Last Thursday, October 12, 2017, an extraordinary concert of the Orchestra of Cordoba conducted by Inma Shara took place at the Teatro de la Axerquía in the city of Cordoba (Spain). Named “A Film Music Concert, Immortal Soundtracks”, the concert performed the most popular themes of film music, covering from the 1960s to the present day.
This event was part of the program of the Orchestra of Cordoba to celebrate its 25 years of existence. The concert was sponsored by the Culture Department of the City Council of Córdoba and the Cajasur Foundation. Admission was free, although invitations had to be picked up previously at the box office of the Grand Theater of Cordoba.
The stage of the Teatro de la Axerquía is not a space that is unknown to me, as I have been fortunate to attend over the years to great performances of rock myths there such as Deep Purple, Michael Schenker, Joe Satriani or Renegade Creation of the great Robben Ford within the different editions of the International Guitar Festival. Last year I was even able to play the electric guitar right there with the funk group Full Laugh. My doubt that day was how would the acoustics of the venue be as a spectator of an open-air symphony orchestra concert, and more specifically of the Orchestra of Cordoba, which I have always seen in the Grand Theater with a classical repertoire, in addition to the occasional rehearsals of the music of maestro Roque Baños, which I attended with my choir class at the conservatory a few years ago as a student.
Unfortunately, I could not watch live any concert of the International Film Music Festival during the time that was held here (although I know by heart all the videos that exist on YouTube about the various editions…).
I was also curious about the figure of Inma Shara (Amurrio, Álava, 1972), who began her conducting career at the early age of 16, later becoming a disciple of Zubin Mehta and working with orchestras like the London Philharmonic or the Philharmonic Orchestra of Israel. A meteoric trajectory.
And speaking of “meteoric”, that was our odyssey to get to the theater. Due to the traffic, my wife, a friend and I went with not much time and with the fear that the performance had already begun, but we were lucky and since ten minutes after the scheduled time there was still people entering the venue, the beginning was delayed a little bit, being able to take our seats with relative comfort to enjoy the show completely. The attendance response was incredible: completely full!
The profile of the audience was quite heterogeneous and you could hear comments from people who seemingly “knew” about film music as well as people for whom it was a new experience, along with the typical families (some of them, grandmother included).
The stage looked imposing, with good lighting and a large screen over the orchestra where images of the films would be projected in sync with the music. The sound equipment was rich in watts and the fact of having at the controls to the renowned technician and music producer from Cordoba, Nico Almagro, contributed to the solvency of the equalization.
The professionals of the orchestra sat on their chairs and tuned their instruments. Once prepared, the lights went out and the concert began with a recorded introduction with the noise of the old radios and a voice with the presentation. Following, comedian Máximo Ortega came on stage, who was going to play the role of Fortunato, announcer of the fictional “Radio Ma Non Troppo”, a 30s radio station where “the great hits of film music” would be played, which would actually be the themes of that night’s concert.
This funny “performance” was used to give a theme to the development of the program and was very well received by the public. After this prologue, the presenter gave way to the conductress Inma Shara who reached the podium. The orchestra started with the first notes of the 20th Century Fox Fanfare, composed by Alfred Newman, in a version arranged by Nic Raine. I have to highlight the powerful percussion led by the timpani with the accurate sound of the brass section. An ideal music as a preamble of the concert.
The following piece was based on a fragment of the soundtrack from Out of Africa (director Sidney Pollack, 1985) composed by John Barry, in which the plasticity and orchestral mastery of Inma Shara was confirmed, in a score that is a stream of romantic lyricism with the unmistakable string sound used by Barry and that mythical melody of the clarinet as remarkable elements. The projections with images of the film matched perfectly with the dynamics of the orchestra, achieving a very satisfactory audiovisual experience.
After a deserved applause, the theme of Life is Beautiful (dir. Roberto Benigni, 1997) composed by Nicola Piovani was played, to the audience’s delight for its light Mediterranean touch brought by the classical guitar with rhythms that fused the dances of European salons with a Latin touch close to tango, well accompanied by the small percussion instruments.
More music from John Barry followed next, and in this case it was the Concert Suite of the Oscar-winning Dances with Wolves, directed and starred by Kevin Costner in 1990. A soundtrack with a strong western flavor, where Barry’s sensibility was impregnated with the epic of the great meadows. Instrumentally, it is worth noting the depth of the basses, the response of the trumpets, the Indian rhythms of the timpani and the delicate flute solo accompanied by the arpeggios of the harp.
