This year’s Film Music Festival in Krakow was the biggest one yet. Not only did it welcome some of the biggest composers working today, such as Howard Shore, Abel Korzeniowski, and Brian Tyler – but it also welcomed one of the biggest films in history: Titanic. With eleven Oscars, two of which were for the late great James Horner, the film truly is a giant; and what better place to showcase such a giant than in the Tauron Arena in Krakow, filled to the brim with an ocean of people. A fitting tribute to the power of the film and its music.
As the Sinfonietta Cracovia took to the stage, along with their wonderful conductor for the evening, Ludwig Wicki, the atmosphere was palpable. The images of the dark, empty ocean were met with chilling vocals as we were welcomed with open and emotional arms to the Titanic Live in Concert.
Take Her to Sea, Mr. Wicki: A classic brought to new life
The success of the film’s music is a result of its clever usage. Music is rarely noticed or remembered if it is treated like wallpaper, covering the entire film from start to finish. The majesty of Horner’s score is about knowing when to come in and when to leave. The dialogue is wonderfully written and the characters are filled with personality, so much that Horner doesn’t overwhelm those scenes. He instead lets them shine, knowing that his music will shine elsewhere. If you have a long period of silence from the orchestra on stage, when they all position their instruments, ready to play again, everyone notices and we all give them our full attention.
As Jack and Fabrizio raced to the ship before it left, and as the ship itself exited the dock, the orchestra shone brightly; energising the thousands in attendance, forcing them to sit up in their seats, feeling the size and strength of their performance. “Let’s stretch her legs,” the Captain declares, smiling to his first officer, and the Orchestra followed in kind, as if Captain Smith himself was the conductor for a moment, willing the musicians to give the ship of dreams her appropriate and stately send off into the Atlantic.
If you mention James Horner’s Titanic score to anyone, they will likely think of his gorgeous, sweeping love themes and delicate piano. However, the moment I was waiting for during the concert was the action material. The orchestra came alive in this section of the film, declaring all-out war with their instruments as the Titanic hit the iceberg and the watertight doors were closed. The frantic strings and metallic percussion danced around the arena as if the orchestra were sitting in all fifteen thousand seats. It was a sight to behold, watching the entire string section attacking each note with as much ferocity as the solid ice that scraped and split along the side of the ship. You knew right there that this orchestra was just getting started and that the second half would be an intense ride.
As the first half saw the choir floating light and breezy, you could breathe in the fresh air as the Titanic sailed into the open ocean. The second half and its highly dramatic turn was met appropriately with a beautiful and mournful solo vocal and a heavy-hearted choir that echoed through the vast space within the arena, mirroring the bowels of the ship itself.
A very welcomed surprise was the inclusion of a live band section within the orchestra, to perform the Irish party music. They could have easily played it from the film’s audio, but happily, they performed it live which added a new energy to the arena. Many, myself included, were unable to resist tapping their feet to the addictive beat.
One final thing that brought the concert alive was the Uilleann pipes; the national bagpipe of Ireland, which is such a raw instrument. Every note felt natural and human, and with every moment its chilling sound was uttered, the immediacy of the images on the huge screen was increased tenfold, and you could really feel the unique beauty of experiencing live musicians right in front of you. There is simply nothing better.
Titanic Live in Concert: Honouring James Horner in the best way possible
Even after seeing Titanic countless times since its release twenty years ago, this performance in Krakow was something special and made the film new again. Ludwig Wicki and each and every member of the Sinfonietta Cracovia gave their skill, but most of all their emotion to this enduring masterpiece from James Horner, who was supposed to be the guest of this tenth-anniversary festival before his death.
For his most recognised and celebrated work, like the infamous ship itself, James Horner may be gone way too soon. Yet all he has achieved will live on and be revisited for a long time to come – thanks to wonderful concerts like Titanic Live and to respectful, meaningful events such as the Krakow Film Music Festival.
Below you can get an impression of Titanic Live in Concert at the 10. Krakow Film Music Festival: