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FMS FEATURE ARTICLE...

May 28, 2004
Barry's Lion Live!
The Lion In Winter earns ovations at Carnegie Hall
by Jon Burlingame


NEW YORK – More than 2,000 people packed the Isaac Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall Tuesday night, May 25, to hear the first-ever live concert performance of John Barry's Oscar-winning music for The Lion in Winter.

It was, in every sense, a triumph: A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear a legendary choral score, faithfully re-created and thrillingly performed by a 150-voice choir and 65-piece orchestra; a chance for the composer to experience the appreciation of literally thousands of his U.S. fans; and a rare instance of film music achieving an unusually high degree of respect in a legendary American concert hall.

Robert Bass conducted the Collegiate Chorale and the Orchestra of St. Luke's in the performance, which also featured Sergei Prokofiev's music from Sergei Eisenstein's Soviet epic Ivan the Terrible. But Barry's Lion in Winter score was the primary focus of the evening, the first half of the concert and the subject of a pre-concert talk an hour before the event.

Actor Timothy Dalton, who made his film debut in Lion (and played James Bond in one Barry-scored 007 film, The Living Daylights), introduced the concert, citing the immense contribution of Barry's "magnificent, breathtaking music" as a factor in its current status as a contemporary film classic.

Bass conducted the 31-minute score to picture, without benefit of a click track. It was nearly complete (only the "Herb Garden" sequence was omitted, and not missed) and the eleven remaining movements included all of the dramatic music and the three a cappella songs (two of which are only heard as excerpts in the film): "Allons Gai Gai Gai," in French; "Eya, Eya, Nova Gaudia," in Latin; and "The Christmas Wine," in English.

New York composer Edward Barnes not only reconstructed the score (lost in a warehouse fire many years ago), correcting the mistakes that marred the recent Silva Screen re-recording, but also produced the film excerpts that the audience watched on a screen above the choir and orchestra.

The score excerpts were, of course, performed to the scenes for which they were written. The source cues accompanied well-chosen montages of still images. Audience members who may have been unfamiliar with the plot and characters were guided by occasional subtitles and a handful of excerpts with dialogue.

The chorale and orchestra produced a rich, full sound in the Stern auditorium. Particularly impressive were the sheer dramatic power of the Main Title, the exquisite melody of "Eleanor's Arrival," and the triumphant brass and wordless choir of the finale.

Barry was brought onstage for a sustained three minutes of standing ovation after the finale. Barnes said afterward that the orchestra gave Barry its own standing ovation after a rehearsal, and that many musicians shook the composer's hand as they exited the stage after the performance.

The composer, who turned 70 in November, was clearly delighted.

Barry was greeted by another standing ovation earlier in the evening, when approximately 300 appreciative fans attended the pre-concert lecture. Barnes moderated the discussion, which featured Barry and Dalton. Both were in good humor. Dalton recalled Barry's early status as a British rock ‘n' roll star circa 1960.

Barry told several anecdotes about other scores he had written, including bits about producer Harry Saltzman's hatred of the Goldfinger song; Midnight Cowboy producer Jerome Hellman's "healthy dislike" of actors; and Cotton Club star Richard Gere's ill-advised, and ultimately nixed, insistence upon playing his own trumpet solos.

Attending the post-concert champagne reception for Barry were Dalton; friends and family including his wife Laurie and son Jonpatrick; and the composer's longtime collaborator Don Black, who penned the lyrics for Born Free, Diamonds Are Forever and Barry's upcoming London stage musical Brighton Rock.

The second half of the concert consisted of 67 minutes of Prokofiev's Ivan the Terrible, also performed with excerpts from Eisenstein's epic films (part I, released in 1944; part II, banned by Stalin and shelved until 1958).

While less celebrated than Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky, the Ivan score is among the composer's most colorful and exciting music. The film is a very different visual experience than The Lion in Winter – highly stylized and melodramatic. In the version screened Tuesday, not all sequences were in chronological order, and viewers who did not know the work undoubtedly found it confusing and difficult. It was, however, superbly performed by the orchestra and choir.

© 2004 Jon Burlingame

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