The ‘Somme100Film’ was always going to be a special event.  The aim of the project was to bring together 100 live performances of the iconic 1916 film ‘The Battle of the Somme’ with composer Laura Rossi’s acclaimed score, commissioned by the Imperial War Museum. Durham Orchestral Society were one of the orchestra’s chosen to participate in this event with two performances. The international project has already had thirty-one productions, but tonight’s performance was particularly significant due to the atmosphere, venue and not least of all, the orchestra.

The evening began with an introductory talk from the composer herself, Laura Rossi. Setting the scene for what was to follow, Rossi discussed some of the challenges when writing music for such a sombre film. Getting the right balance between reflective music for dark scenes and uplifting music for happier scenes would be a test for any composer, but Rossi does it perfectly. Rossi also spoke of her own uncle serving in the First World War, which gave this commission a personal touch for the composer. Her last remarks were that she wanted to leave “homage to all who fought and died in the war”, and certainly after tonight’s performance, she can be glad and proud that she did.

This was the first event of the year for the Orchestral Society and given the previous successful performances from other orchestra’s participating in the project, there was a lot of pressure. However, the orchestra did not fail to exceed expectations. The film was split into five parts with the orchestra demonstrating their skill and organisation in the first section. The synchronisation between the silent film and the ensemble was beyond impressive. Particular praise should be given to the percussion section, notably Joshua Cavendish on Timpani, who was metrically in time with the blasts and cannons on screen.

The second part of the film saw excellent eloquent woodwind playing, especially from the clarinet and flute section. Ellie Knott demonstrated exquisite technical skill on the piccolo, particularly during the faster passages. However, in the third section the spotlight was on oboe player Freddie Hankin who doesn’t disappoint. His passionate playing and expressive tone accompanied the film perfectly. His solo, accompanied by the rich string section and articulated harp playing, made this section of the film one of the most moving parts.

The final parts of the film demonstrated the high standard of the brass players in the orchestra. A beautiful, souring solo by Holly Greenwood-Rogers, heard in the fourth section, displayed the remarkable tone that she is capable of with the French Horn. Her solo captured the solemn, but reminiscent message the composer was trying to convey. This was followed by an exceptional performance from Noah Lawrence on the trumpet in the fifth part of the film, who demonstrated a warm and excellent vibrato. The ending of the film pictures waving soldiers and Rossi’s music does an exceptional job of reminding the audience of the solemn nature of this picture, but at the same time, allows them to leave with a feeling of remembrance and appreciation for those who fought in this war.

The success of this production was down to the spectacular music written by Rossi and the performance from musicians in the orchestra. However, there was one person that truly made this event a success; the conductor. Debuting his first performance with the Orchestral Society, Alex Mackinder had quite a challenge on his hands. Not only did he have to lead the orchestra, but he had to ensure they were perfectly in time with the film, which he did flawlessly. It was done so well, that if it was not for the powerful sound from the orchestra, one would have thought that the music was already pre-recorded to the film.

Alex and the orchestra’s performance was impeccable and considering they have only been rehearsing for a few weeks, makes me very excited for their next concert on Saturday 26th November, in Castle’s Great Hall. If they play Mendelssohn, Brahms and Delius as well as they played Rossi’s work tonight, then that evening will be spectacular.

Laura Rossi stated at the start of tonight’s performance that she wanted to do justice to this iconic film. It can certainly be said that after this production, she, Alex and the orchestra, certainly have.