Left - Conductor Anthony Inglis
I defy anyone not to enjoy a classical concert where the orchestra plays action movie soundtracks and the conductor wears superhero costumes.
Such a concert was the MSO Pops Superheroes at the Symphony. Colourfully enticing posters were strewn around Melbourne in the weeks leading up to this performance, promising performances of music from Spider-Man, Indiana Jones, Batman, Gladiator, The Incredibles and others.
If you find the world of classical music a little intimidating, the MSO Pops offers a great entry point. From the preliminary posters through to the final bars of the second encore, the playful, inclusive credo of the MSO Pops was on full display. The welcoming atmosphere was helped along in no small way by the charismatic conductor Anthony Inglis, who some may remember from last year's MSO Pops performance - Space Classics.
The first hint that things might get a bit silly came during the opening bars of the William Tell Overture, for which a couple of trumpeters stood up wearing Lone Ranger masks. After a rousing rendition of one of my personal favourite pieces and amidst huge applause, Inglis took a little time out to explain the background of the piece and to introduce the show. As a small group of latecomers were hurriedly ushered to their seats, the conductor told them they'd missed a great overture. They had.
The UK-based Inglis has a distinguished conducting career, having performed with the four main London orchestras, the Singapore and Gothenburg Symphony orchestras, the Israel, Warsaw, Tokyo and Slovak Philharmonic orchestras and able to list a wide variety of other musical credits. He is well known to regular MSO goers who would have seen him last at the Classical Spectacular concert late last year.
In this concert, he brought the audience into the performance with a wealth of interesting trivia, some delightfully terrible jokes and the help of a box of props. Explaining the origins of William Tell and donning a hat with an arrow through it, Inglis said the MSO Pops shows allow him to indulge in his secret passion - dressing up. Little did we know the extent of this passion!
After the William Tell Overture came the Spider-Man Suite, and naturally, a Spider-Man mask, through which one imagines it was fairly difficult to conduct. Music from The Adventures of Robin Hood saw a rather dashing Robin Hood-style hat, and though Inglis did brandish a pair of tights threateningly for a while, he mercifully didn't wear them.
By the last piece before the intermission, the audience had been thoroughly warmed up and were treated to a stirring performance of the classic theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark. John Williams' sensational scores never fail to delight and, putting aside for a moment the slightly incongruous image of the conductor with an Indiana Jones whip, we are reminded again how fortunate we are to enjoy such a world class orchestra as the MSO.
After the break it was the dramatic strains of Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, for which Inglis, clearly enjoying himself hugely and becoming ever more reminiscent of Tim Brooke-Taylor, wore a Viking helmet with long blond plats. This was followed by the jazzy theme from Pixar's excellent animated superhero movie The Incredibles and the epic, swelling sounds of the Suite from Gladiator.
The magic of John Williams was evident again soon after with the instantly recognisable theme from Harry Potter, during which the orchestra displayed their professionalism when conductor Inglis had to disappear offstage suddenly due to an unscheduled wardrobe malfunction - his trousers were falling down.
Danny Elfman's score from Batman Returns provided a suitably dramatic finish to the advertised program, and Inglis showed he was generous enough not to keep all the fun to himself: the audience were encouraged to sing 'ner ner ner ner ner ner ner ner BATMAN!!!' loud enough to make the Bat Signal appear on the back wall.
Indeed, stepping back from the excitement for a moment, it has to be said that the whole performance was an exceptionally polished production. The lighting displays during each piece complemented the mood nicely without becoming distracting and the acoustics of Hamer Hall were, as always, simply excellent. Although the vibe was relaxed and everyone was having a lot of fun, during the performances the hall was so quiet you could hear a pin drop, the audience totally fixated on the sounds of the orchestra.
Such was the applause after the final number that there were two encores, both pieces that were conspicuously absent from the main menu of superhero sounds. First up was James Bond, the iconic theme followed by a medley of tunes from the movie canon including an energised rendition of Live and Let Die.
Finally, there was no better way to end a show about superheroes than with the theme from Superman, for which the cause of the wardrobe malfunction foreshadowed earlier became apparent. To the stirring John Williams score, Inglis tore off his suit to reveal a full Superman cape and, the audience in hysterics, proceeded to conduct. After rapturous applause, and full of wine and good cheer, the audience spilled out of the auditorium and drifted into the night, no doubt humming, as I did, all the way home. We were all superheroes that night.
Superheroes at the Symphony
Conductor Anthony Inglis
Venue: the Arts Centre, Hamer Hall
Dates/Times: Saturday 6 June 2009 @ 7pm & Sunday 7 June 2009 @ 2pm
Bookings: the Arts Centre Box Office | Ticketmaster | 1300 13 61 66