AWO At The Oscars!

AWO at the Oscars Adelaide Fringe 2023

Adelaide Fringe. Adelaide Wind Orchestra. Arts Centre at St Peters Girls’ School. 4 Mar 2023


With over ninety minutes of high octane music from the movies performed by the Adelaide Wind Orchestra – one of Australia’s best wind orchestras – what a toe-tapping fantastic concert it was, and the large and near capacity audience lapped it up!


The sight of the AWO in performance is impressive. It’s a big outfit, and they fill many stages almost to overflowing. Tonight that was an issue for Conductor David Polain who strode to the front, took up his position with baton in hand, and then turned around and looked behind him to check how close he was to falling off the stage. He was close, very close, and his dry smile to the audience caused ripple of laughter!


Movie theme music is mostly written for a full orchestra, featuring the usual diversity of instruments with the strings forming the heart of the musical forces – not just predominantly wind instruments. A feature of AWO concerts is the quality of the musical arrangements they use, and tonight was no exception.


The program included themes and songs from Batman, Gladiator, Taxi Driver, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, The Incredibles, The Mission, Aladdin, as well as pieces from lesser well known films including Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium and The Terminal, and the TV series Chernobyl.


The trombones, euphoniums and tuba were fabulous in the bracing theme from Batman, and the orchestra spliced music from Prince’s studio album Batman into the middle of it, as a nod to the fact that Danny Elfman refused and offer to collaborate with Prince to compose the music for the film! A fun fact, and a clever arrangement to blend Elfman and Prince together.


While all excellent, some of the arrangements really do miss the impact of strings. For example, some sections of the anthem from Gladiator yearned for strings to soften the sound while maintain the imperiousness of the sound of the brass. Sometimes, the additional clarinet parts just aren’t quite enough. With excellent work from the percussionists, the arrangement was reminiscent of Mars from Holst’s The Planets Suite.


Katie Marshall’s clarinet solo in Viktor’s Tale from The Terminal was nicely articulated and lively, and Daniel Burgess’ alto sax solo in Taxi Driver was gloriously languid and oozed sleaziness. Paul Komninos’ cool work on double bass kept the pulse alive.


The scores from the Lord of the Rings films are epic and might be considered modern day versions of Wagnerian operatic scores. The music is expansive, and the musical ideas take considerable time to develop and emerge, and this can present issues for orchestras (and conductors) as they strive to maintain coherence and persistence, and there were a few timing issues this evening. But Howard Shore’s genius is undeniable, and his music swept the audience up!


The opening theme to Star Wars is one of the most recognisable tunes ever written, and tonight it began with an emphatic and dramatic flourish from the trumpets. It’s a challenging piece to ‘keep together’, and Polain kept on top of it as he marshalled his troops to deal with the trick syncopated rhythms and contrapuntal melodies.


After the interval eleven musicians took to the stage and without ceremony performed a haunting rendition of the closing song in the HBO TV series Chernobyl composed by Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir. The song is evocatively titled Vichnaya Pamyat (Eternal memory). How fitting this should be played to serve as a stark reminder to us all of the current horrors facing Ukraine.


The Incredits, from The Incredibles, was arranged by David Polain himself, and it was fun and lively, and again the trumpets were excellent as was the drum kit.


The highlight of the evening however was the excerpt from the Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. MC Ben Bersten mischievously suggested that Polain was likely the only person in Adelaide who knew the film and had a recording of it! The arrangement (by composer/arranger Darrol Barry) was a standout of the program, with a careful balance between woodwinds and brass, excellent focus on oboe (beautifully played by Jo Bridgman), and varied rhythms and textures that kept one’s interest constantly aroused. It was just plain fun!


Jo Bridgman featured beautifully in Gabriel’s Oboe, from The Mission. The arrangement is by American award-winning composer, conductor and arranger Robert Longfield, and it was edited by AWO trumpeter Jason Geddie. To this reviewer’s ear, the edited arrangement favoured the clarinets and lower brass and resulted in an aural quality that bordered on heaviness that occasionally did not suite the lightness inherent in Morricone’s original.


The program finished with an extended medley from Aladdin, which thrilled the audience! Polain was at the top of his game and produced a tight and hugely entertaining performance from his charges!


AWO – you’ve done it again! What a first rate concert, replete with entertaining and inimitable patter from MC Ben Bersten (who, it seems, is a recent fan of the artificial intelligence text generator ChatGPT!)


Kym Clayton


When: 4 to 5 Mar

Where: Arts Centre at St Peters Girls’ School

Bookings: Closed