If you’re a film aficionado or a classical concert-goer, chances are that at some point in recent years you have attended a film screening with live orchestral accompaniment or a concert featuring a programme of iconic movie scores.
Film music has become big box office business and, over the last few years, we in Scotland have been spoiled for choice – the BBC SSO devoted a weekend to the music of Bernard Herrmann, the John Wilson Orchestra visits every winter with songs from the great musicals and all the film festivals tend to include some sort of celebration of movie music.
But it wasn’t always thus. In the 1990s, after a series of annual screenings of silent movies with music performed by the RSNO, and conducted by composer Carl Davis, something magical happened: Hollywood itself began to come to Glasgow thanks to record producer Robert Townson, who came to work with the RSNO to produce definitive recordings of important scores from Hollywood history.
Nobody who witnessed the movie giant Elmer Bernstein conducting his own, majestic and catchy music for The Magnificent Seven or his exquisitely delicate and beguiling themes for To Kill a Mockingbird at one of his birthday concerts with the RSNO in 1997 and 2002 could forget how thrilling it was to be in the presence of Hollywood history.
Townson recalls that, on the day the RSNO was to record To Kill a Mockingbird, its first Bernstein work, the composer was “trotting to the podium when the horn section started playing The Magnificent Seven theme”, much to his delight.