This weekend has seen me both nerd it up and bogan it… down…
Saturday night we headed off to the first MSO Pops event for the year. It was called “Star Wars and Beyond,” so I was expecting it to be space-y type stuff, much like the one we went to a few years ago. Rather, it was subtitled “A celebration of John Williams,” so it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. There were still 5 pieces from Star Wars, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Superman, and Lost in Space… but we also got music from Memoirs of a Geisha, JFK, and Schindler’s List, to name just a few. The music was, of course, exceptional; the conductor was the same guy we saw do the space-themed one, and he did the same Superman joke – pulling his shirt apart – and he wore the Obi-Wan cloak, and even pulled out a Princess Leia hairpiece! He’s a good sport. Perhaps the best bit was him coming out on a tiny little bike, with a red hoody on and an ET in the basket in front….
With a 20 minute intermission, the concert lasted just over 2.5 hours, and by the end of it I was definitely done; my tolerance for instrumental music had definitely been reached. I have so many classical music aficionados among my friends that I sometimes feel quite guilty for not being that interested. But I realised something last night: I am not interested in being challenged by music. I am challenged in my reading, and I do not care to extend that to my ears. And that’s OK.
Today… well, today was different. Today we went to see Top Gear Live. We were three rows from the front, front on to the screens; we were close enough that when the flares flamed, and the cars were on fire, we could feel the heat on our faces. The ca-soccer was marvellous: played mostly with Reliant Robins (the three-wheeled jobbies), it was incredibly skilful driving. And there was a motorcyclist doing stunts that involved a JBC digger. But the bits in between the stunts… Jeremy Clarkson and James May were kinda funny; Richard Hammond wasn’t there so they’d replaced him with Steve Jacobson (Kenny), who was mostly unfunny; and sadly, the repertoire of jokes largely consisted of fat jokes, homophobin jokes, penis jokes, and poo jokes. Not the sorts of thing that are actually funny. If I had paid for the tickets, I would have been disappointed.
I did enjoy looking at the range of racing cars in the museum they had set up, though, with Mustangs and Corbettes and Alfas and Selbys… there is a little part of me that is quite the rev-head. I was sad that the rain had started when the performance finished, because it meant we didn’t get to see the drifting demonstration.
When we saw that the MSO was doing Space Classics as part of their MSO Pops series, we bought tix as soon as we could. And it was last night; we’ve only been waiting for about three months.
So, a few of the nerdier moments: the trombones and a couple of French horns had glow-sticks strapped to part of their instruments; there were Stormtroopers and Darth Vader wandering around beforehand, posing for photos (a few kids had brought their own lightsabers…); but I didn’t see anyone dressed up who wasn’t meant to be, thankfully.
As expected, the night began with “Sunrise” from Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathrustra – and I still get goosebumps when I hear it. They did very clever things with the lights during this, and in a number of other pieces too: for this, they had a line of lights basically imitating sunrise, which worked surprisingly well. That went straight into the main theme from Star Wars, which was awesome.(1) It just never gets old.
There was a lot of Star Wars, unsurprisingly. We also got Close Encounters of the Third Kind; three Holst pieces (Mercury, Mars, and Jupiter; it may be my favourite set of classical music in the world, which is not that hard, admittedly. It’s possibly that only The Nutcracker Suite would give it a run for its money); J. Strass’ Blue Danube (so lovely!); ET – bike ride and main theme; Star Trek, Thunderbirds are GO!; and Superman. Personally, I think the last two were stretching it a bit. I would have thought maybe X-Files or Twilight Zone would have been more appropriate, and probably more recognisable, than Thunderbirds at least. There’s an ongoing discussion about just how space-y Superman can claim to be.
