From the blockbuster music of Star Trek to a playful suite of familiar cartoon tunes, the National Symphony Orchestra's sixth season-opening concert at Emirates Palace this weekend will be packed with unexpected delights.
In keeping with tradition, the NSO will begin their new season with A Night at the Movies … Extreme, but this year they raise the bar with an eccentric version that might catch connoisseurs of classical music by surprise.
“The first night is always a film night, playing all your Hollywood spectaculars that the audience expects,” says Andrew Berryman, the orchestra’s conductor and musical director. “So we can’t break that mould totally – but we can try to do some things a little bit different.”
Berryman says they want to kick-off the season with a concert that entices all kinds of music enthusiasts.
“The flag we like to fly is that classical music isn’t elitist,” he says. “It is for everybody, so we try to make it as interesting as we can with a programme that isn’t all your usual Hollywood greats, because people have had enough of this.”
Therefore, as well as music from Star Trek Into Darkness, the concert will be peppered with pieces from cult sci-fi films and cartoons.
“Each piece will be an extreme of the previous one, so right from the opening to sci-fi horror music, the music styles will be very different,” says Berryman.
The 60-piece orchestra, including strings, brass, woodwinds, percussion and a choir, will be led by Berryman and concertmaster Min Yang.
The concert will open with 19th-century German composer Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra, as featured in Stanley Kubrick's 1968 sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, followed by Igor Stravinsky's Infernal Dance from the Firebird Suite, which was featured in Disney's Fantasia 2000. "If you play the whole of The Firebird in the UAE to a relatively unestablished audience, it would be too much down the classical street, so we will be giving little snippets of it," says Berryman, who has conducted more than 100 performances in the region.
“And since this is a film night, all the music has been played in some film.”
Disney's Fantasia 2000, the 1999 sequel to the 1940 original,fused animation and classical music. "This will continue into Mambo No 5 by Perez Prado, and here we will have the audience participate and sing along," he says.
NSO will also perform the world premiere of a piece by award-winning British composer James Griffiths. A Starlight Horizon suite, from the new sci-fi short film Darkwave: Edge of the Storm, has been specifically adapted for the UAE by Griffiths.
The Cartoon Network suite will appeal to the youngsters in the audience. Berryman says British composer John Parkinson was commissioned to put together a selection of tunes from popular TV cartoons.
He has strung together music from We Bare Bears, Dexter's Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, Adventure Time, Steven Universe and Mansour for this cheerful piece.
“We were given permission by The Cartoon Network to use these,” says the director. “At the concert, we are going to show a video put together by the network showing part of each cartoon as we play the suite.”
The first-half will end with Ennio Morricone's music from the 1988 film Cinema Paradiso and Star Trek Into Darkness by Michael Giacchino. After the interval, the tempo will change with Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland, which will put the orchestra's brass and percussion players in the spotlight.
The piece, written in 1942, was partly inspired by a speech by Henry A Wallace, the 33rd vice president of the United States.
The climax of the show will be Beethoven's grandiose work, the finale from Symphony No 9.
“This is an interesting fact, that Beethoven was on stage for this performance, sitting next to conductor of the orchestra and choir to indicate the tempo in 1824,” says Berryman.
“It was such a spectacular success that the audience burst into cheers, but unfortunately he couldn’t hear it. So the soprano had to turn him around to face the audience and see their response.” Berryman says this season will include other classical concerts ideal for people with less knowledge of the genre.
“Last year, for the first time, we gave a performance of a full symphony,” he says. “The turnout was fantastic, with a 1,500-strong audience. We will do that again this year.”
• A Night at the Movies … Extreme is at Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi, at 4.30pm and 7.30pm on Friday. Ticket prices start from Dh75 at www.ticketmaster.ae