You’ll have a party when you’re fifty, right? Hey, you may already be fifty and if so, I hope you celebrated in style! Michael Giacchino certainly chose to by making one of life’s milestone years something he shared with several thousand people on the 20th October at London’s glorious Royal Albert Hall.
It’s not the first time Hollywood’s most prolific (and after John Williams, almost certainly the greatest living) composer has attended and indeed conducted at this august institution; in 2014 he spearheaded a performance of the score from recently-released sequel Star Trek Into Darkness, attended by director JJ Abrams and co-star Simon Pegg. If anything, ‘Michael Giacchino at 50’ tops that visit to the stage, allowing him and the marvellous Cinematic Sinfonia & English Chamber Choir led by Ludwig Wicki to deliver a truly wonderous celebration of cinema.
Whoever is in charge of the Royal Albert Hall these days, two things stand out. One – they really love film music. Two – they want *you* to really love film music, and events such as encouraging Giacchino to conduct and have conducted some of his best music from a dozen legendary film and television franchises could be the pinnacle of their ambition yet; they’re leading the way in pushing the live embrace of film music out of a corner of the BBC Proms and further into the mainstream as a beautiful, developing cottage industry. The high attendance and visible love of the audience here is proof positive that modern movie lovers aren’t simply into cinema for the visual spectacle but the musical experience, and presenting the music of Giacchino is about as spectacular as you can get.
Presented by Mythbusters’ Adam Savage, the light, knockabout, familial tone of the evening is set immediately, as Savage repeatedly enters stage left dressed as characters from the movies and TV shows we hear Giacchino’s music from; a dinosaur for the Jurassic World suite, a poor-man’s Doctor Strange for the Marvel suite, and my favourite – a polar bear to symbolise a piece from Lost. Savage intentionally gets details of the music wrong, from confusing Medal of Honor with Call of Duty, and introducing guest speaker, director Colin Trevorrow, as “director of The Lost World”. Savage never hogged the limelight, with he and his fellow guests ensuring the music always comes first.
Speaking of guests, man did the RHA present a cornucopia of Hollywood A-list behind the scenes talent to introduce pieces of Giacchino’s music – the aforementioned Trevorrow, Rogue One’s Gareth Edwards (who almost stole the show with some terrific, laid back stand up comedy), John Carter’s Andrew Stanton (gamely mocking how nobody saw his movie by reading the liner notes of the score, before giving the CD to an audience member), Doctor Strange co-star Benedict Wong, Lost showrunner Carlton Cuse, Pixar legend Pete Docter, Apes franchise supremo Matt Reeves, and of course JJ Abrams, perhaps now the oldest of Giacchino’s famous movie maker friends who showed up to help him celebrate. The only absence was The Incredibles’ Brad Bird, whose plane was sadly grounded on the tarmac, but he did send a letter of congratulations read out to the audience.
Much like Giacchino himself, these stars engaged with the light humour of the evening and all clearly are as wonderstruck by the composer’s music as the rest of us, delighting in celebrating the achievements of their friend as Wicki and the orchestra never missed a beat in delivering a brace of majestic suites, before Giacchino took over to conduct pieces from his Star Trek trilogy, War For the Planet of the Apes, Super 8, Speed Racer, his upcoming Pixar film Coco and, most importantly for me, a gorgeous performance of ‘Parting Words’, one of the most beautiful tracks from his majestic work on six seasons of Lost. A major reason I have long adored that show is because of Giacchino’s music so to see him conduct one of the greatest tracks from that series was an immensely emotional experience.
There were plenty of other highlights along the way. The show kicked off in bravura style with a fantastic suite from The Incredibles, set to specially edited clips from the film itself which were constructed in sync with the music to superb effect. Several of the presented suites followed this pattern, the Star Trek one in particular beautifully helping display the wonder of the USS Enterprise’s voyages alongside the menace of the villains they face; after Giacchino’s Lost piece, this was the highlight for me, with Giacchino composing a marvellous suite from War For the Planet of the Apes running a close second; his score for that film has yet to be topped this year, for me, so to hear it performed live was a rare thrill.
So many other highlights musically coursed through the evening; an unexpectedly brilliant suite from Jurassic World which has encouraged me to revisit a score that wasn’t one of my Giacchino favourites; the majestic John Carter (of Mars) which despite being a duffer of a movie has one of the finest adventure scores of the last few decades attached to it; and a stunning suite from Tomorrowland, another misfire with a great score, and music again I need to revisit (the film too, in fairness). It was simply well over two hours of breathtaking cinematic music, sublimely conducted and performed, with a level of tongue in cheek ingratiating everyone involved to an audience already won over.
Kudos as ever for the Royal Albert Hall allowing such a wonderful event to take place and the happiest of birthdays to Michael Giacchino, a true composing genius. Everyone who attended would agree, it was a joy to share part of his special day with him.
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