Pretty soon as I discovered Maestro Ennio Morricone’s music with his score to Il clan dei Siciliani I also found out that he was doing massive concert tours around Europe. Since I live in Finland I never thought I could actually see Maestro perform live. The outskirts of Europe aren’t a popular place to visit for international superstars and when Maestro turned 80, I already thought that his days might be numbered.
However in the autumn of 2015 I was absolutely dumbfounded when it was announced that Maestro would come to perform a concert in Helsinki during his The 60 years of music tour. This would not only be his first time in Finland but the only concert held in the Nordic countries as well. I immediately ordered a ticket because the date of March 2016 would perfectly be around my Easter holidays. Unfortunately only a few weeks before the concert was due, the devastating news arrived: Maestro had to cancel his concert due to back problems. I realized that my opportunity to see this living legend live had vanished into thin air. Or so I thought.
During the spring of 2016 it was announced that a new date for the concert was scheduled for 30th of November. I was first skeptical whether I could attend or not because of the strict nature of my studies. However I decided to hold on to my original tickets. During the autumn I followed all the announcements about the concert with anxiety because of the previous cancellation. It was only after I saw that he had performed in Stockholm 2 days prior when I realized that my ultimate dream could actually come true.
In the morning of 30th of November I finally stepped onto a train to Helsinki and started the 4-hour journey. The landscape was all covered in a fresh snow layer like the nature itself was celebrating the Maestro’s arrival to Finland. The venue for the concert was Hartwall Arena, more famous for its usage in ice hockey. When I arrived there, I was surprised to see no outside adverts about the concert. Some lesser Finnish artists and stand up comedians had their banners though… After standing in line for 30 minutes I got in and visited the souvenir store like any other tourist. I bought the new compilation album 60 years of music with a DVD and the totally obscure Morricone record that he produced himself and which is only sold during his concerts called Bambini del mondo. The programme was designed in a book form and was a nice memory from the concert to take home with. I had a seat at the floor level relatively near the orchestra. The whole arena was teeming and breathing like before a sporting event and almost every one of the 10000 seats was taken.
The performers started to flow onto the stage starting with the Finnish choir Grex Musicus Choir followed by Czech National Symphony Orchestra that has been Maestro’s collaborator for years already. However when the Maestro came to the stage the whole audience already gave him a standing ovation of a good 2 minutes without him even conducting a single note. Then the lights went out, everyone went silent and the first delicate harp notes appeared…
The evening’s programme was as follows:
A homage to Giuseppe Tornatore
· The legend of 1900 (from The legend of 1900)
· Tarantella (from Baarìa)
· Chi mai (from Maddalena)
· H2S (from H2S)
· Metti, una sera a cena (from Metti, una sera a cena)
· Croce d’amore (from Metti, una sera a cena)
· Cinema Paradiso (from Cinema Paradiso)
· Tema d’amore (from Cinema Paradiso)
A homage to Mauro Bolognini
· Per le antiche scale (from Per le antiche scale)
· Irene-Dominique (from L’eredità Ferramonti)
The modernity of the myth in Sergio Leone’s cinema
· The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – Main theme (from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly)
· Jill’s Theme (from Once upon a time in the West)
· Sean, Sean (from A fistful of dynamite)
· The ecstasy of gold (from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly)
- Soprano Susanna Rigacci
The hateful eight
· Stage coach to Red Rock
· Deborah’s theme (from Once upon a time in America)
· Addio Monti (from I promessi sposi)
· Vatel’s theme (from Vatel)
The red tent
· Do dreams go on
· They’re alive (SOS)
· Others who will follow us
· Gabriel’s oboe
· On earth as it is in heaven
Encore 1: Abolisson (from Queimada)
Encore 2: The ecstasy of gold (from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly)
Encore 3: On earth as it is in heaven (from The mission)
The concert began marvelously with Maestro’s epic love song to the sea. After the aforementioned harp solo, some fragments of madness started to lure in in a form of jazzy snippets. The orchestral performance of those snippets though was a bit rushed and not that precise but fortunately this was the only time when some orchestral mishaps happened during the night. When the magnificent main theme reached its climax I was holding back tears because the wave of sound was just so immense. This happened many times at the beginning of the concert and only during the performance of Tema d’amore from Cinema Paradiso I finally shed a tear of joy because I wasn’t prepared that they would have performed this moving piece. I felt emotional even during the martial Tarantella because the orchestra and even the stone-faced Maestro seemed to have so much fun with it.
