On Sunday July 6th, David Arnold appeared in his London concert debut at the Royal Festival Hall. The evening was a tremendous celebration of his twenty years in scoring film. Throughout the night, Arnold regularly popped on and off stage to entertain the crowd with career anecdotes and his classic self-deprecating dry humor and to join the orchestra with piano, guitar, and his own impressive singing. Arnold was accompanied by his longtime orchestrator and conductor Nicholas Dodd, singer David McAlmont, soul and gospel group Urban Voices Collective, his Sherlock co-composer Michael Price, and a 75-piece orchestra.
The first half of the program appeared hand-selected to show off the eclectic nature of Arnold’s oeuvre. Immediately, the audience was bombarded with the heroic fanfare of his overture for the late ’90s space adventure Wing Commander. From there, the program ventured into the gorgeous, Barryesque gestures of Last of the Dogmen, the bluesy guitar of Four Brothers, the cool, understated majesty of his 2012 London Olympics Closing Medals Ceremony, the thundering monster movie heights of Godzilla, and the delirious, waltzy splendor of The Stepford Wives. David McAlmont, with whom Arnold had collaborated on a cover of “Diamonds Are Forever” for his mid-’90s James Bond project Shaken and Stirred, graced the stage as well to sing the distinctly Bondian “Play Dead,” a song Arnold had written for Björk for the film The Young Americans.
The mood sobered briefly when Arnold assumed singing duties for a never-before-heard song from his upcoming stage musical, Made in Dagenham—a work about the late ’60s women’s rights movement in the UK. With lyrics written from the perspective of a wife and mother, this heartbreaking song was delivered by Arnold with all the passion and all the poignancy it deserves. But true to his whimsical self, he still ended with a playful curtsy and noted that “most of the other songs [from the musical] have swearing in them for fans of it.” And so the evening returned to its spirit of fun and whimsy in time for the uplifting “Goodbye” from the extraterrestrial comedy Paul and, just before intermission, a bladder-testing, twenty-minute suite from Stargate that gloriously showcased all of the film’s best cues, capped by its gorgeous finale “Going Home.”
But if there is one sound David Arnold has become more associated with than any other it is that of James Bond, and the audience’s anticipation of just a single identifiable Bondian twang of the guitar was rewarded immediately upon returning from intermission with the seven-minute Tomorrow Never Dies pre-titles track “White Knight.” Described by Arnold as their audition piece for the Bond films, this selection came as a true surprise and a true delight—the kind of scoring you never expect to hear in a concert setting and usually can only imagine how it might sound live. Flirtatious hints of the James Bond theme flared up as the music built suspensefully toward a frenzy of wild strings and a tremendous heroic statement of Arnold’s “Surrender” theme.
Arnold daringly and quite successfully sang “The World is Not Enough” himself with orchestral accompaniment, and sang and performed solo piano for the film’s unused end title song, the melancholy “Only Myself to Blame.” McAlmont also returned for “Surrender,” Arnold’s proposed title song for Tomorrow Never Dies, and delivered one tremendous performance. With its long sustains and lack of room for breaths between, “Surrender” is not an easy song to sing, let alone perform live, but McAlmont tackled the work masterfully and held his final high note for an unreal length of time, garnering an amazed brow raise from Arnold, who was on guitar beside him, and furious applause from the crowd. Forget Adelle, give David McAlmont the next James Bond song!
The other James Bond score selections, “City of Lovers” and “Night at the Opera” from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace respectively, are apparently tailor-made for the concert setting. As performed in the Royal Festival Hall with Dodd conducting, these pieces sounded virtually indistinguishable from their film recordings. They are both lovely, haunting cues that display Arnold’s talent for writing works of lush beauty with sinister undertones. And rounding out the satisfyingly lengthy Bond portion of the evening was a rocking instrumental of Casino Royale‘s “You Know My Name.”
After the Urban Voices Collective provided serene vocals for two cues from Amazing Grace, composer Michael Price appeared to assume conducting duties for the Sherlock suite. Price was introduced by Sherlock actress Amanda Abbington and the show’s writer, actor, and producer Mark Gatiss, who quipped he was only there to hear Skyfall. His co-presenter hushed him quickly, stage-whispering, “He didn’t do that one.” Everyone laughed, including Arnold, who had spoken earlier of his immense fondness for the Bond films and their producers. The Sherlock suite ended with a rambunctious crowd-pleaser, very well played and very well conducted, especially considering Price somehow lost most of his baton early on in the suite and had to go on conducting with its bottom two inches. Regardless, he was all smiles and in fact appeared brimming with excitement and truly happy to hear his and Arnold’s music performed in such a grand venue.
There was only one way the evening could possibly have ended and that was with Arnold’s incredible nine-minute end credits suite from Independence Day. The only element noticeably missing here was the choir, but the orchestra’s performance was so powerful and so precise that, for those already familiar with the music, you could simply fill in the choir in your head. Still, with the Urban Voices Collective sitting just behind the orchestra, you have to wonder if maybe they could have been called upon for vocal support. There was a small surprise toward the end, however, when Arnold appeared above and behind the orchestra with his back to the audience to work the auditorium’s 60 year-old, 7,866-pipe organ like a silent film era mad scientist tinkering with some mammoth mechanical creation. That made up just a bit for the lack of choir.
In response to a standing ovation that showed no sign of fading any time soon, Arnold jumped right to the encore. His readiness suggested he may have been waiting the whole night for the opportunity to play this one final piece. And really, could there have been any better encore than Casino Royale‘s end title “The Name’s Bond… James Bond”? What a fitting way for Arnold to end the night’s festivity—returning to where it all began for him with his boyhood fascination of John Barry’s You Only Live Twice by performing those classic, guttural licks of the James Bond theme on guitar before a captivated audience.
As wonderful of a selection as the program was and as fine of a job as the musicians did in performing Arnold’s music (the brass section in particular must have slept very, very well that night), the biggest takeaway of the evening was simply how much everyone enjoyed being there. There was a wonderful air of celebration, not merely of the music itself but of all the fine collaborations that have lasted throughout Arnold’s career. Though he didn’t say a word the whole night, Nicholas Dodd positively radiated his pleasure and his pride in the work he was conducting and Arnold appeared as giddy as anyone to hear the hall filled with his compositions. Arnold’s London debut was a classy, top-tier event all around and a great time for all in attendance, audience and performers alike.
The Complete Program:
- Wing Commander Overture
- Last of the Dogmen
- Godzilla Main Titles
- The Stepford Wives Main Titles
- 2012 London Olympics Closing Medals Ceremony
- Four Brothers Main Titles
- Made in Dagenham
- “Goodbye” from Paul
- “Play Dead” (featuring David McAlmont)
- Stargate Suite
- “White Knight” from Tomorrow Never Dies
- “Only Myself to Blame”
- “Surrender” (featuring David McAlmont)
- “City of Lovers” from Casino Royale
- “The World is Not Enough”
- “Night at the Opera” from Quantum of Solace
- “You Know My Name” (instrumental)
- Amazing Grace Suite (featuring Urban Voices Collective)
- Sherlock Suite
- Independence Day End Titles
Encore: “The Name’s Bond… James Bond” from Casino Royale
Photograph © Michael Ettel