Ennio Morricone is an obligated composer in this type of repertoire and his Love Theme for the endearing Cinema Paradiso (dir. Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988) was the piece chosen. If there is something that characterizes this music is its emotion and subtlety, with clear and precise harmonies that have the essence of the sound of Morricone’s strings (especially the violins), based on the great masters of Italian Baroque but with his own aesthetics. The orchestra captured these nuances more than efficiently.
At the end of this piece, another intervention was made by the presenter, who jokingly interacted with the audience by telling a little story about a pirate friend, giving us the key to the next theme that would be played. It was He’s a pirate from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (dir. Gore Verbinsky, 2003), composed by Hans Zimmer. The “ostinatos” with a strong resounding pulse were felt in the string and brass sections. And talking about this music, I rescue the words of a critic who rightly defined it in the documentary “Score!” as “the same sensation as listening to Led Zeppelin with orchestra”.
The seventh theme of the night was an interesting adaptation of Chariots of Fire (dir. Hugh Hudson, 1981) composed by the Vangelis, icon of electronic music and author of soundtracks as important as Blade Runner (1982) or 1492, the conquest of paradise (1992), both films by Ridley Scott. The electric guitar and the congas replaced the synthesizers of the original theme, achieving a successful mix with the orchestra in a hymn to sports and motivational self-improvement. Again, the synchronization with the projections gave the whole piece a great acceptance and applause by the audience.
And then we arrived at one of the moments where the public had a lot of fun, the famous March of Colonel Bogey from The Bridge on the River Kwai (dir. David Lean, 1967), composed by Malcolm Arnold, where the conductress invited the audience to join whistling and clapping, in a very catchy and very remembered melody.
The swing and the jazz mix is always contagious, so the main theme of The Pink Panther (dir. Blake Edwards, 1963) written by Henry Mancini supposed an injection of rhythm despite it was a well-known piece. The blues sound was very well executed by the brass section, in an arrangement that belonged to the orchestrator Curvin Custer.
Two of the most powerful pieces had been saved for the end. First was the Main Theme of The Magnificent Seven (dir. John Sturgess, 1960) of the great Elmer Bernstein. Although this piece appears in the film only in the credits and in another sequence with all the cast riding their horses, its popularity grew in 1967 when it was used as a tune for a Marlboro cigarette advertisement. Bernstein, a very versatile master and renovator of the Western genre, paid tribute to his friend and mentor Aaron Copland, introducing in the score the aesthetic approach exhibited by him in the ballets “Appalachian Spring”, “Rodeo” and “Billy The Kid” or in the soundtrack of “The Red Pony” (dir. Lewis Milestone, 1948). A manifesto of the American spirit, vigorous and kinetic, with a very personal harmonic language that is still imitated to this day in other genres. The orchestra put all the strength in the piece, thanks to the brilliant conducting of Inma Shara, who was full of energy but without falling into the histrionics of other orchestra directors.
Once the piece was over, the presenter returned to the stage to tell another of his adventures. He claimed that George Lucas almost signed him up for Star Wars (1977) and that there were camera tests that proved this. On the screen, several fake photos of characters like Chewbacca or Princess Leia with his face were shown, producing the laughter of the public. And so he announced this last piece of the concert, the Main Theme of Star Wars by John Williams. Little can be said about a film and a soundtrack that redefined the parameters of the film industry. The Orchestra of Cordoba has a special affection for this piece, since its founder, the Cuban Leo Brouwer, used to conduct it very often in didactic concerts, and he also made a symphonic suite on Williams’ score that is still being performed. A fantastic ending for this concert, concert which after the effusive applause of the audience, did not finish here, as one more theme was offered, Singing in the Rain (dir. Stanley Donen, 1952). The song was composed by Arthur Freed in 1930, 22 years before the film.
Finally, Inma Shara thanked the audience and all the members of the orchestra for the warm welcome and wished 25 more years of existence (“at least”) for the orchestra, which resulted in playing an arrangement of “Happy Birthday” written by Daniel, one of the clarinetists of the wind-wood section, accompanied with a burst of confetti on stage that created a festive atmosphere as a climax.
In summary, a very attractive and enjoyable concert that strengthened the good present and promising future of the Orchestra of Cordoba. Although the material consisted of well-known and quite usual pieces, the performances were fresh and of quality, helped by the deployment of media and sound reinforcement. At the same time, I think that the event served to focus the interest of people from Cordoba into film music. Maybe in the future, if there is still a good response at the box office, the orchestra’s programming can compete in the diffusion of the “film music” at the same level as other national orchestras. That’s something that that we, the people of Cordoba who love film music, hope.