We all know the remit of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra is to play more publicly ‘accessible’ music than, say, the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, but tonight is just on another planet. Neil Thomson leads the orchestra for The Final Frontier: Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blockbusters; an exploration of all the biggest sci-fi scores from Avatar to Independence Day, Planet of the Apes to the Phantom Menace.
Following an eardrum-shattering ‘Sunrise’ from Also Sprach Zarathustra, gasps, grins and cheers abound as Karl Ronan appears on stage to MC the night in a glorious(ly cringey) abundance of puns, impressions and his infamous one-liners. Switching into voiceover mode, Ronan gives the classic intro: “Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise…” and off jumped the orchestra, full throttle, into the classical Star Trek 1, The Motion Picture Theme. A perfect cover and a real delight for the audience, the only downside was the repetition of the theme another three times; eventually becoming too familiar on the ear to sound as thrilling as it deserves.
The Avatar Suite is something a bit different and provides a bit of an aural palate cleanser, some softer moments are a refreshing contrast to the epic tutti fff of most sci-fi scores heard thus far. The overlap of “Na’vi” and “Earth” musical styles becomes seamless thanks to the ensemble’s ability to deal with whatever is thrown at them – particularly the impressively vast percussion section of the night, whose members have the lion’s share of the adapting to do.
Into the second half and after the fourth variation of the Star Trek theme, Planet of the Apes is an excellent surprise. Thomson’s conducting aides the total precision of the orchestra’s performance. A contrast from what has mostly been grand, symphonic gestures, the minimalist score allows the individual sections a chance to shine, each one holding its own when given the opportunity with none getting lost in the ether. Ronan is finally in his element, relaxing into questionable double-entendres and having some craic with the audience.
Duel of the Fates looks set to be the highlight, until a surprise encore rendition of Giacchino’s Star Trek: Into Darkness Main Title – although it was a relief even just to hear the name Star Trek and not end up with a fifth performance of the usual theme. In both cases, brass capture the mood with the same gusto as they usually attempt to pop our eardrums, while the strings do their best to tear through all of their bow hairs in a commendable attempt to take them on. The unexpected notables of the night are the violas, taking the themes given them and exploring the extremes of the instrument in a way that is rare in such an orchestral setting.
This isn’t the first Final Frontier concert that the Concert Orchestra has given, and nor will it be the last. The strength of Thomson’s relationship with the orchestra proves why he is repeatedly asked back, and we can’t wait to see what they come up with next time – so long as it isn’t another Star Trek theme variation.
Conductor – Neil Thomson
MC – Karl Ronan
Richard Strauss – Sunrise from Also Sprach Zarathustra
Jerry Goldsmith – Star Trek 1: The Motion Picture Theme
David Arnold – Stargate Suite
Jerry Goldsmith – Capricorn 1
James Horner – The Rocketeer – To The Rescue (End Title)
James Horner – Avatar Suite
Jerry Goldsmith – Total Recall
Jerry Goldsmith – Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier
Jerry Goldsmith – Star Trek 8: First Contact
John Williams – Across the Stars: Star Wars Episode II
Jerry Goldsmith – Alien End Title
Jerry Goldsmith – Star Trek 10: Nemesis
Jerry Goldsmith – Planet of the Apes Suite
David Arnold – Independence Day Suite
John Williams – Star Wars: Phantom Menace Suite
Encore: Michael Giacchino – Star Trek: Into Darkness Main Title