Classics at the Movies with Barry Norman and the CBSO

Our blogger spent an evening with Barry Norman and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham on Friday night.

Classics at the Movies with Barry Norman and the CBSO

Barry Norman

For a teenage film fan in the 70s there were two voices that really mattered. One was director Steven Spielberg, the other was film critic (some would say the film critic) Barry Norman.

The veteran presenter, who fronted BBC1's flagship programme from Film 72 to Film 98, was at Symphony Hall to present an evening of classical musical used in a wide variety of films.

For many people film is their introduction to classical music, for a great many others it is the only classical music they ever hear.

There are some pieces of music that are so inextricably linked with a film they're used in, that it's virtually impossible to hear them without picturing the accompanying scenes in the mind's eye. Two such pieces last night were Wagner's The Ride of the Valkyries, as used in Apocalypse Now and Richard Strauss's The Blue Danube which, for anyone familiar with 2001: A Space Odyssey cannot fail to conjure up the vision of a space station hanging like a giant wheel in space.

Crucially, although it was a huge pleasure to hear the great man's voice again after all these years, this wasn't "an evening with Barry Norman”, so the 80-year old was restricted to brief introductions to the night's musical fare, although we did learn that he has seen some 15,000 movies, he's still not absolutely certain what the best film of all time is, although he is certain “it's not bloody Vertigo”!

There were some odd juxtapositions during the evening. Was Sibelius's icy Finlandia really used in Die Hard 2 and Sant-Saens' Symphony No 3 (Organ) in Babe, of all films? Apparently so.

Norman recounted how he hadn't been looking forward to reviewing the talking pig movie Babe, but was pleasantly surprised by it, adding that “it must have put thousands of people off eating pork for . . . ooh, a couple of days”!

The CBSO was joined by British soprano Claire Rutter, who performed five film-related operatic arias during the evening, including a sumptuous rendition of Korngold's Gluck, das mir Verblieb from The Big Lebowski. Although there were a couple of occasions where she was in danger of being drowned out by the orchestra that was certainly not the case with Puccini's majestic Un Bel Di from Madama Butterfly - as used in the 80s ultimate chick with an attitude flick, Fatal Attraction - where the music and Rutter's voice simply soared.

And although some in the audience may have inadvertently clapped before the end of Samuel Barber's soaring, elegiac Adagio For Strings, they had clearly enjoyed it immensely. As Barry Norman might have said . . . and why not?

By Ian Harvey

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