Stepping into the Royal Albert Hall in London is, I imagine, like stepping aboard the Titanic itself. The grandeur of it all, the regality, the finish of the art and the architecture of the hall itself is awe-inspiring. I must have visited at least twenty times to various concerts over the years, yet the wonder still remains each time I am greeted into the huge circular space that is filled with beauty and music. Seeing Titanic performed live there by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, Tiffin Boys Choir and Celtic Musicians, really is special, and there is no better and more fitting place to stage it.
Before the concert began, the genius behind it all, and the reason we were all there, took to the stage; Mr. James Horner. “I have always been a recluse,” as he puts it, “I don’t really do these sorts of things,” and his entire being lives up to that; quietly spoken, very eloquent and careful with every word he says, as if he is intending every word to be remembered. He sat there with the Producer of the film; Jon Landau, and an interview conducted by Tommy Pearson got under way. Only a short 45 minute pre-concert talk, but it was illuminating as to learning what happened behind the scenes with the music. “Jim (James Cameron) sent me a thirty-six hour cut of the film and I watched it over a three day period,” says Horner, to the shock of the audience, “I immediately composed about six themes, of which were all used basically unchanged in the final film.” As he spoke, production photos were displayed above on the big screen that would later show the film. “I just went to his house (James Cameron) and played all the things I had come up with, which doesn’t happen in movies anymore. Directors now find it strange if you want to do this intimate example of your ideas. Jim is always so involved from the beginning with me, which is why I love working with him.”
Jon Landau was filled with praise for Horner, sighting his own experiences on the film, “I was at the recording sessions and it blew me away. Even though the film is brilliant, he improved it further.” Horner was visibly touched by Landau’s words, and by the round of applause he received from the full Hall. Normally for pre-concert talks perhaps a small group of people will attend, yet the hall was filled for Horner, which he truly appreciated. The talk covered many topics about the film, yet none could put the film into words, because that was the job of the musicians who then came on stage, after Horner took a bow, accompanied by the wonderfully passionate conductor Ludwig Wicki.
As the haunting solo female voice filled the hall with the Orchestra layering in textures behind her, everyone was silent. The music that is so ingrained into everyone’s heads was suddenly right in front of us, being performed live. It was a surreal moment where everybody realised the iconic history of the music they were hearing.
The key musical moments of the film made people sit up in their seats; such as the introduction to the Titanic itself, when it sets sail, and the romantic scenes throughout the first half. But for me, the key moment was the iceberg. Once the ship is faced with it, the music quickly changed its pace and sound. My personal favourite moment from Horner’s score began as the crew of the Titanic desperately tried to miss their inevitable doom. The frantic strings section chopped and sliced at every note with precision accuracy, while the percussion section pounded and smashed their way between the strings, giving us all a reason to be afraid. “Hard to Starboard!” shrieked through the hall along with the might and power of the Orchestra. It was a pleasure to witness.
As the second half continued and the tragedy became evident, words from Horner came to mind, “I have to suspend the audience’s disbelief. I can’t write it thinking about the ending. We all know the ending, but I have to treat the music and the emotion as if you don’t know what will happen.” Of course the music is devastating, but he also hits us with hugely hopeful moments that for a while make you think they will get out of it alive, even though you know otherwise.
As the film ended and the song began, the solo singer stood and gave a very moving rendition of the Oscar-Winning song written by Horner and sung by Celine Dion. “Jim didn’t want a song. He strictly told me, no song! But I felt it needed it and wanted to experiment, so I wrote something and met with Celine to show her. I played it and sang awfully of course,” he joked, “and we recorded it in only two takes. But I still didn’t show it to Jim. I wanted to pick the right moment. Even when I showed him he wasn’t sure about it and took a while to come around to it.”
After the thunderous applause for Ludwig Wicki and the incredible musicians that had wowed us all for more than three hours, James Horner took to the stage with Jon Landau again and another very special guest joined them; Director James Cameron, who thanked the audience and musicians and were clearly touched by the still enthusiastic reaction the film receives after nearly two decades. Horner put it perfectly, “Titanic is a classic Hollywood movie with no shelf life. while others may take over the world for a couple of weeks and then disappear, Titanic has never disappeared, it has endured, it is timeless.”