work, perhaps what I gained from this performance was an appreciation of orchestral staging and the visual impact such a large group of people can make when they are putting all their energy into producing something special like this.

Danny Elfman at the Royal Albert Hall

Let’s be honest, I booked this one because I like going to weird things at the Royal Albert Hall. They are always endlessly entertaining and done to a high standard. I mean, I haven’t seen a Tim Burton movie in years. So on a cold Monday night I rocked up expecting nothing more than some light entertainment.

I got my first inkling that this would be a bit of a different night when I saw every second person dressed up as a Goth Paloma Faith (think 1950’s housewife combined with the corpse bride). But hey, this is London so that level of dressing up on a Monday night is hardly anything too unusual.

I was expecting parts of the score from each Tim Burton movie to be accompanied by the actual scene from the movie. But thankfully it was a bit different and far more artful. At the start of each score they would bring up the name of the movie, and then show scribbles, sketches and artist impressions from the movie. Occasionally there was a scene from the movie itself, but by far the focus was on the music with just enough images to remind you what went on. Better yet, the screens were only full of pictures for the first few bars of the music, after that you were left to just listen.

I guess because the movies had always been the focus I never appreciate how beautiful the score was. Unlike normal classical music it takes you on a journey, it is funny and it made serious use of the theremin.

And then there was the audience. Pretty much everyone in the audience were MAJOR Tim Burton fans. Whenever a new movie title came up there was not only applause, but also stomping and whooping. You couldn’t help but be caught up in the fun.

Then there was the ultimate fanboy moment, Danny Elfman himself (also known as the voice of Jack Skellington, king of Halloweentown in The Nightmare Before Christmas) came out and sang a couple of songs from the movie, with full orchestral accompaniment of course. Then the audience went even crazier with Helena Bonham Carter came out to sing her part of the song.

I have been to a fair few concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, but I have never seen so many standing ovations. The audience were so enraptured by the music and the show that it was a joy to behold.

There is something to be said for going to weird things at the Royal Albert Hall.

Classical Coffee Morning

Not every lovely experience in London has to cost the earth. The Royal Albert Hall hosts Classical Coffee Mornings for the grand old price of £11.  For that you get a coffee, a pastry and an hour of classical music played by students from the Royal College of Music. Oh, and in case I forget to mention it THEY PLAYED ON ELTON JOHN’S BRIGHT RED PIANO.

It was a sublime start to a Sunday morning. I just couldn’t get over the high calibre of the students performing, honestly I have heard professional musicians who didn’t have that level of skill or command over the audience.

It was food for the soul and the stomach and the ideal way to relax of a weekend.

Top tip: Get there early so you have time to get a coffee before the concert, I was late and had to wait till the end!

xx