The film music has arrived from the darkened cinema halls in the spotlight of the concert halls. The concert organizer City Light Concerts has been presenting cinema and concert experiences at the same time at the renowned KKL Lucerne for years. With the modern Samsung Hall, there is now also an ideal venue for this “Film in Concert” format near Zurich. At the concert stages, film music gets the leading role. Conductor Kevin Griffiths also ensures that images, music and sound effects are in sync.
After a wild shooting on a bazaar in Istanbul, secret agent James Bond 007 grabs a motorcycle and chases the contract killer Patrice at a frenzied pace over the roofs of the big city. This fast-paced action scene kicks off the thriller “James Bond 007 – Skyfall” from 2012 by director Sam Mendes. As relentless as this chase is staged, the 80-piece City Light Symphony Orchestra performs the accompanying score by composer Thomas Newman, dominated by driving rhythms – without interruption for more than 12 minutes. Then comes the brilliant title song by Adele, which draws the audience completely into the gripping event, initially accompanied by the solo piano playing and later by the whole orchestra. Conductor
Kevin Griffiths has made a name for himself internationally as a conductor of classical music. For the past two years, he has also conducted concert performances such as “Skyfall”, “Ratatouille” and the films of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. To do this requires weeks of study. Griffiths: “I watch the film very closely with and without music. I also study the film score note by note. During the concert, I must be able to prepare myself mentally for the next sequence while conducting the music for the current scene.” This is necessary because film music can change tempo, key and timbre at lightning speed and in high cadence – entirely due to what is happening on the big screen. “I want to reinterprete the musical ideas of the film composer as accurately as possible,” says Griffiths.
The musicians of the orchestra cannot see the film during the concert. They rely 100% on conductor Kevin Griffiths, who shows them with his baton when their performance begins and how they should adapt it to the acoustics of the concert hall. “The picture doesn’t forgive us if we start too late,” Griffiths said. Which instruments should be heard at which time mark, he reads from his previously studied score – particularly difficult passages are marked with prominent red pencil. In addition, he sees the respective film on a small screen next to his conductor’s desk, provided with coloured markings, time stamps and tempo specifications. Every color and number on this screen serves Griffiths for detailed orientation, with his attention quickly jumping back and forth between this screent, the orchestra and the score as presented in the printed conductor’s score book. Griffiths uses short breaks, in which the film does not require film music, to drink a sip of water and to focus the orchestra’s attention on the next cue.
“This is only possible with professional musicians”
The rehearsals begin in the week before the actual concert. First, Kevin Griffiths rehearses with separate sections of the orchestra – strings, woodwinds, percussion. This is followed by several rehearsals with the whole orchestra (tutti). Griffiths: “These days with rehearsals are very intense. This is only possible with professional musicians.” But the effort is worth it. Films such as the thrilling “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies inspire concertgoers of all ages – from January 2020 also on the huge LED screen and with all the emotional power of the City Light Symphony Orchestra and the film music of Hans Zimmer and Klaus Badelt at the Samsung Hall near Zurich. “That touches me. I never see so many young people in the audience, to whom I can bring the orchestral music that I love so much”, says Kevin Griffiths.
This article was published on behalf of the Lucerne concert management City Light Concerts in the print magazine “Frame” in September 2019.
City Light Concerts organizes around 30 concerts in Switzerland every year, mostly at KKL Lucerne. The focus is on film music concerts, with film classics as well as recente blockbusters being shown on the big screen while the City Light Symphony Orchestra performs the movie’s score live and in-sync.