BWW Review: CASINO ROYALE IN CONCERT, Royal Albert Hall
This weekend, for the first time, a James Bond score was performed in its entirety, as the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra accompanied a screening of the 2006 film Casino Royale. This was Daniel Craig's first outing as the British secret agent; coincidentally he has recently confirmed he will be returning to the role in the future, following speculation that his appearance in Spectre would be his last.
Composer David Arnold has thus far scored five Bond films, beginning with 1997's Tomorrow Never Dies, starring Pierce Brosnan. As host for the evening David Walliams explained, these special screenings are as much a celebration of Arnold as they are Bond, marking his 20-year professional connection with the films.
Entry to each screening included a short Q&A between the two Davids beforehand, giving an insight into Arnold's connection with James Bond (his first memory of the character is seeing You Only Live Twice as an eight year old), as well as his approach to scoring the films with both an established Bond and a new actor.
Arnold places great value on the contribution of John Barry (the composer of one of the most iconic character themes in film history), saying he used Barry's work as something of a blueprint for the initial creation of his Bond 'sound', making sure to keep "one foot in the sixties" as he went about it. In Arnold's own words, "a lifetime of enthusiasm" went into scoring that first film, likening the process to preparing for and climbing Mount Everest.
In scoring Casino Royale, he was faced with composing for an actor who had never been seen as Bond before, so had to make decisions about how this would sound. As this particular film shows Bond at the beginning of his career, with newly-acquired double-0 status, Arnold's score leaves the famous Bond theme until the very end, though including short strains of it throughout - Arnold sees them as rewards that Bond earns for showing signs of being the character we all know and love.
Tragically, earlier this year Chris Cornell (co-writer of the film's theme song, "You Know My Name") passed away. Arnold spoke warmly of their time working together - he described Cornell as an "extraordinarily easy collaborator" - as well as the bond of friendship that formed between them. In choosing the singer for each film's theme song, Arnold looks for someone who "belongs to the fabric of the film" - so with Cornell's "extraordinary voice" he didn't need to look any further. He also chose to keep those recorded vocals for the concerts, as he couldn't imagine anyone else singing it; hearing that ring out across the Royal Albert Hall, as part of arguably one of the best Bond themes of all time, was a thrilling and moving moment. A fitting tribute to a man who was incredibly proud of having a place in Bond history.
Remarkably, it transpired that some members of the audience had not yet seen the film - I think it's safe to say that they chose quite an occasion to see it for the first time! The series may be perceived as just a set of action films, with a "blunt instrument" as the central character (M's words, not mine), but there's a level of intelligence behind the whole enterprise that elevates it to legendary status.
As such, having the score played live by a full concert orchestra is probably the closest you'll ever get to feeling a part of the events in the film. The twelve-minute "Miami International" bomb chase sequence is enough to get the adrenaline pumping, earning the musicians an impromptu round of applause from the audience. In stark contrast to this is Vesper's theme, a piece filled with delicacy and despair, though tinged with hope and union.
Events like these cannot happen too often, as far as I'm concerned. Not only do they make for fun nights out, but they could also potentially find a new audience for classical music - or at least bring a variety of different people through the doors of the Royal Albert Hall. Over the coming months the venue will be doing just that, as their Films in Concert series will take in classics such as Jaws, Disney's Fantasia and The Addams Family.
The phenomenal demand for this particular film screening certainly suggests that there would be a case for further Bond films to be brought to the venue in this way. But for now, I think I'd be justified in saying that Casino Royale has left its audiences shaken and stirred.
Casino Royale in Concert was at the Royal Albert Hall on 30 September and 1 October