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perth international arts festival 2012


the magic of film music—minus the film

henry andersen: ennio morricone, perth international arts festival


Ennio Morricone Ennio Morricone
photo courtesy Perth International Arts Festival
A DIVERSE AUDIENCE FILLED THE BURSWOOD THEATRE FOR ENNIO MORRICONE’S PERTH INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL APPEARANCE. OLD AND YOUNG, CLASSICAL ENTHUSIASTS, FILM BUFFS AND HIPSTERS WERE ALL DRAWN TO SEE THE 84-YEAR-OLD FILM MUSIC LEGEND. MORRICONE’S MUSIC SEEMS TO FIND SOME POINT OF REFERENCE WITH A GREAT NUMBER OF PEOPLE. HIS WORK WITH SERGIO LEONE ON FILMS SUCH AS THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966) SPAWNED NEW TROPES FOR FILM COMPOSITION AND HIS SCORES HAVE CYCLED ENDLESSLY THROUGH POP CULTURAL HOMAGE AND PARODY.

Morricone’s sound world is truly huge. Appearing for the first time in Australia, he conducted a 100-piece youth orchestra and a 100-strong choir, as well as a few rock instruments and a (less than perfect) guest appearance by soprano Susanna Rigacci.

The entire performance was amplified, sparking much post-concert debate. In a purely classical context, amplification can ruin the intimacy of a performance by rendering it hyperreal, but Morricone’s music isn’t essentially classical, it is film music. Its currency is evocation and broad gesture. In my view, the amplification aided both these elements, adding a sheen of fantasy to the performance. The sound was detached from its context within the hall, allowing it to evoke the kind of imaginary landscapes in which Clint Eastwood triumphs as the archetype of butch Americana.

This raises the question of how one evaluates a performance of Morricone’s music. It makes no sense to talk about it in the same way one would a performance of a work by Beethoven. It is film music, and perhaps should be assessed as such, but is presented here without the dressings of image or narrative. There are rock elements too, not only in the electric guitar and drum set but in the exaggerated movement, memorable themes and mass appeal (three encores, no less). Again, however, there is no rock theatricality.

Rather, Morricone’s music seems to both include and transcend these streams. It has become part of the collective unconscious. Even for people who have never seen any of his films, the music is instantly familiar and evocative. Some of its tropes are, or have become, clichéd. It brings to mind John Adams’ summation of culture: “when we communicate, we point to symbols we have in common. If people want to make a point, they reach for a reference.” This is the good and the bad of Morricone’s music—where there were no reference points, he created them, but now, with his music so established, it is difficult to hear it afresh. Despite all this—the cheesiness, the clichés, the endless pop-cultural echoes—something about Ennio Morricone’s music is magic. Widescreen nostalgia for a place that never really existed.


Perth International Arts Festival: An Evening With the Maestro, Ennio Morricone, Susanna Rigacci, West Australian Youth Orchestra, The Perth Festival Morricone Chorus, Nanni Civitenga, Massimo D’Angostino, Ludovico Fulci, Leandro Piccioni, Rocco Zifarelli; Burswood Theatre; Febuary 26, 2012

RealTime issue #108 April-May 2012 pg. 5

© Henry Andersen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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