Review: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra Plays Summer Pops Music From The Movies

Review: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra Plays Summer Pops Music From The Movies

At Claudelands Arena, Hamilton


It’s funny how music can tip you over the edge.

Conductor Hamish McKeich and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra did it time and again tonight when they performed composer John Williams’s many film scores.

Williams’ theme from Jurassic Park is full of awe and wonder for the massive prehistoric creatures mankind has brought back from extinction in Steven Spielberg’s film. The expert way they played it just had the emotions welling up inside.

Later Williams’ Adventures on Earth from E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, another Spielberg classic, heightened the emotions further as I was flooded with memories of how a misunderstanding led to a harmless alien fleeing men in black on a flying bicycle. I was 10 when that film came out, and it’s as magic now as it was then.

Williams’ theme from Schindler’s List was heart stopping, as vivid images of Nazi inhumanity was contrasted in my mind with the compassion of a man who risked his own life to save others. Is it a true story, my son asked. He found it incredible.

The concert was supposed to end with Music from the Star Wars Saga.

Over 25 minutes we heard the thrills and spills of the Main Title from A New Hope, the revelatory Luke and Leia from Return of the Jedi, the funerary Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back, the impish Yoda’s Theme from the same, and the celebratory Throne Room and End Title.

I couldn’t stop beaming as the soundtrack of my childhood was performed live, just like it was in the movies, on vinyl, cassette, CD and MP3. But better! Not one note was out of place, or moment was out of time. My son couldn’t stop smiling, either, as he aped McKeich with his hands.

A standing ovation saw McKeich return to the stage for an encore with the Mission:  Impossible Theme.

It was a night of movie magic that the NZSO did proud. Little wonder Sir Peter Jackson and the BBC have turned to it over the years.

Other composers and films celebrated included: Bill Conti (Rocky), Vangelis (Chariots of Fire), Max Steiner (Casablanca), J. Strauss (The Blue Danube from 2001: A Space Odyssey), Alan Silvestri (Back to the Future) and Danny Elfman (Spider-Man). Was that Stan Lee in a cameo, disguised as celloist Roger Brown?

The next big thing is the Star Wars Film Concert in Wellington on March 10 and 11 as part of the NZ Festival.

“As an absolute treat for New Zealand fans, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra will perform the Oscar-winning music of Star Wars: A New Hope in a live screening of the original film,’ the NZSO says. “Arguably the greatest film score of all time, this performance will whisk you away to another galaxy. A once-in-a lifetime opportunity.”


Toruk – The First Flight (Cirque du Soleil) at the Spark Arena, Auckland, New Zealand

Toruk – The First Flight (Cirque du Soleil) at the Spark Arena, Auckland, New Zealand

Cirque du Soleil set itself an ambitious target when it decided to attempt a show based on James Cameron’s science fiction epic Avatar. But Toruk – The First Flight took off in so many ways.

The show tells the story of the first blue skinned na’vi of the planet Pandora to ride a killer Toruk bird, an event probably as momentous as the invention of the wheel in our own history.

Before the climactic flight Toruk’s rider, and his friends, must go on a quest as they collect artefacts from five tribes living in five quite different environments on the almost untamed planet.

One of the many highlights of the performance is the evolving of the laser projected sets as they change from one environment to the other. During one transition cliffs appear, water cascades down them and pool on the ground where rocky outcrops remain dry as the characters on the quest traverse the landscape. It was close to photo real, and amazing to behold.


Avatar – The First Flight is the classic hero’s journey identified by mythologist Joseph Campbell, more comparable to the 1978 Doctor Who story The Key to Time than The Lord of the Rings or the original Star Wars trilogy.

But the hero’s journey in Toruk – The First Flight will change the world as much as Luke Skywalker’s or Frodo Baggins’s quest to topple the Empire and defeat Sauron. All that said, The First Flight is a simple story told through a little narration in English as every word uttered on stage by the performers is in the Na’vi tongue.

Because this is also a Cirque du Soleil show the journey is infused with death defying feats including breath taking aerial rope work, well choreographed native dance and a plethora of other indescribable na’vi antics.

The story is at the forefront at times, particularly at the beginning of the show during the set up, but most of the time it is about the physical feats of the performers.

But they are mostly worked into the story in such a way that they feel natural to the na’vi.

Complaints of the show being too much about Avatar are, frankly, bonkers. This is an Avatar prequel, true and blue, which happens to be put on by Cirque du Soleil. And James Cameron is, evidently, proud.