Vivid Festival: Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
Sunday, May 26
Originally commissioned for the UK Meltdown Festival (by Massive Attack, no less) the Heritage Orchestra of Great Britain combines a full orchestral score and the ambient/electronica sweeps via found percussion and analogue synths. This performance of Vangelis’ Blade Runner score is for Sydney’s Vivid Festival. The first time the Heritage Orchestra has revisited its arrangement of the Blade Runner score since Meltdown in 2008.
And so to a mess of a stage-set with so many drums and bottles and typewriters and a row of synth players looking like old-school telephonists on the job. There just happens to be a giant string section, horns and all the usual trimmings banked up behind them.
Making sense of all of this is the fearless conductor, Jules Buckley – who flashes a few frustrated looks side of stage when, first-world problem alert: cell-phone interference and dial-up internet noises seem to bug the quiet moments, the serene passages in this beautiful Vangelis score. (I kinda liked this interference, I’m not even sure why, it gave it some fallibility perhaps).
Vangelis’ score to Blade Runner is a big part of the iconic film and as the myth and cult of the movie/series (there’s more than one version/cut and fans can argue – and often do – over which is best; which is right) grows and is introduced to new audiences the same is true of the film’s music. In fact it too exists in different recordings/performances: Vangelis’ version exists on record; his vision/version. But then there’s the version – first released – from the New American Orchestra.
Tonight the Heritage Orchestra touches on both, creating their own version of the film’s crucial soundscape/s. And so it’s a nod, straight away, to saxophonist Graham Jessie for his soft-porn satin-sheets of sound, willowy and lovely as well as being the major signpost to place this music in the context of the 1980s.
The percussionists work hard, moving from typewriters and glass bottles to slow marimbas, big-big tympani and so many cymbals.
And as the music charts its course between classical, film-noir’s gritty-but-cheesy jazz and hints of ambient esoterica we are taken for the full filmic ride with scenes from the sci-fi classic morphing into fresh derivations from artist Matt Watkins.
The opening and closing credits swell and feel so very blockbuster-y but the performance is bookended by versions of Tears in the Rain, certainly one of the key moments/movements from both the film and its score.
The vocal sections are also impressively recreated by Micaela Haslam, Shannon Brown and Omar Ebrahim. Brown is tasked with the so feel-good-it’s-(intentionally)-hammy One More Kiss, Dear bringing to mind, in an incongruous way given it’s for a sci-fi flick, the radio-show crooners of the past. He’s wonderful, theatrical, almost perfectly absurd in his overstated comic gestures and understated vocal. And Ebrahim summons demons in his low grumble, evoking Dead Can Dance, Gregorian chant , Brian Blessed and a sinister swell from the orchestra supports him in presenting not just the audio apocalypse but the also the settled rubble as the music detonates due to the emotional weight.
It’s overwhelming at times, so seamless, so very perfect and it’s both an 80-minute journey for newbies and a nod-along for the film-nerds anticipating every change, every cue, playing out the film in their heads no doubt.
It was perfect. But strangely passionless. I guess that’s what it takes to do this. The musicians living in each tiny immaculate moment but it’s gone with the turn of the page, a new set of notes to translate, and later, much later maybe, a new commission to consider.