Conducted by Andrea Morricone
Curated by Ennio Morricone
It is rare that London’s massive O2 Arena hosts an evening of intimacy. But so it was last month when The Official Concert Celebration of the work of Ennio Morricone played for one night to a full house. For this writer, the evening held a particular poignancy as in 2019 I had interviewed the legendary composer at his home in Rome. Under the baton of Morricone’s son Andrea, a selection of extracts from just a few of the 500+ scores that the Maestro had penned were played by the Flanders Philharmonic Orchestra, the programme having been largely devised and curated by Morricone himself prior to his sad passing in July 2020.
The evening’s intimacy came via a number of channels: Firstly, the music itself, with Andrea offering a profound and flawless understanding of his father’s work. A composer himself, it was clear as the various soundtracks filled the evening, that Andrea was immersed in his father’s music.
Secondly – the clips of the movies that were screened above the orchestra. For those familiar with Morricone’s work, it is always a special joy to revisit an old favourite. Films are cultural milestones, each locked into the] era of its individual release, ageless and frozen in time while we the audience journey through our mortality. And so whether one watched the extract from Quentin Tarantino’s relatively recent Oscar winner The Hateful Eight, or the far more mature extracts taken from Sergio Leone’s filmography, each and every clip will have triggered unique and personal memories and recollections across the audience.
The third aspect of intimacy came from the filmed contributions that were played between the pieces. Ranging from some revealing, and at times self-deprecating reflections from Morricone himself, through to contributions from some of the great directors who are still alive for whom he composed. The comments made were warm, respectful and so deeply full of love and admiration for a man whose career spanned 60 years. Guiseppe Tornatore, Tarantino and Roland Joffe all spoke with a revered insight into Morricone’s style and flair. But it was probably Jeremy Irons, one of the stars of Joffe’s The Mission, who spoke most frankly when describing Morricone’s scores as having an uplifting effect on the underlying movies, that rank alongside Shakespeare for their place in the pantheon of great art.
And then, of course, there was the evening’s programme. Opening with extracts from The Untouchables, one was immediately reminded of Morricone’s genius in writing exquisite melodies that could accompany the most brutal on-screen violence. Robert De Niro in a starring role segued from The Untouchables to Once Upon A Time In America, where Deborah’s Theme and the Main Theme played to a powerful string of clips from the movie. Up next was The Legend Of 1900, the first of the evening’s nods to director Tornatore.
An interview extract with the Maestro saw him speaking of his structural approach to composition, that musically links scores as diverse as The Sicilian Clan and Metti Una Sera A Cena, the former featuring some delicious solo work on bass guitar from Nanni Civitenga.
The work of Sergio Leone returned in the lead up to the interval with a fascinating filmed explanation from Ennio Morricone of his simple use of three notes for the harmonica, which naturally led into Harmonica from Once Upon A Time In The West, mournfully and beautifully delivered by Daan Wilms on solo harmonica. That movie, together with The Good,The Bad and The Ugly teased the audience in the run up to the interval, with the stunningly heartbreaking soprano Vittoriana De Amicis taking the stage for Jills Theme, before wrapping up the first half with a truly ecstatic Ecstasy Of Gold.
The orchestra returned to play Andrea Morricone’s tribute to his dad, Theme For Ennio, which with a prerecorded Hauser on cello was a magnificent tribute to his father’s work. Then a few filmed words from Tarantino and we were straight into The Last Stagecoach To Red Rock from The Hateful Eight, a piece of music almost symphonic in its length and beauty. They truly don’t write ‘em like that any more!
What was particularly touching about the film clips played while this tune played out, was the inclusion of film of the Maestro himself conducting the score at London’s Abbey Road studios. To see him on screen, baton in hand, was as if he had never died.
Cinema Paradiso – where the film’s touching Love Theme had been penned by Andrea – and Chi Mai were up next, with the latter holding a special place in British hearts from back in the day when the BBC made good drama and in 1981 bought the tune (originally penned for Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s movie Maddalena) as the theme for The Life And Times Of David Lloyd George, where it then went on to reach No.2 on the UK Singles Chart.
There are other soloists who demand a mention for their contribution to the evening. Leader of the strings Anna Buevich was outstanding throughout, particularly in her solo work during The Working Class Goes To Heaven. Leandro Piccioni on piano, Rocco Zifarelli was magnificent on guitar, while Massimo D’Agostino was a tour-de force of energy on drums. A nod too to the tour’s choir conductor Stefano Cucci who for this London gig was conducting the Crouch End Festival Chorus, a local ensemble who have first-class form in providing the Maestro’s vocal backing.
A filmed interview with Roland Joffe signalled that The Mission was up next, with yet another appearance from De Niro above the orchestra. Gabriel’s Oboe was as exquisite as ever, with The Falls and then On Earth As It Is In Heaven tingling spines across the arena.
The enchanting Miss De Amicis returned for a cracking encore of the Ecstasy Of Gold and as the crowd called out for more, Andrea lifted his baton for the final time, to reprise On Earth As It Is In Heaven, only this time played as a montage of the Maestro, from baby to nonagenarian, filled the screen. Rarely has a piece of music been so aptly titled for the moment, as throughout the O2 tears were shed at the beauty and the genius of the music of Ennio Morricone.
Photo credit: Hanout Photography