A 500-strong audience enjoyed a Saturday night at the cinema, but in the ever beautiful surroundings of Durham’s World Heritage Site, with Music Durham’s ‘A Night at the Movies’. After the success of last year’s gala concert in Durham Cathedral, it seemed the obvious choice to rally the society Presidents, come up with a hectic mid-exam rehearsal schedule, and do it all over again! The event was a significant one, being the opening event of the inaugural Durham Festival of the Arts, a collaborative event between the groups of Experience Durham and Durham Students’ Union, which saw the city filled with two weeks of fantastic music, theatre, comedy, photography and dance. The concert also marked the launch of Music Durham, the quality of the performances setting the tone for a university music scene which can only go from strength to strength.
Northern Lights, Durham University’s A Cappella society, never fail to amaze and this concert was no different, demonstrating their creativity and versatility with their musical compering. Beginning with an entertaining rendition of the 20th Century Fox theme, they ensured a seamless concert with atmospheric arrangements of themes from Harry Potter, The Lion King and Pirates of the Caribbean, to name only a few.
The concert opened with the extremely talented Big Band and a diverse repertoire spanning the last century. Ever doing justice to the classics, the Big Band performed ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ featuring soloist Laura Paul as well as the more contemporary ‘Opening’ by Kenny Wheeler. The Big Band finished their set with Justin Hurwitz’s cool and catchy ‘Overture’, taken from the 2015 film Whiplash which charts the journey of a jazz student, a very appropriate choice for the band! Next, the varied and rousing soundtrack to The Lion King proved a popular choice, with a wonderful medley performed by the Concert Band in their first Cathedral performance. The arrangement was taken from the innovative stage version of the classic film and proved impossible not to sing along to!
The Palatinate Orchestra provided two wonderfully contrasting pieces, rousing the audience with Elmer Bernstein’s instantly recognisable and much loved ‘The Great Escape’, without which a film-themed concert would certainly have been lacking, followed by a moving performance of Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’, featured in numerous film soundtracks. The Opera Ensemble showed off its incredible talent with performances from five soloists. The choice of Mozart’s ‘Sull’aria’, featured in The Shawshank Redemption, provided a tantalising return to the ensemble’s performance of The Marriage of Figaro in February, their inaugural and highly successful Gala show. The audience were also treated to Pietro Mascagni’s stirring ‘Easter Hymn’ and a fantastic arrangement of the Carousel classic ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, courtesy of student Will Ford, who has been involved in musically directing two of this year’s shows.
Brass Band gave us a flavour of traditional brass band heritage this year, with an eclectic mix of film themes transformed into marches. Arranged by their recently appointed conductor, Matthew Ruddock, the piece featured themes from Superman, Dambusters, Indiana Jones, Star Wars… The list goes on! Not a ensemble to do things by halves, the band marched down the aisle of the cathedral, led and conducted by the talented and infectiously enthusiastic Lewis Wilkinson. A non-stop eight minutes of entertainment was finished by a return journey through the cathedral, leaving a very animated audience with the only the fading whistles of the ‘Colonel Bogey March’. With a nod to a more recent Disney hit, DULOG kicked off their set with the crowd-pleasing ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen, featuring the stunning vocals of Elissa Churchill, followed by the fun and frivolous ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’. An appropriate finale to their performance came in the form of ‘One Day More’ from the much-loved Les Misérables, the rousing chorus perfectly demonstrating why DULOG’s shows enjoy such enormous success time after time.
As always, the university Symphony Orchestra delivered a fantastic performance, beginning with another of Bernstein’s classics, this time transporting the audience back to the Wild West with the theme from The Magnificent Seven. Their atmospheric performance ‘Gabriel’s Oboe’, as heard in the 1986 film The Mission, featured talented finalist and outgoing President Lucy Newton, but the highlight was surely John Williams ‘Symphonic Suite’ from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The enormous talent of this orchestra was starkly apparent in their truly spellbinding rendition of this modern classic, bringing back many a childhood memory – at least for those under a certain age! Chamber Choir chose to treat us to the more amusing side of Harry Potter with their performance of the eerie ‘Double Trouble’. Durham Cathedral provided a particularly magical setting for this as well as for the orchestra, especially as the Chapter House, which many would recognise as Professor McGonagall’s classroom, became the performers’ green room for the evening! Chamber Choir also performed Gregorio Allegri’s ‘Miserere Mei, Deus’, demonstrating both their versatility as an ensemble, and the beautiful sound that Durham’s top voices are capable of producing.
The third and final rendition of The Lion King came from the Music Durham chorus, accompanied by the Symphony Orchestra, performing ‘This Land’ and ‘King of Pride Rock’ as the concert’s finale. I’m not sure many would have predicted hearing so much Disney performed in Durham Cathedral, yet it is a testimony to the quality of Durham musicianship that this was a real highlight of the evening. It was hard not to feel moved by the obvious passion of the musicians, both in performing such an epic and much-loved piece of music, and in having the chance to perform together as one ensemble. Accompanied by beautiful lighting effects which were almost a show in themselves, our audience were treated to a truly cinematic experience. ‘A Night at the Movies’ was the culmination of hours of rehearsals and planning from each and every student involved, and still only hinted at the innumerable experiences, opportunities and memories that music at Durham provides. Watch the finale here to relive the amazing performance of the Lion King…