From White Christmas To Star Wars – Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra Conductor Michael Bell Talks A Night at The Movies

Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra’s ever popular A Night at the Movies concert returns to St David’s Hall, Cardiff on Friday 10 December 2021! Neil Collins speaks with CPO Conductor, Michael Bell about what makes the concert so enduringly popular every year…

Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra’s A Night at the Movies is always a major draw for St David’s Hall audiences every year.

I ‘m delighted and really pleased that A Night at the Movies proves so popular. We are very lucky that so many want to join us for the concert.

Did you ever envisage that you would pack the Hall every year for this concert when you first formed the orchestra in 1982?

All performers want to perform to a full house; the reaction and support of the audience is something that really lifts all the players, and it raises everyone’s game. I tell the orchestra though that it doesn’t matter if it’s a full house or just a few people in the audience we must give our all for them, and the orchestra really does.

Michael Bell MBE conducts A Night At The Movies with Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra

What are your memories of the very first A Night at the Movies concert in 1994?

It was such a gamble performing an evening of film music at a time such evenings were very rare. But it was a gamble that paid handsomely. It is music the orchestra loves playing, and I love conducting, which is why film music features in our season at St David’s Hall every year.

You have a very warm and engaging personality onstage and I think this particularly shines through in the Movies concerts where you share anecdotes, facts and figures with the audience. As a bit of a film buff yourself, it must be enjoyable collating all the trivia each year. Take us through your research process…

You’re far too kind Neil! I like to talk to the audience. I think it helps to draw the audience into the performance. In 1994 there wasn’t the internet and so I did all my research the old way by reading books, mainly film guides and biographies, and in particular The Guinness Book of Movie Facts and Feats – long since out of print.

The main thing is to give a flavour of the music that the audience is about to hear – also who’s in the film, what it’s about, anecdotes about the production and other assorted trivia! 

Apparently, you wrote to a well-known BBC presenter back in the 90s asking him to host the concert, but when he declined you decided to have a go yourself. Was that first time experience like?

I did. I wrote to the late Barry Norman, who sent me a very nice letter declining. So, I thought I’d give it a go myself and I’ve been doing it ever since. I was very nervous that first time…and it doesn’t get any easier!

It looks like good fun performing such incredible music from the movies. Talk us through this year’s repertoire…

There are a few new scores for us in this year’s A Night at the Movies including perhaps the greatest Star Wars film since the original trilogy, and that is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story with brilliant music by Michael Giacchino.

He wrote another score we’re performing, that of Spider-Man: Far from Home – a really strong, pulsating score. Also new is the fantastic title music from Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest composed by Bernard Herrmann. The film stars the great Cary Grant. There are also family favourites such as The Little Mermaid, Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, The Magnificent Seven and Indiana Jones.

A Night at The Movies takes place at Cardiff’s St David’s Hall on December 10

You’ve really hit upon a winning formula in recent years performing music from Star Wars and fans turn out in their droves each year. This time you’ll be performing new music from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Are you a Star Wars fan yourself and what makes the music so iconic?

The first Star Wars film I saw was The Empire Strikes Back. I hadn’t seen the first of the Star Wars films released (A New Hope) so I didn’t really have a clue what was going on, and who was who!

But what struck me straight away was the brilliant music, written in a symphonic style, very much in the tradition of the music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who wrote the music for many of the swashbuckling films of the 1930s starring Errol Flynn. The essence of John Williams’ music for Star Wars originates from there.

Away from Star Wars, what would be your favourite films, movie composers and scores?

We’ve been fortunate to perform music by many great Hollywood composers from Korngold, Franz Waxman, Dmitri Tiomkin and Bernard Herrman to Henry Mancini, John Barry, James Horner, Hans Zimmer and many more. I particularly enjoy the epic films most notably Ben-Hur – that has one of the very greatest of all film scores, written by Miklós Rózsa. I’ve been lucky to include music from my own personal favourite film, It’s a Wonderful Life.

Like the Family Prom, this concert perhaps has a more accessible repertoire particularly for youngsters. Do you think concerts like these are vital in attracting people to the joy of classical music from an early age?

Yes, I do. Film music, more often than not, conjures images of the film and provokes an emotional response.  It would be good to think that there will be many in the audience hearing a live orchestra for the first time, playing music they know and enjoy, and it’s up to us to ensure it’s a happy experience. Hopefully people will then come back to hear the orchestra again. We also think it’s important to have tickets at affordable prices for families.

Not only is A Night at the Movies unmissable each year for film and classical fans, but it also strikes me that it works so well as an essential part of the festive programme at St David’s Hall. Would you agree that it’s perfect for a great value night out for the whole family just before Christmas?

When we started A Night at the Movies in 1994, and for several years afterwards, we performed it in February, but moving it to a pre-Christmas slot seemed an obvious thing to do and it has certainly paid off. This year we are performing music from seasonal classics such as It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas.

Lastly, what makes patrons come back for A Night at the Movies year upon year?

Hopefully our wonderful audience who have enjoyed A Night at the Movies one year, will come again the following year. We want everyone to enjoy the whole experience of live orchestral music, and to send everyone away smiling at the end of the concert with all those great tunes going round their heads!

What You Will Hear At Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra’s A Night at the Movies Concert 2021

  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home
  • It’s a Wonderful Life
  • Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
  • Indiana Jones
  • The Magnificent Seven
  • It’s A Wonderful Life
  • White Christmas
  • North By Northwest
  • The Little Mermaid
  • Downton Abbey

Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by  Michael Bell MBE

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