There have been great artists and countless stars cross the stage of the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow, but there has not been a hero like Elmer Bernstein. Nobody has received the rapturous reception that greeted the 80-year-old composer at the end of a barnstorming version of the theme to “The Magnificent Seven,” with which he rounded off a superior concert of his film music.
He did it five years ago, conducting his 75th birthday concert with the same orchestra; and they wouldn’t let him go last night until he had repeated what he calls his “Tex Mex hellraiser,” with the RSNO playing their socks off for the great man and his era-defining Western score.
Mind you, if all the crowd came for were the big tunes from “The Magnificent Seven” and “The Great Escape,” then Bernstein, in an unusual and revealing concert, made them wait. For starters, he included a clutch of lesser-known scores—the rumbustious “Hallelujah Trail Overture,” and the epic score to Yul Brynner’s “Kings of the Sun.”
Additionally, he played extended arrangements of soundtracks, not just their iconic themes. In no way, thus, was the concert merely the usual sequence of abbreviated hit tunes. There were real challenges here, especially when, in the second half, he grouped a series of waltzes from five different movies and, earlier, when he conducted a symphonic suite from “The Great Escape” that began with the music from the end of the film.
Transcending the lot, however (well, just about) was his supreme chamber music score for “To Kill a Mockingbird,” as haunting and evocative today as it was when the film was released 40 years ago. An unforgettable night.
[Michael Tumelty also looks at Elmer Bernstein’s remarkable career for the Glasgow Herald.]