When deciding on a set list for a live performance of French film composer Alexandre Desplat’s back catalogue, the problem is not what to include. Given his combination of prodigious output and consistent quality, the real question is how can anyone possibly pare it down to meet the requirements of a two hour performance. It’s a challenge Desplat and the London Symphony Orchestra tackled head on as they blitzed through his career last night at the Barbican in London.
Desplat is a man in demand. He’s worked on everything from the films of indie whizz kid Wes Anderson to award winning British period drama (only yesterday he was nominated for a Golden Globe for The Imitation Game), political thrillers (The Queen) and Hollywood blockbusters (Godzilla). He even came on board to score the final two films in the Harry Potter series. The evening’s music works steadily through these opening on Twilight: New Moon before hitting the highlights of Philomena, The Ghost Writer, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallows on top of films including The King’s Speech, Godzilla, Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Queen.
Every piece is well-received by a capacity audience who’ve come out on a chilly December evening. They’re a mixed bunch ranging from trendy students to elderly couples and families. There’s even a little sprinkling of cinematic celebrity with directors Stephen Frears and Tom Hooper in the audience. Desplat stands at the front, facing away from the crowd on a wooden platform, the LSO arranged before him. By the end he’s dripping with sweat yet he never loses his composure. The focus is on the music, though occasionally a projector screen and changes in lighting appear to enhance the experience. Desplat’s work is not really designed to stand alone; it functions in the context of the films he composes it for. Simply playing the greatest hits would leave a disjointed experience. Instead, it flows thanks to careful planning. The music marches through his career demonstrating his strengths.
This approach reveals his ability to adapt to the narrative and stylistic requirements of each project, the very reason he’s so highly regarded in the first place. Hearing him jump around pieces, the differences are striking, the similarities comforting. As the evening draws to a close, Desplat makes sure to save a little magic for the finale, ending on The Imitation Game, Harry Potter and his work in French cinema. The applause echoing through the Barbican is enthusiastic and well deserved.
Yes, there was plenty he didn’t include I hear you say, but we would be here all week if he were to cover everything. As the crowd retreats into the night, there’s one comforting thought to take away. It’s not a long wait until Desplat returns to the big screen. In just over a fortnight he’s back, scoring Angelina Jolie’s Second World War drama Unbroken. I’ll see you there.