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James Horner: A Life in Music – Event Review

When you think of a film composer, who comes to mind? John Williams, almost certainly, with his legendary leitmotifs which have propelled dozens of motion pictures to dizzying heights. Jerry Goldsmith, perhaps? A man who, equally, did much the same. If you were to complete the triumvirate of late 20th century composing geniuses, however, third spot would almost certainly belong to James Horner. Leaving us long before his due in 2015, the result of a freak plane crash accident, Horner is responsible for some of the most soaring, beautiful, elegiac and in some cases haunting music in cinema of the past almost forty years. It was therefore a singular pleasure to enjoy the Royal Albert Hall’s ultimate tribute to the man – James Horner: A Life in Music.

Often when the RHA presents film music tributes or performances such as these, they provide a host to accompany the composer (in this case the stalwart, Ludwig Wicki) and the orchestra (the always wonderful Cinematic Sinfosia, but A Life in Music tries a different approach. Utilising the towering cinematic screen they often use for showings of celebrated movies set to a live orchestra, the performance is accompanied by documentary talking heads from some incredibly famous faces, discussing the import of Horner’s music and what it meant to them and their films – Ron Howard, for whom Horner scored Apollo 13 & A Beautiful Mind, Mel Gibson, for whom Horner memorably scored Braveheart (and Apocalypto), Sir Richard Eyre (Iris) and James Cameron, probably Horner’s most signature collaborator.

Understandably, Horner’s incredibly famous score to Cameron’s epic 1997 romantic disaster movie Titanic forms a key part of this two-part performance, with not just a suite from his romantic, pastoral but also bravura strings to the picture but a rendition of ‘My Heart Does Go On’, originally sang by Celine Dion which Horner wrote (Cameron providing a comical backstory to how the song came about), performed here by one of the two vocal soloists who add an extra dimension to the orchestral work – Clara Sanabras & Alice Zawadski, who also sing the charming ‘Somewhere Out There’ from An American Tail, one of the animated pictures Horner scored as well as penning the theme song; indeed only really The Land Before Time is conspicuous by its absence.

Beyond that, the majority of key pictures Horner scored are represented, with one or two little surprise packages along the way. Did you know Horner scored the Universal Pictures jingle? That was news to me, and a delight when they played it. Hearing a piece from Krull to open was unconventional but exciting, given how great that score is, and the first half presents an eclectic mix of the range Horner was capable of, all nonetheless retaining his unique sense of style with plenty of beating drums and soft woodwind – ‘The Ludlows’ from the stunning Legends of the Fall, the main title from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (my personal favourite Horner score), a fantastic dual set of tunes from Aliens (including ‘Bishop’s Countdown’ before ending on the gorgeous Braveheart, with vocal accompaniment.

The second act follows much the same formula, beginning with a fair dose of Titanic, which surprised me as I imagined they may end on Horner’s work there, before segueing into some vocally accompanied pieces from A Beautiful Mind and, much to my excitement, a blast of peerless derring do with ‘The Ride’ from The Mask of Zorro, arguably one of his greatest scores. The final piece was a suite from Avatar (before the encore, naturally), and it was so well performed it made me instantly want to rediscover one of Horner’s later scores which has flown long under my radar. Of all the greatness across the evening, that could well have stolen the show in the final furlong.

Replete once again with stunning acoustics from the Royal Albert Hall, that same sense of immersive intimacy despite the grand surroundings, and performers who never put a foot wrong, James Horner: A Life in Music wasn’t just a stunning assault on the musical senses but a touching tribute to one of music and cinema’s much missed masters.

Did you attend James Horner: A Life in Music? If so, what did you think? Let us know.

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