Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Philharmonia Orchestra Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Birmingham | Entertainment | Published:

Stanley Kubrick's groundbreaking sc-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey took on a whole new dimension at Symphony Hall, accompanied by a live orchestra, organ and two choirs.

Kubrick himself made much of the fact that less than half of the film has dialogue (the first words are not uttered for over 20 minutes) and said it was "essentially a non-verbal experience" that the viewer was meant to absorb.

It is impossible these days to imagine the opening sunrise over a barren wasteland without the power of Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra or the balletic vision of a space ship floating through the stars without Johan Strauss's waltz The Blue Danube.

Kubrick's genius in his choice of music for his film was laid bare as the Philharmonia Orchestra, under the baton of Benjamin Wallfisch, filled Symphony Hall with awe and power. Also Sprach Zarathustra (the Apollo mission launch music to so many of us of a certain age) appears no less than three times in the film and loses none of its ability to thrill and inspire for that.

But what this particular performance highlighted more than anything was the astonishing impact the selection of pieces by the modern composer György Ligeti have as they are scattered throughout the film.

The sighting of the second monolith, on the moon, and the still visually thrilling, acid trip-like journey to Jupiter and beyond were accompanied by jagged, pulsing sounds that were unnerving and utterly unworldly.

Ligeti specialised in micropolyphony, using sustained, dissonant chords that shift slowly over time. With a male choir to the right of the big screen and a female choir to the left, the sound was somehow truly alien and all-encompassing. Were these really human voices?

From fighting apes, to HAL the homicidal computer and the star baby at the film's climax, this was a thrilling performance that added still new layers to a film which has truly earned its iconic status.

A shame then that some members of the audience had the disrespect to start chatting during the reappearance of The Blue Danube, which extends for some minutes beyond the end of the film. For most of the audience the performance was out of this world; they were just out of order.

By Ian Harvey

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