‘Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark’ live concert review

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Celebrating the 35th anniversary of the film’s release, we had the pleasure of attending Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark Live at London’s Royal Albert Hall this Saturday.

As part of the Royal Albert Hall’s Films with Live Orchestra series, the special screening of the film was accompanied by the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra, led by conductor Ludwig Wicki, who performed John Williams’ iconic soundtrack live simultaneously with the film.

Stephen Spielberg and Harrison Ford’s iconic globe-trotting archaeologist felt particularly at home at such an opulent venue, with the grand hall never failing to make an attendee feel like they’ve stepped back in time.

For a concert hall that has played host to the very widest spectrum of music one may be surprised to learn that this concert marks the first time that a full Williams score has ever been performed on the famous stage. It seems fitting then that for the composer, often regarded as the master of the leitmotif, it should be his score for Indiana Jones which welcomes him to the Royal Albert hall. After all, who amongst us can’t instantly hum those famous notes that are as much part of the ensemble of Indiana Jones as are his whip and fedora?

Those of us who were concerned that John Williams’ score may at times become drowned out by the sounds of galloping hooves and plane engines need not have feared. The amazing skills of the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra were provided the attention and reverence that they deserve.

Raiders transports its audience to the sun-drenched, sandy world of the 1930s and a time of good and evil. The threat of the Nazi stronghold is ever looming over the world and the Führer must be stopped from getting his hands on the awesome power of the Ark of the Covenant at all costs. It is this world of binary contrast that an ‘80s era John Williams thrives in. The score flits between rousing crescendos of triumph and the ominous strings of threat at the drop of a hat, if you’ll excuse the pun.

There are three clear musical themes in Williams’ work for this film. Indiana Jones, his romance with the immensely capable Marion and the Ark all have their own distinct musical signatures and watching the orchestra glide between these themes is a unique pleasure. Early John Williams presents a score unencumbered some may say by the flourishes of his later work and this concentrated approach to music allows these themes to really ring out clearly throughout the film.

Watching a film and an orchestra at once can often be something of a tug of war for the eyes. Though many of us have seen this film a million times it still has the power to hold our rapt attention occasionally at the expense of the immensely talented musicians who are performing under the enormous screen. It is fortunate then that as the credits rolled and the evening came to a close Ludwig Wicki and the orchestra took one last moment as the sole focus of the audience to really give the audience some uninhibited bombast.

Letting the score belt out and fill the entire hall with the unique sense of adventure and wonder that only he can, we were all of us sent back to our comparatively unadventurous lives humming those immortal notes.


Performed on Saturday 12 March 2016 at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

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Take a look at what else is coming up in the Royal Albert Hall’s Films with Live Orchestra series.