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Charlotte Symphony ends Pops season with tribute to film music

By Lawrence Toppman
ltoppman@charlotteobserver.com

Journalists call it “burying the lead” when a story catalogs countless details but hides the cool one at the bottom. So it has been with The Charlotte Observer and Christopher Warren-Green.

We’ve noted that he has led music for a royal wedding, run the London Chamber Orchestra for a quarter century and conducted in America and Europe. Though he’s been the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s music director for three years, we have failed to report an essential part of his biography: He played on James Bond movie soundtracks.

He was just a nimble violinist in the mid-’70s, picking up extra dough. He’s not even sure which Bonds they were. But he was already a movie fan and no snob about crossing the bridge between classical music and film scores. He’ll explore that link in depth Friday and Saturday in Symphonic Cinema, the season’s final Pops concert.

“I was 17 at the time, playing at Abbey Road studios,” he recalls. “There was a huge projection screen at the back, and streamers would come across it when they needed music, so the conductor could time the sound to match the car crash.

“I knew Burt Rhodes, who had orchestrated the James Bond theme (in “Dr. No”) for Monty Norman, and I was contracted to play those full scores with 40 other first violins.”

So it’s fitting that a Bond suite opens the first half of this concert, and the “Goldfinger” theme closes that half. Part one is devoted to British music, part two to American tunes. That reflects his own journey from England to the States.

Ask about the first movie whose music inspired him, and he recalls “Lawrence of Arabia.” (He was 7 when it came out in 1962.) He bought a DVD recently to re-absorb Maurice Jarre’s score, which also has a place in Symphonic Cinema.

But before he ever picked up a violin, he had tasted the musical whipped cream of “schmaltzy old Hollywood musicals. Fox and MGM had their own studio orchestras, and they were terrific; Toscha Seidel was a violin soloist with this special sound I absolutely adored.”

Thus it’s appropriate that the oldest selection on the program, a medley called “Hooray for Hollywood,” predates Warren-Green’s birth. The newest, taken from the Harry Potter movies and “Pirates of the Caribbean,” appeal to younger fans.

“I was determined this would be for the whole family,” he says. “In this technological age, audiences don’t realize there’s a full philharmonic orchestra behind the action.

“As soon as I told my 14-year-old son I’d be playing Harry Potter and Batman music, he wanted to come to the concert. I asked, ‘Does that mean it’s cool enough for you to bring your mates?’ And he said ‘Yeah,’ so that worked.”

Warren-Green subscribes to the dictum – attributed to Kurt Weill, Duke Ellington and many others – that there are only two types of music, good and bad. It was important for him to lead this concert, his lone pops outing for 2012-13, “because it sends out a message about what great music is.”

He’s well aware that major classical composers on both sides of the Atlantic wrote film scores into the 1950s: Copland, Bernstein, Walton, Vaughan Williams, Britten and others. (This concert includes Malcolm Arnold’s Oscar-winning “Bridge on the River Kwai” music.)

Then academicians created an artificial, nose-in-the-air distinction between “serious” and “light” music, and only a few people straddled that gap.

Richard Rodney Bennett wrote an astringent piano concerto while adding lush melodies to “Nicholas and Alexandra” or “Murder on the Orient Express.” John Williams, whose “E.T.” theme caps Warren-Green’s concert, kept a foot in both worlds. But most composers had to pick sides, to the detriment of each side.

“In this age, not to have the most talented composers writing for film is foolish,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to knock down barriers. They’re what’s strangling our profession.”

Preview

‘SYMPHONIC CINEMA’

Christopher Warren-Green conducts a Pops concert of classic British and American film music.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

WHERE: Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St.

TICKETS: $34.50-$62.50.

DETAILS: 704-372-1000, carolinatix.org.

Toppman: 704-358-5232
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