One of the possible reasons for including Thunderbirds was, of course, audience interaction. That’s right, gentle Reader: if you listen to the Classic FM broadcast sometime in the future, you will indeed hear four sections of the audience count down (begun by the orchestra with FIVE!), and then everyone shout “Thunderbirds are GO!” It was quite funny. In my vast experience of these things, when conductors are allowed to talk to the audience about things other than ultra-serious matters of musicology, they tend to think they’re very damn funny… and stray in to dad-joke territory. Last night’s conductor (Anthony Inglis, if you’re interested), nearly did so. A couple of things saved him. One: acknowledging he’s a trekkie. This doesn’t necessarily save him from dad-joke-hell, but it does at least give him a context (and a reason for including a pre-recorded ‘Captain’s Log’ bit before the Star Trek section). Two: the intro to Superman. He made the audience stand up, and pretend to get into superhero clobber, starting with underwear over pants (including the all-too-predictable stern, “I said on, madam!”), then ripping jackets off. Apparently the audience didn’t do it to his standard, so he had to show us how it’s done: he took off his jacket, and tie, and then – can you credit it, Reader? – ripped his shirt open to reveal a Superman tshirt! We were in hysterics.(2)
And then, for the encore, we got the entirety of the throne room/end credits sequence from A New Hope. Brilliant! With Mr Inglis as Obi-Wan. Also hysterical! But not nearly as funny as when Darth and his Stormtroopers marched in and stood in front of the stage, pointing their guns at the audience – and Darth turned around and, standing directly behind the conductor, started conducting with his light-saber…
Two things to gripe about, though, both in the programme.
a) The Herald Sun ad: “But seeing as though we’re a sponsor…”. Argh!
b) Star Wars is “now officially the fourth chapter”. You what?
Overall, it was a great programme of music. My love is now investigating the 501st Legion and considering a career as a Stormtrooper for charity.
(1) Interesting fact: the Star Wars music was done by the London Symphony Orchestra originally; the main trumpet then is the same person today! Amazing. And when he first played the opening fanfare, he reportedly declared ‘This is going to be huge,’ or words to that effect.
(2) And I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was completely set up – whether his shirt had press-studs, for example – or if authenticity was sought, with buttons flying out over the violas.
We spent Saturday night at the Pops, with the MSO doing James Bond.
It was freaking brilliant. Absolutely overwhelming and hugely enjoyable (despite some bung notes from the main trumpeter… although I just found out yesterday that he had his face smashed in by some random punk last year, so maybe that explains it). They did all of the theme songs, except Die Another Day and A View to a Kill (and Tomorrow Never Dies as the encore, which was good).
The really good bits:
1. Sitting right in front of the double basses, and watching them do their thing – brilliant!
2. Mary Carewe singing “The Man with the Golden Gun” – so trashy, so funny.
3. Realising just how much work the tuba does in the Bond theme itself.
4. Oh look, basically everything except for…
The average bits:
I hadn’t expected there to be a singer, and I had been trying to figure out whether it would make the night better or not to have one. Mary Carewe sang maybe half the songs – a bit less I think. She did some spectacularly well – “Diamonds are Forever” and “Goldeneye” were up there. But I had three issues:
a) She was way too cabaret/musical theatre for my tastes: prancing around, hamming it up.
b) She sang “Live and Let Die” (and is no Paul McCartney, nor Axl Rose!), and “You Know my Name” (and sure isn’t Chris Cornell).
c) For me, she destroyed “The Look of Love” – one of my favourite sappy songs in the whole world. 
Also, my love and I had quite contradictory opinions on her costumes: I thought her first dress – a halter-neck affair – was dreadful, unflattering and quite ugly; he thought it was great. The second I thought was stunning – dark silver strapless, which I thought was very flattering, but he thought made her look frumpy! We both agreed that the third dress was lovely, though.
My laugh for the night was from the souvenir brochure. In part, it had this to say:
“With the recent success of the Die Hard, Terminator and Bourne pictures, Bond had to compete with other action heroes.”
Yup, totally with you there… although I’m not convinced that Bond is competing with Terminator for their audience. At any rate, the next sentence reads thus:
“As the Bond series has progressed, contemporary artists such as Wings, Duran Duran, Sheena Easton, A-ha, Gladys Knight and Sheryl Crow have been drafted in to keep up with the times.”
Excuse me while I hold my sides, because I’m laughing so darn hard.
And it was recorded for ABC Classic FM, so I reckon if you looked hard enough you’ll be able to find out when it’s on. In fact, I might do that too….
 If you’re confused: it was used in the original Casino Royale, which was a spoof with David Niven in it.