Alexandre Desplat’s concerts in Barcelona – Review

Composer Alexandre Desplat was in Barcelona at the end of December, on the occasion of two concerts that he was going to conduct in person with the OBC (Symphonic Orchestra of Barcelona and National of Catalonia) at L’Auditori.


These two concerts were preceded the previous days by a press conference and a master-class in the school of music ESMUC (Superior School of Music of Catalonia), as it was already commented in the following news (read news).


Gorka Oteiza (SoundTrackFest) attended both concerts, and although there was a brief article of the first concert on Thursday, which was published the next day (a concert that was somewhat unsuccessful, to be improved later on Friday), this new article, it is going to extend information of both concerts and emphasize on describing the second one, offering a section of summary and conclusions at the end.



The article of the concert of Thursday 22nd is available in the following link (read article), so it is not going to be described again here, but it must be said that it was a correct and enjoyable concert, although unfortunately felt a bit cold and did not stood to what it was expected.


It should be noted that the capacity of L’Auditori was almost complete, with something more than 80% full, which is remarkable considering that it was a working day.


CONCERT 12/23/2016 - FRIDAY

On Friday 23rd, the second concert that Alexandre Desplat conducted in Barcelona happened, once again in L’Auditori and with the OBC (Symphonic Orchestra of Barcelona and National of Catalonia), but in this case it started half-hour earlier than the day before,  at 8:30 p.m.


The program of the concert was the same, with a slight variation in the order of the encores:

FIRST PART (40 minutes)

Twilight – New Moon Love

Girl With a Pearl Earring – Suite

Stephen Frears – Suite (Philomena & The Queen)

The Imitation Game

Ghost Writer – Suite

The Grand Budapest Hotel


Intermission (20 minutes)


SECOND PART (45 minutes)

Godzilla – Selection

The King’s Speech – Suite

Pélleas et Mélisandre for Flute and Orchestra

Birth – Orchestral Suite

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Suite

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Suite

[Encores Un Heros Très Discret & Coco avant Chanel]

Alexandre Desplat entered the auditorium on time and after receiving a warm ovation from the audience, that filled the whole of the hall (today there was full house), he corresponded with a smile at the pulpit, and started to conduct the orchestra (an orchestra that curiously, and like the previous day, had all the violins in the front row, leaving the cellos and contrabasses for a second row on the right side of the stage).

Alexandre Desplat - Barcelona 2016 - Concert 1


The first piece, Twilight – New Moon Love, started strongly and although it was brief, you could notice that the sound of the orchestra was more intense than the previous day. It had gained in depth and gained in quality, as if there was a better understanding and better transmission of the music being played.


Then the first suite of the night was played, Girl With a Pearl Earring – Suite, which was actually a block with themes selected from the soundtrack, played one after another but not linked musically with transitions (or a suite specifically created for a concert). Once again, this day there was a substantial change from Thursday’s concert, with a more heartfelt music and almost imperceptible pauses between themes, resulting in a very cohesive, delivered and fluid feeling.

Alexandre Desplat - Barcelona 2016 - Concert 2


At this point of the concert, a considerable qualitative leap could be noticed compared with the previous day, not only by the change of location (since Thursday I was in the amphitheater next to a side and now in the patio, having a better acoustic and a better surround sound), but specially by the music that came from the orchestra. The orchestra was at full throttle, with an understanding and complicity between musicians and conductor that could not be appreciated the day before, and that was evident at the end of each theme, when Alexandre Desplat thanked the various soloists or highlighted sections of each piece, requesting them to stand up to congratulate on their interpretation and receive an applause from the public.


Alexandre Desplat conducted the whole concert with his bare hands, without using a baton, just like the previous day, and once again no audiovisual help was used, such as a screen and projection of images or videos above the orchestra, making the public to focus more on the music, which was delivered without any kind of amplification (as is desirable in a concert hall such as L’Audtiori).


Continuing with the concert, the next piece was the one corresponding to Stephen Frears – Suite (Philomena and The Queen), that although it was correct, did not stand out by itself, giving way to a fabulous interpretation of The Imitation Game that started smooth and slow, to transition into its main theme and take strength and intensity, where the brass section contributed especially to the whole piece.


After a great applause from the public for what was one of the best pieces of the night, Ghost Writer – Suite was played, which had three clearly differentiated blocks with small pauses between them, representing a musical-story itself, that worked and flowed very well, but that had a somewhat better performance the day before.


And so we arrived at the end of the first part with The Grand Budapest Hotel, which again failed to convey the fun, parody and musical joke that represents the story in the movie and the Oscar winning music, resulting in a diluted orchestral version of itself, which although was correctly interpreted, can only be described as being colorless. Perhaps a better orchestration or a reinforcement of the orchestra with some additional instruments would have sufficed this lack of particular sonority that was appreciated in the piece.

