Saturday 31 May 2014

Review: Star Trek Live in Concert

I think of any medium, I probably consume Star Trek the most in music form. The soundtracks to the films regularly make up the soundtrack of my own life. So when I heard Star Trek Live in Concert would be coming to the UK, to say I was a little excited would be quite the understatement. I've spent the last couple of days immersed in Star Trek, and it has been without a doubt the best Star Trek thing I have ever experienced, and one of the best musical experiences too.

For those of you that haven't caught my previous reports mentioning Star Trek Live in Concert: The set-up is that you go to a concert hall to watch a Star Trek film, and an orchestra and choir perform the soundtrack live, perfectly (and miraculously) in time with events occurring on screen. In this case the venue was the Royal Albert Hall in London, and the films were both of the nuTrek movies; 2009's Star Trek, and 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness, both featuring beautiful music composed by Michael Giacchino. I saw both, on two consecutive nights. Continue after the jump and I shall tell you all about it.

Despite many a visit to London in my life, I had never visited the Albert Hall before. So that itself was a bit of an experience for me; finally seeing the home of so many BBC Proms I've watched, in the flesh. I got seats in the upper circle, so was expecting to be some distance away from the performers. However, thanks to the tall cylindrical design of the hall even being quite high up and towards the back you still feel quite close to the action. In fact for this experience in particular I feel a high vantage point was something of a bonus (particularly from my balcony edge seats), as you could peer down into the orchestra and play spot-the-musician when some of the more obscure sounds and solo parts were playing.

While you could go to these concerts and just watch the films as normal (all the regular dialogue and sound effects are playing) it is clearly designed for the music loving trekkie, and so the music is more dominant in the sound mix than normal. This allows you to drink in the soundtrack in-line with the pictures it is designed to be played alongside in a way you wouldn't normally be able to consume it. I found myself hearing things I hadn't picked up on in the music before (even having listened to soundtracks in isolation more times than is reasonable). As I later learnt, Giacchino also took the opportunity to make a few tweaks to the score for these live events. I certainly noticed a few moments that sounded slightly different to the music I've listened to many times; although I put that down as much to it being a live performance and being seated nearer to one part of the orchestra than another.

From both the films I felt the best moment of the whole experience came in the first ten minutes of Star Trek; those moving scenes with the birth of kirk and the death of his father on the Kelvin. Even after multiple viewings I never fail to be moved by these scenes, but with the full force of the orchestra the emotional swell is intensified many times over - An incredibly inpactful scene made so much more powerful by the music.

For the most part I favour the more intimate themes from Giacchino's Star Trek, and hearing and seeing the soloists bring these to life only made them more beautiful: Spock's exotic sounding string theme in Star Trek, that beautiful piano piece from the early scenes in London in Into Darkness, and that gloriously menacing theme for Harrison/Khan. At the other end of the scale having the orchestra in full force for the more rousing moments in the score was pretty magnificent, the various heroic moments and reveals of the Enterprise are again amplified by the live experience.

There were a few bonuses to these shows too. Michael Giacchino was on hand to introduce both concerts, and for the first he was also joined by Simon Pegg (Scotty) and, hotfooting it from filming Star Wars Episode VII, director J.J. Abrams - All three speaking to the power and importance of music in film. On top of that Giacchino also treated the audience (on both nights) to a sample of his work from the forthcoming Dawn of the Planet of the Apes soundtrack.

But still there was more to this experience for me! In the afternoon between films Giacchino also took part in a interview/discussion organised by BAFTA, and again hosted at the Albert Hall, although in a much smaller and more intimate side-room. Giacchino discussed his work as a composer, from starting out on video games, getting his foot in the door thanks to some endorsement from Steven Spielberg, through TV work with Abrams and his ever growing body of (award winning) film soundtracks with Abrams, Pixar, and others. The whole event was peppered with samples of his work, including no less than the string quartet Bond playing music from Up, and, most movingly, Lost. To top it all off, Giacchino then hung around for a while to chat with the relatively small audience and use up a load of ink signing things. I giddily got my ticket signed while singing his praises. I also took the opportunity to ask whether a complete soundtrack for Into Darkness might be on the way, but alas there's no news yet other than a shared hope it will happen. It was such a pleasure to meet one of the most significant creators of Star Trek, and such a nice guy too!

A brilliant couple of days. If Star Trek Live in Concert visits a city near you I highly recommend it; it's a beautiful experience, and really quite impressive on a technical level too, that the orchestra so flawlessly keeps in time to the events of the films. There are already several more concerts scheduled in Europe and North America in the next year; see my previous report for details.

I'll also just make a final note of praise to the staff at the Royal Albert Hall: I found myself sitting next to a man with an extremely annoying, loud, and seemingly constant, laugh, in the first half of Into Darkness. Thankfully after a quick word with one of the stewards it was possible for us to get different seats for the second half. In a box right next to the orchestra no less!


Steve said...

I didn't even know this was a thing, but now I want to see it! Doesn't seem to be coming anywhere near me, though.

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