Wizard of Oz

Live score of classic fairytale has Graeme Stewart feeling young again

It’s been almost 70 years since director Victor Fleming’s spellbinding fairytale The Wizard of Oz graced the silver screen with its epic sets, fantastic cast and one of Hollywood’s greatest scores, composed by Harold Arlen with lyrics by E. Y. Harburg. It’s one of those films that has stood the test of time - for old hands like myself seeing the film again is a nostalgic trip down memory lane, but for many in the audience it's their first experience of this most fantastical tale.

At the Waterfront Hall, The RTE Concert Orchestra accompanies the film with a score in glorious Technicolor, brought vividly back to life by talented orchestrator and arranger John Wilson. 

For the last few years, Wilson’s career has gone from strength to strength having worked with some of the biggest names in film and music from Paul McCartney to Kevin Spacey. This led MGM to set him the daunting challenge of reconstructing many of their original scores which, for some reason or another, have been destroyed. Needless to say this has been a resounding triumph. 

Tonight the orchestra is joined by conductor Neil Thompson, who takes them through every nuance and sync point of Arlen’s score with enthusiasm. 

There is something magical about watching a film on the big screen and hearing the music enter at exactly the right moment, it’s even better when you’re able to look down and see the musicians hard at work to create the dramatic underscore. The orchestra really does a fantastic job, with everyone entering into the spirit of the occasion with great sense of enjoyment and passion. 

The musical numbers sung by members of the cast are particularly enjoyable - you only need to hear the opening of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' or 'We’re off to see the Wizard' and you’re right back where you were when you first saw the film. What’s more is that you really do forget that you are in a concert hall listening to a live orchestra - it's such a seamless marriage of picture and music, and a great immersive experience.

Wilson has done sterling work on this score, and having heard much of his other work, including his authentic jazz score to Spacey’s 2004 film Beyond the Sea and his orchestration work on the BBC series Gormenghast, I’m sure MGM are in for many more treats in the years to come. 

Tonight his loyalty to the original orchestration of the score is highly commendable, along with his own passion for the project. Put this together with an orchestra with the same excitement, as the RTE Concert Orchestra has, and you have something very special. 

Certainly a wonderful experience for anyone wanting to get into that Christmas spirit…and for those wanting to feel young again!

Graeme Stewart

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