Alexandre Desplat - Barcelona 2016 - Concert 3


After the intermission, and having had a great and very good quality first half of the concert, the second part began with Godzilla – Selection, which although was brief, started hard and did a good use of the taiko drum to convey the tension required.


Following, The King’s Speech – Suite was played, which began with the piano marking the rhythm and tone of the piece, and which had a delicious performance and sound, receiving a good applause from the audience at the end.


Alexandre Desplat is a musician whose instrument is the flute, and good proof of this is the use he makes of it in many of his works, as well as the next piece that was performed; Pélleas et Mélisandre for Flute and Orchestra, where the solo flute player, placed in the first row next to the director, surprised by his virtuoso performance and by curious aspirated notes with which the piece began. Great applause from the audience and a very heartfelt congratulation from the director to the flute player at the end of the performance.

Alexandre Desplat - Barcelona 2016 - Concert 4


The next piece started, Birth – Orchestral Suite, but a few seconds later, the director stopped the orchestra to start over again from the beginning. A detail that left the audience a little bit disjointed, but that was so brief and fast, that almost did not interfere in the interpretation of the piece, which was correct but did not communicate too much.


Then The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Suite came, where the piano played an important role with the support of the orchestra, and that was another of the strong pieces of the second part, to continue with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Suite, which consisted of many themes (more than 7 I think). Although the “suite” had a very good performance that took off at times, abrupt cuts between themes, which were sometimes very different from each other and that went from a high moment in one theme to a new soft start in the next theme, cut abruptly the musical development of the suite, and left a very strange “reset feeling”, not getting the audience completely into the piece.


Having thus ended the official program of the concert, and after a good round of applauses, Alexandre Desplat addressed the audience for the second time in English and without a microphone (almost barely heard), to announce the first encore: Coco Chanel. Once the piece was over, and after a new round of applauses from a grateful and committed audience, the director returned to the stage to conduct a second and final encore, Un Heros Très Discret. Both pieces very correct but not very relevant.

Alexandre Desplat - Barcelona 2016 - Concert 5


Before leaving the hall, Alexandre Desplat had an amusing gesture towards the audience, taking a panoramic picture of the audience from the pulpit with his cell phone, and then saying goodbye and congratulating Christmas in Catalan.


Thus ended a concert that clearly surpassed in quality the one of the previous day, and that although it had its strong point in the first part, ended slightly deflated in the second part.


At the exit of the auditorium, and next to the stage door, people gathered to await the arrival of Alexandre Desplat, that didn’t take too much time, where he patiently and smilingly addressed everyone who wanted a signature or a picture with him.

Alexandre Desplat - Barcelona 2016 - Concert 6



There was a lot of expectation for the two concerts that Alexandre Desplat was going to conduct in Barcelona, the last big concerts of film music of 2016 in Spain, with the permission of the concert of James Newton Howard in Bilbao in the Bilbao Puerto de Arte cycle at the beginning of December.


The attendance to both concerts of Alexandre Desplat in Barcelona was very high, with a full room on Friday 23rd and a little bit less on Thursday 22nd, but nevertheless, as it can be read throughout this article, the difference of quality between both concerts was remarkable.


Although Thursday’s concert was correct, there was a lack of harmony between the composer and the orchestra, it was somewhat cold, and the suites were quite disconnected, with very high pauses between the themes (in fact, they were not suites prepared expressly for a concert, but selected themes that were played one after another).


In Friday’s concert however, there was a significant change that could be appreciated from the beginning, as everything flowed more easily, and the complicity between composer and orchestra appeared, providing a greater musical energy that could be noticed from the first suite, where transitions were almost imperceptible and the sound came with greater intensity.


Having been to both concerts, it might seem that Friday had another rehearsal session to polish the problems of the previous day, but that didn’t happen, so it is clear that the change was due to other reasons. It seems that what happened was a change of attitude on the director, which led to a greater understanding with the orchestra, allowing them to be at full throttle. Thus, with the orchestra totally committed and accomplice with the director, that provided a better understanding and transmission of his music, and this was clearly captured in the interpretation.


It is necessary to emphasize that Alexandre Desplat is a person used to conduct orchestras in recording sessions, orchestras that usually know him well, both in his conducting gestures and in his musical style, but he is not used to conduct film music concerts with new and unknown orchestras. For that reason, to be in front of an orchestra that does not know him like the OBC, although being very professional, requires a period of adjustment and understanding, both musically and personally, that didn’t arrive until Friday.
This does not mean that Thursday’s concert was not a good concert. It was a correct concert, which coming from a great composer (not conductor), and a great orchestra, is not entirely acceptable. Friday’s concert, however, filled expectations, and although it had an excellent first part, it was slightly weak in the second act.


Thus, the public was delighted with the visit of Alexandre Desplat to Barcelona, as both concerts were enjoyable and of quality, although one was significantly better than the other.

Alexandre Desplat - Barcelona 2016 - Concert 7