George Fenton to lead orchestra in The Blue Planet in Concert for Volvo Ocean Race

Combining spectacular footage of sealife with a stunning live orchestral score, The Blue Planet in Concert will open the Volco Ocean Race in Abu Dhabi on Friday, December 12. The composer George Fenton explains why the hit BBC documentary series still has the power to enthral.
Blue planet in concert coming to Dubai, Dec. 2014 CREDIT: Courtesy Blue Planet in Concert
Blue planet in concert coming to Dubai, Dec. 2014 CREDIT: Courtesy Blue Planet in Concert

It’s surely one of the most awe-inspiring and iconic opening shots in 21st-century television. A camera tracks the biggest animal that has ever graced our planet as it slowly moves through the ocean. When the blue whale flicks its tail and plunges noisily into the depths, the stirring soundtrack reaches its crescendo.

The Blue Planet is getting on for 15 years old and I still get a weird chill every time we play the opening chords,” says the composer, George Fenton. “This majestic combination of creature, image and music. It is always a real moment for me. I’m so excited to come back to it again in Abu Dhabi this ­weekend.”

The Blue Planet, a documentary series focusing on the incredible happenings in the world’s oceans, struck such a chord when it made its debut in 2001 that Fenton began to get requests to play his Emmy- and Bafta-winning soundtrack in concert halls. There’s nothing unusual in that – symphony orchestras play hits from movies and television programmes all the time – but his producing partner Jane Carter had bigger ideas: she suggested the orchestra could play in front of a huge screen projecting images from the series.

“It was a huge amount of work to put together,” says Fenton. “I really wanted to give the show the same sort of arc the series has, to make it fun and serious at the right moments. But it was absolutely worth it.” From Fenton and Carter’s initial idea, The Blue Planet In Concert has gone on to tour the world with acclaimed orchestras – and the same idea was extended to the other critically acclaimed BBC series, Planet Earth and Frozen Planet.

However, the major difference between the television series and the live show – which will be performed, aptly enough, from a floating stage on the Corniche Breakwater to mark the Abu Dhabi stopover of the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race – is that there is no narration once the music and images begin.

“I’ve come to realise that the fact there is no talking over the music is what makes The Blue Planet in Concert work,” says Fenton. “It means people can engage with what they’re experiencing at their own pace. They don’t have to be told that this is something they need to pay attention to. It’s much more ­organic.”

But Fenton, who has four Oscar nominations for his work on films such as Gandhi and Cry Freedom, understands the power of the right music at the right point. Though he is keen to lay the credit for the scale of the dramatic narratives in The Blue Planet at the doors of the people who made the series, it’s certainly true that his music is a signpost to animal behaviour, even character.

“Before The Blue Planet, the soundtracks to natural history programmes were quite dry and academic,” he says. “But I was asked to produce a thumping great, old-fashioned film score. We were almost like an orchestra in front of a silent movie in the early days of cinema. These days, people do watch with their ears and directors have come to expect soundtracks to encourage people to respond to their films in the way that they hope.”

The response to The Blue Planet in Concert has been remarkable. It’s not only the scale of these images and the all-encompassing music that makes it a wholly different experience; Fenton says the communal atmosphere is a major factor.

“The bigger the crowd, the better time we all have, absolutely,” he says. “It’s a celebration really: The Blue Planet in Concert carries a message, but the message is life. There’s very little polemic – apart from at the end where I thought it was important to say: ‘If you think any of this is great, then do bear in mind it’s being eroded very quickly.’”

With the concert functioning as a reminder of the power and splendour of the natural world, featuring stars such as bioluminescent deep-sea creatures or pods of dolphins, what’s his favourite bit? “Goodness, that’s tricky,” he says, then pauses. “There are so many little pieces of magic to The Blue Planet. One piece I love is called The Shallow Seas, which hasn’t got a lot of narrative – it’s just an expression of teeming life, colour and extraordinary beauty. But it’s the cumulative effect of the entire show I most enjoy. That’s what I hope hits the mark.”

The Blue Planet in Concert is at Destination Village, Corniche Breakwater, Abu Dhabi on Friday, December 12 and Saturday, December 13. Tickets for the concert start at Dh300 from www.timeoutickets.com.

artslife@thenational.ae

Published: December 9, 2014 04:00 AM

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