His Dad owned a chain of cinemas, his Mum was a classical pianist, so it must be fair to say John Barry Prendergast fully took on board these parental influences to become a true great in the field of film music composition.
John Barry was the man with the Midas touch, to quote from Goldfinger, one of 11 Bond films for which he wrote the score. He also scored over 80 other motion pictures in his 50-year career, and to anyone living through this era his music has been one of the defining soundtracks.
Conductor Nicholas Dodd, steeped in the traditions of film music, brought his knowledge of Barry’s work to Gateshead for a grand celebration – and it was a further opportunity to hear some of the composer’s legendary themes.
With such a wealth of material, there was the mandatory retrospective on the 1960s golden age of James Bond, and how unusual to hear the tunes in their unadorned, orchestra-only versions – Goldfinger, We Have All the Time in the World (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), Diamonds Are Forever, and All Time High (Octopussy) but without Shirley Bassey, Satchmo or Rita Coolidge.
A final medley of Bond themes, including From Russia With Love, Dr No and Thunderball, brought the concert to a fitting conclusion.
But Barry’s music goes beyond Bond. How well he used the orchestra’s resources to paint his pictures He is justly famous for his alluring combination of lush strings and full brass and percussion.
The themes to Born Free – so strange to hear it without Matt Munro – and Dances With Wolves evoke open spaces and endless horizons in a way that no other composer has managed.
In an evening of sterling solo performances, Kyra Humphries’ violin in Mary Queen of Scots and Marney O’Sullivan’s portentous timpani in the theme to Zulu were memorable.
And how refreshing to hear two instruments not normally associated with Royal Northern Sinfonia – Adam Glasser’s harmonica in Midnight Cowboy and the coolest of alto saxes from Rob Buckland (Body Heat).
In an evening of highlights, the lesser-known music from Moviola, music written by Barry for a film about himself, and the achingly gorgeous Out of Africa theme – all savannah and big skies – really hit the spot. The horn section was immaculate in the latter, with the whole orchestra really in their stride throughout.
John Barry, who died in 2011, wrote his final film score (Enigma) in 2001 and was much honoured in his lifetime, with an OBE, Grammys, Academy Awards, BAFTAs, and a Golden Globe.
This concert paid ample tribute to the man and his music, even if the overall experience would have been enhanced with a big screen above the stage, showing stills or short excerpts from the various films.