By Gideon Isidro and
Silver Screen Symphonies
Manila Symphony Orchestra
The Theatre at Solaire
ANYBODY who is into movies would appreciate Silver Screen Symphonies, performed by the Manila Symphony Orchestra (MSO) at the Theatre at Solaire.
The MSO was joined by guest singer Demie Fresco, well known in the television scene having competed in the second season of The Voice and also being a four-day consecutive champion of ABS-CBN’s Tawag ng Tanghalan. The male vocals for the show were supplied Laurence Mossman, a Filipino-New Zealander who has appeared in the film Die Beautiful, the Filipino TV series Dolce Amore, and several music productions. To add a jazz flavor to the traditional orchestra, the MSO was joined in by saxophone player Michael Guevarra who has worked with Stevie Wonder, Diane Schuur, and the Lettermen. He is an active member of the AMP Band in the Philippines, and has performed in many countries abroad.
True to their promise to make us feel like we were in the movies, as the show opened the first frame of the 20th Century Fox introduction was projected on the screen. “They’re going to play in jive with the projection! This is awesome!” I told myself.
Unfortunately, the technical personnel played the introduction clip with the sound on (yes, they forgot to mute it), and they had to repeat the piece. The orchestra was also about five seconds delayed, so it sadly took away from the experience.
The orchestra then played what would have been probably been the best follow up to the 20th Century Fox intro, the Star Wars (1977) theme by John Williams. It was very appropriate: strong, optimistic, and made you look forward to the rest of the show.
The Star Wars theme was played perfectly; the brass were exciting, the violins endearing, and the triangle was clanging exactly the way it should be in the movies. You could really feel like the force was with you. But the MSO did not follow through with the “Imperial March” — you do not play Star Wars without the “Imperial March,” you just not do that to your movie score fans.
The show shifted sensibilities with John Williams’ theme for Jaws (1975), and while the MSO only had two double basses that time, they were able to produce the scary unstable sound that made you feel like Bruce the shark was just around the corner.
This was followed by music by Bernard Hermann, who did the music for several Alfred Hitchcock thrillers. In the “Prelude” of Vertigo (1958), the strings haunted with their short screechy bursts, complemented by the horns adding much tension with their long howls. However, what made MSO’s delivery worth listening to and maybe even better than the studio recording was the harp, which, unlike the studio recording, was so crisp and clear. It made one’s skin crawl.
After the horror of the prelude, the violinist concertmaster bowed a sad tune conveying the unrequited longings for another person, the opening melody for “Scene d’ Amour,” also from Vertigo. As the rest of the orchestra joined in, one felt haunting emptiness, wonder, and hope all cycling through making it an emotionally rich journey.
The prelude from Psycho (1960) was up next. While the orchestra was hitting the right notes, there was something lacking — it turned out that the MSO was lacking the basses and cellos to really make the piece work. In this instance, the violins were overpowering the bass instruments by sheer number. The violins did excellently though; their screechy, shifting of pitch perfectly exuding that tension.
JAZZ IT UP!
After that horror fest of tunes, the MSO lightened things up a bit with the jazzy theme from Taxi Driver (1976), with Guevarra called in to play the saxophone. He was fantastic! His playing was crisp and in the times when a sustain was needed, he hit it just right. The orchestra, particularly the violins, were in good sync with him, proving that they had a good rehearsals with each other. Guevarra continued to play other jazz tunes that were received well by the audience.
The next composer in the line-up was Hans Zimmer, and the orchestra started with “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King (1994). Although the MSO played music from “The Circle of Life,” they didn’t really play “it” — the most memorable parts of the song are the opening chants and the iconic “this is Lion King” moment. The MSO could have approximated the chants by using the MIDI resources that they had or with the brass instruments. The percussion was very weak in this piece. Without the opening chants and the strong percussion, it was a limp cat instead of a majestic lion.
The MSO was handicapped in the songs “I Can’t Just Wait to be King” and “Hakuna Matata” since they really couldn’t use the movie’s engaging vocals, however, they were still able to deliver something enjoyable by focusing on the happy beat and approximating the dynamic high and lows of the movie.
OF JOHN BARRY
Mossman was called on stage to sing “Born Free” from the movie Born Free (1966). The original by Matt Monro had that classic 1950s voice: a light and raspy tenor. In contrast, Mossman’s theatrical background was obvious with his voice fit for a musical: a baritone with deep bass undertones, full bodied, and well enunciated. It may have sounded awkward to people with established preferences, but the audience did applause upon hearing him sing the first lines powerfully.
The audience giggled in delight as the next piece came up; it was the “James Bond Theme!” The audience let out a laugh as Mossman exited the stage and mimicked James Bond’s iconic gun shooting pose. I’m not sure if that was planned, but it was so apt as he was wearing a tux and has a build similar to Pierce Brosnan.
Instead of being carried by an electric guitar, the main melody of the theme was carried out by the violins. Those expecting the bite and crunch of the electric guitar didn’t really appreciate it that much. But lovers of classical music might appreciate MSO’s version better as it was more classic than jazzy.
The night’s mood changed with Titanic’s “My Heart Will Go On.” What we really loved about MSOs arrangement of the song was that they used a harp instead of a synth to complement the melody of the flute. This highlighted the Celtic flavor that the flute and its melody already had.
Fresco’s voice smoothed through instrumentals as gently as she entered the stage. Just like Mossman, her voice has personality; it’s exactly the kind of voice you would hear from Filipino local channels. It was just like watching noon time TV. And just like with Mossman, some people may have found Fresco’s singing awkward at first, but setting that aside, she had well practiced techniques and is worth a good listening to.
A still of The Mask of Zorro (1998) was projected onstage and it was time for Mossman and Fresco to have their long awaited duet. We found their singing not so compatible — their vocal ranges were just too far off. Mossman seemed to have a hard time reaching higher notes and Fresco’s high voice didn’t blend well with Mossman’s low pitches. But they are both good singers, and the MSO should get them again for other productions.
Tried and tested, the MSO members were their usual disciplined selves and were able to execute all the musical tasks that were laid at their feet. Their performance ethic was also shared by the three guest musicians, and you could see that they were all well rehearsed.
In order to perfect their productions, the MSO must look into rehearsing with the technical team as numerous blunders during the performance took away from the hard work of the orchestra.
The MSO should also think on delivering what will emotionally connect to the audience. For example, they should have tried to use the opening chants of the Lion King, as that’s what the people grew to love. The theme for Jurassic Park could have been included in the John Williams line-up as it’s considered as part of his top 10 most iconic scores. The orchestra was excellent, it was the selections and decisions that we have reservations with.
Overall, Silver Screen Symphonies by the Manila Symphony Orchestra was worth watching earning a 4 out of 5 stars.
By Gideon Isidro and