Film music: it's not just for the cinema

Film music: it's not just for the cinema

Star Wars / Lucasfilm

Some of the best upcoming live film music events around the UK, from screenings to concerts

A good score can make a movie take flight, and a great score stands up so well you can listen to it in its own right. Great movie composers tend to work until they drop: Carter Burwell scored Martin McDonagh's multi-award-winning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and Howard Shore continues his long association with David Cronenberg; but the veteran David Shire, whose scores for All the President's Men and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three were among the greatest in 70s cinema, was last heard on the soundtrack of Russell Harbaugh's well-received but little-seen 2017 indie drama Love after Love. Still, the most enduring of all is undoubtedly John Williams.

If any one movie composer has shaped our sense of how movie music works over the past half century, it's got to be Williams. His career is now in its 58th year, from his first ever screen credit as composer for the 1960 teen movie Because They're Young to his most recently released full score for Spielberg's The Post, and he's booked up as far ahead as 2020, for the fifth instalment in the Indiana Jones saga.

Williams has consistently championed the orchestra as the backbone of his music, and it's no surprise, then, that when film music is given the concert treatment, Williams's work is often the focus. This February, in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Perth, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra are showcasing his work for the Star Wars movies, from the soaring main title theme (trivia fun: try singing along to it with 'Born free, free as the wind blows, free as the grass grows, follow your heart...') to the Holst-heavy action music, Darth Vader's badass march and perhaps even the perky 'Cantina Band' tune from Fig'rin Dan and the Modal Nodes.

The Williams theme continues at the Royal Albert Hall in April, with the BBC Concert Orchestra providing a live score for a special screening of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, conducted by Justin Freer. The Manchester Concert Orchestra is attempting to pit Williams against his younger colleague Hans Zimmer: Zimmer vs Williams sees the scores for The Da Vinci Code, Inception and Pirates of the Caribbean alongside music from Star Wars, Superman, Close Encounters and E.T..

It's not all wall-to-wall Williams. In 2018 the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is really getting into the spirit of live film music, with not one but two film music galas. One, touring the UK in February, features conductor Gareth Hudson and singer Alison Jiear, with music from blockbuster movies, while another, at the Royal Albert Hall in June, features the Philharmonic's Concert Orchestra and conductor Nick Davies with music from Star Wars, Star Trek, Game of Thrones, La La Land and a special celebration of the music of James Horner.

But if you're tired of a diet of widescreen awesomeness, there's some more leftfield delights to be had. Birmingham Town Hall hosts a special screening of Benjamin Christensen's 1922 silent horror classic, Häxan, a lurid and unforgettable exposé of medieval hysteria and witch-hunts, with live music played solo by master accompanist Stephen Horne and narration from Reece Shearsmith. And in Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow the RSNO is also providing the music for a classic weepie: David Lean and Noel Coward's Brief Encounter, featuring Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson as the stiff upper lips that pass in the night, with Leon McCawley bringing his piano skills to bear on Rachmaninov's Concerto No 2.

Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the information displayed here is accurate, always check with the venue before attending (especially during the Covid-19 pandemic).

The Music of Zimmer v Williams

It's a composer-off, with the film scores of John Williams and Hans Zimmer played live, conducted by Anthony Inglis.

Barbican Centre, London EC2Y

Mon 27 Dec

Barbican Hall

£48.38–£56 / 020 7638 8891


£18.50–£48.50 / 020 7638 8891

Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

Mon 27 Dec

£44.33–£53.45 / 0161 907 9000

Bristol Hippodrome

Sun 8 May 2022

£28.50–£68 / 0844 847 2325

Also at:

RSNO: Brief Encounter Live

David Lean's classic weepie is presented with a live score featuring pianist Leon McCawley.

RSNO: The Music of Star Wars

Hear John Williams’ scores for Star Wars, played live by the full RSNO. Richard Kaufman conducts.

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra: Film Music Gala

Gareth Hudson conducts and presents this celebration of film music, with pieces from blockbuster movies including Gladiator, Mission Impossible, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and others. Alison Jiear is the guest vocalist.

Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra: Film Music Gala

Nick Davies conducts music from Back To The Future, Star Trek, La La Land, Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Game Of Thrones, Dr Zhivago, Chariots Of Fire and Legends Of The Fall, plus a special celebration of the music of James Horner, in a concert presented by Tommy Pearson.