I worry that the musicians of the Heritage Orchestra - touring to Australia, from the UK, to take part in the Vivid Festival - might have, when they were not playing, noticed me in the audience.
Which is not what a critic wants, let me tell you. No, we are a private breed, with our long black capes, our flashing smoke bombs, and our disappearing-into-thin-air exits (plus maniacal laughs).
The last thing we want is for some musician, burning with the ire that can only come from a performance scorned, to be glaring at us from the platform of the Concert Hall. Which made the man next to me, who insisted on consistently tweeting throughout the event, and throwing a glow up from the screen of his mobile phone (no doubt illuminating the side of my face) rather annoying. 'Let me be part of the herd', I thought to say to him, 'let me muddle into safe obscurity'. But I couldn't bring myself to open my mouth.
There was some rhyme (and a generous dollop of reason) to what he was choosing to tweet, however, on this the occasion of the Heritage Orchestra's performance of the Blade Runner soundtrack. (At least I assume he was tweeting about it, for I saw, with one of my ever-so-discreet glances, the word ‘sax’, and if there's one thing the Blade Runner soundtrack has on it, it's a saxophone. Either that or he too was a critic and was taking notes, but if he was he should've known better, much better.)
He seemed to be interested, from what I could tell, in the sublime and the bizarre. When, for instance, Omar Ebrahim came onto the stage to sing ‘Damask Rose’, and, instead of words, let out a series of prolonged half-grunts in a low register middle-eastern wavering (think of the cliche vocals from a middle eastern traditional song, and you have some idea), out came the phone. (My guess as to what he wrote: ‘LOL - now there's a man grunting’.) Or, as another example, when the alto saxophone took prominence in ‘Love Theme’, out came the phone again. (‘There's a reason that sax and sex are only one letter different. #bladerunnervivid’)
Or, perhaps, when the light show began in earnest, the internet might have been graced with an ‘audience getting constantly blinded by lights - my eyes, my eyes! #blindvivid’. Then, once the tweet was composed, he'd often show it to his girlfriend, and they'd have a ten or fifteen second discussion about it, and she, on occasion, would take the phone from him and put her own touch on things. Still, they're probably absolutely charming people when you get to know them. Really lovely. They probably give lots to charity, too. (If not, then there's a massive amount of bad karma on the horizon that's heading right for them, one hopes.)
So it's a minor miracle, then, that this concert managed to be not only one of the best things I've seen this year, but one of the most atmospheric as well. Potent, too. I had originally assumed, when I first heard about it, that the Heritage Orchestra would be doing a Sydney Symphony At the Movies on us, whereby they would play the soundtrack live while the entire Blade Runner film (the sci-fi noir cult classic starring Harrison Ford, for those of you who don't know) was projected onto a screen behind them. But the website said otherwise, informing one that, rather than the movie, there would be a selection of visuals displayed. I was slightly disappointed by this, but, having experienced what the Heritage Orchestra had to offer, I wouldn't have had it any other way.
The Concert Hall was decked out with many a black curtain draped vertically and horizontally above the stage platform, with many a light rig to be seen as well. Throughout the performance the house lights were non-existent, while the lights from the stage - a combination of diffuse moodiness (oranges, purples, and so on) and directed beams that moved about (like the opening of the 20th Century Fox logo) - provided a sense of the futuristic. Who can, when being treated to a light display akin to a UFO scanning the inhabitants underneath it, fail to be reminded of future dystopias? Next to the large screen there were two vertical slatted sections, with spotlights behind that ran up and down every now and then, like headlights through a Venetian blind.
The screen itself was where most of the interest lay, however, with a selection of non-static images that set the scene perfectly. When one walked into the Concert Hall, already there was a dappling of rain, along with the pitter-patter sound effects. When the concert started proper, the scene transformed into a city nightscape, with a few images overlaid on each other, so that, while it looked like a skyline, it was hard to make out each skyscraper specifically. And this kind of distancing (or muddying of focus) was present through most of the images: sometimes we would be in a car driving down a busy street at night, but the camera would have so much water on the lens that everything was a bit of a blur; other times the city was displayed upside down, so that the water which some ant-like cars were driving past was at the top of the screen, defying gravity.
Then there were the more specific images, such as during ‘Blush Response’, where blinking eyes were displayed, along with green graphs and info-boxes of the kind that one would have seen in the movie. Or, as another example, the fractured owl flying towards us, as if the camera were catching it heading straight at a broken mirror, that was shown during ‘Dr. Tyrell's Death’. (Later on, in ‘Dr. Tyrell's Owl’, we saw much the same image, sans fracturing, and the owl was displayed in stunning slow-motion, its claws extended and its feathers ruffling with individual detail - David Attenborough would have been impressed.) While the screen wouldn't have been enough, without the music, to sustain our interest, it was a most welcome addition, and suited the sound perfectly.
The music itself was presented with nary an applause from the audience, apart from a premature breakout after the penultimate number (‘Blade Runner [End Titles]’), the audience assuming that the concert was coming to a close, and enthusiastically showing their appreciation. This lack of applause was achieved by the constant stream of ambient noise that would run between pieces. (If anyone has seen the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra's ‘Noel, Noel!’ concert, where chimes are tinkled to prevent [although not always effectively] the audience from thinking the piece has ended, then you get the idea.) The sound of a mobile phone interfering with the speakers was also sporadically present, though whether this was on purpose or not is hard to tell - it certainly fitted in with the mechanical aesthetic, though.
The concert was seventy minutes of immersion in Vangelis' music (Vangelis being the famous Greek electric composer, also noted for his work on the Chariots of Fire soundtrack.) There were a million and one percussion instruments at the front of the stage, from your run-of-the-mill xylophones, to a variety of drums, to a wind machine, to a series of bottles, to even a typewriter. (For those of you who are young, a typewriter is what people in the eighties used to tweet with.)
And so we were treated to a variety of styles and feelings. The vocal parts were some of the highlights, with Shannon Brown's rendition of ‘One More Kiss, Dear’, played as a crooner, absolutely perfect, while Micaela Haslam's voice in ‘Rachel's Song’ was ethereal and haunting. There was a great deal of synthesizer action, as one would expect, and the saxophone, as mentioned before, was quite prominent in a few of the pieces. The piano, too, in "Memories of Green", with its faux-musical-box simplicity, was engrossing, the spotlight on him and him alone for the duration (although there was a moody green light tainting the rest of the orchestra).
Conductor Jules Buckley got the best from his players and the best from his orchestrators as well. (From an interview I read, I was surprised to learn that the Blade Runner soundtrack has been released in something like ten versions, each different, and that the Heritage Orchestra had to transcribe the music themselves, and in doing so took the opportunity to tinker with it a tad, to make it their own version while still keeping relatively true to the original. Whatever they did, it worked, and worked marvellously.)
All in all, this was an experience that I doubt I'll forget for quite some time. Indeed, it's one that I would happily see again and again. I might even be inspired to tweet about it. #magnificent #bestconcertinages
Music From Blade Runner
Jules Buckley (conductor)
Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, Sunday 26th May 9pm
Unveiled Twinkling Space
Wait for Me
One More Kiss, dear
Blade Runner Blues
Dr. Tyrell's Death
Memories of Green
Tales of the Future
Dr. Tyrell's Owl
Blade Runner (End Titles)
Tears in Rain
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What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level