After that homage we got a collection of miscellaneous pieces from obscure films starting with Chi mai. As I wrote in my review of Maddalena’s score, it truly is a piece of beauty. The atmosphere was pretty laid-back with sleazy bass playing. However that atmosphere was broken by a cheerful classically inspired H2S which was among the concert’s very best performances. All the nuances from different instruments were performed so effortlessly. The sleazy bass and electric guitar returned accompanying the cheesy, bouncy melody of Metti, una sera a cena. It was only during this cue, when Maestro loosened his metronome-like precision and had some swing with his conducting. Elsewhere he seemed very concentrated on the sheet music, but when he gave the players personal direction during a cue, the audience got to witness a moment of warm glance and mutual respect. The second piece from Metti… brings images of an urban cityscape to mind. However this performance was even more menacing and provided the only moment of unease of the first half. The piano player was set free and improvised the simple melodic core wildly. The section concluded with two pieces from Cinema Paradiso which were oh so beautiful and serene. I bet there was no dry eye in the audience after Tema d’amore had finished. Another homage consisting of 2 pieces arrived next. Per le antiche scale was an intimate duet for a solo flute and piano but Irene-Dominique was so massive in its arrangement that it was pleasing though the melody isn’t really that original among Maestro’s other works.
It was time for the finale of the first half with a suite of Sergio Leone’s film themes. Susanna Rigacci walked to the stage in a red dress and the audience managed to make her smile with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’s beginning when someone from the audience whistled the famous wolf-call over the pulsating opening line. This was also the first showpiece for the 50 member choir and they succeeded. I especially enjoyed the choir’s sopranos who sounded very fresh and young which worked perfectly during the concert’s latter half. Maestro showed that ageing hadn’t slowed him down because during many pieces the tempos were much faster than in the originals, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly being no exception. Rigacci however sounded a bit flat at the beginning of Jill’s Theme but got much better during Sean, Sean and even playful during the massive ending The ecstasy of gold which received another standing ovation of several minutes.
The second half began with Maestro’s Oscar winning score to The hateful eight. It was by far the most challenging section during the whole concert. The reptile like quality of the sneaky main theme was brilliantly achieved by the bassoons and tuba. Once again the tempo was faster and got actually rather exhilarating at the end, but Bestiality (originally written for John Carpenter’s The Thing) brought the madness to new heights. I think that the lowest bowed instruments in this piece weren’t so audible due to mixing and that’s why the piece lacked some of its punch but it gave me goosebumps nevertheless. The craziness was balanced with 3 adagi which was programme-wise the only mishap of the concert. I’ve never understood the praise of Deborah’s theme. It’s a nice little melody but nothing more and even though the performance was emotional, it never highlighted the actual piece in any way. The other two cues chosen were already done much better during the first half’s romantic material. However at the end I think we needed some time to breath after the shock caused by The hateful eight and Maestro’s solution was passable.
For me the highlight of the concert was the suite from The red tent because it was something I didn’t know what to expect of since I had heard a recording of a live performance of pretty much every other piece. Besides the main theme of that film is a forgotten gem of a melody. That main theme was introduced in a massive arrangement with a soft choral backing. However the serene quality was broken by They’re alive (SOS) which includes the Morse code rambling and almost aleatoric dissonance where the instruments were played seemingly independent of each other. Simply thrilling stuff! The section concluded however with another dreamlike main theme reprise for the choir and solo viola. The piece continued without pauses straight to the last section, The mission, which is surely a crowd pleaser and a regular end to a Morricone concert. The performance of Gabriel’s oboe was rather understated in a good way. The oboist wasn’t forcing the emotion but rather just letting the melody speak for itself. Also Falls was performed similarly: there was a certain serenity floating around the arena and orchestra which made the piece breathe. The rousing finale however turned a bit into a cacophony of melodic brilliance and due to the immense sound barrier I couldn’t really tell if the choir was only singing long lines and missed the rhythmic section completely. The audience seemed to love it though and Morricone gave three encores and the last standing ovation took probably 10 minutes altogether. He even seemed a bit astonished and when he began the last reprise of On earth as it is in heaven, he accidentally started to conduct a wrong piece. However when Finns are allowed to be around alcohol (the arena has bars you see) they unfortunately can become a bit shouty. This partly drunken yelling was apparent before the last 2 encores and at least to me was disrespectful to the artist.
Overall the concert was a night to remember, a once-of-a-lifetime opportunity to see one of the last film music legends still alive and surprisingly well. Though Maestro had aged significantly from when we saw him at the Oscars nearly a year ago, there still was an internal fire and passion to present his music to a new audience. A sign of great artistry in my opinion was also that he didn’t address the audience or give any speeches. He just lets his music do the talking. And since this is his last tour, we hope to hear that talking if possible for many more years where it suits best: accompanying a film. Thank you Maestro Morricone for giving Finland a chance! Grazie mille!