Reviewed by Katy Hart
Although there has been a theatre on the corner of George Street for almost 170 years, the ‘New Theatre’ opened in February 1934 and since then, has attracted some of the most renowned actors, operatic singers and musicians. Last evening (4 November 2017) however was the first time that the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra have performed at the venue and it was truly a wonderful evening.
I was a little apprehensive at listening to the RPO in a theatre as my experience of orchestral concerts in theatres has been somewhat disappointing. The stage, large void of the backstage areas and curtains do not always give the best acoustics and to me an orchestra is best heard in a concert hall, however despite these apprehensions and missing Strictly Come Dancing, and the local fireworks display, I could not have wished for a more perfect evening. The orchestra did not disappoint in any way and the sound was phenomenal.
I took my son with me for his first ever orchestral concert. Oxford can be difficult for parking however we arrived early and parked just a few streets away at a meter for only £3 for the whole evening. The theatre was just a short walk away and upon entering the theatre we were greeted and shown to our seats. As the orchestra came onto stage and started to warm up and tune up the anticipation grew with the audience. The conductor Stephen Bell came on stage and brought the orchestra in to start the evening with the main theme from Superman. I was in awe at the bass section who played with such intensity. They then went on to play Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter, it was completely enchanting and beguiling. The audience were mesmerised. One cannot fail to be transported to another world with the incredible brilliance of John Williams, however to sit and watch the orchestra performing this music live, takes it to a whole new level. The incredible musicianship of these musicians, the way their bows move in unison and the beautiful sound that they can produce really is captivating.
The evening was superbly guided through by Tommy Pearson, a former BBC and Classic FM broadcaster who now hosts film music concerts. He was interesting, knowledgeable and added just the right amount of humour to the evening. An example of the interesting anecdotes was when he was introducing Schindler’s List and he told us how John Williams met with Steven Spielberg prior to writing the music for the film. He didn’t feel he was up to the job and that Steven needed a better composer than he for the music. Steven agreed, but pointed out that they were already dead! As it happens, the performance of Schindler’s List was probably the most beautiful performance of the evening. The Solo Violinist, Tamas Andras produced the most exquisite sounds and it was a piece of music that wasn’t just heard, it was felt. My son, had tears flowing as it was so incredibly beautiful. As a quote I recently came across says ‘Music is a piece of art that goes in the ears straight to the heart’.
The performance of the prologue from JFK was also particularly beautiful and James Fountain on the trumpet produced the most rich and sonorous tone, with perfect intonation in his solo performance.
It really was a superb evening with all the classic John Williams film titles being played. We had Jurassic Park, E.T., Home Alone, War Horse and Star Wars just to name but a few. Stephen Bell as conductor was animated and really brought the best from the orchestra. Having read some of his biography I can see why he was described in 2011 by International Record Review as ‘one of the most gifted younger British conductors’.
All in all, this was a superb evening. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra have all their upcoming events on their website www.rpo.co.uk. The Oxford New Theatre also have their upcoming shows on their website www.atgtickets.com/oxford. One of which is the stage production of ‘War Horse’ of which we heard a performance of one of the themes this evening.
New Theatre Oxford, George Street, Oxford, OX1 2AG | 0844 871 3020