Monday, January 31, 2011

Film Composer John Barry dies at 77 by Ivor Casey

FILM music composer John Barry has died at the age of 77 from a heart attack. For over forty years the alluring strings to the dramatic brass of his resplendent compositions lit up the silver screen. In 2008 he was invited to host a concert celebrating his music at the National Concert Hall in Dublin. I was very fortunate to have been in attendance on this occasion and it is an event which will resonate with me for the rest of my life. What follows is an amended version of my report on that concert in June 2008.

'John Barry: The Man with the Golden Touch'

This was John Barry’s first time performing in Ireland, having been invited to be the guest of honour by RTE Lyric FM’s Aedín Gormley, for the channel’s Movies and Musicals programme. As the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra took their places, Ms. Gormley opened the show, introducing the evening’s line-up, followed by John Barry himself. The composer walked on stage cheerfully to a rapturous and passionate applause, took a bow and without hesitation, guided the orchestra into his sensational theme to Goldfinger. Keeping, at first, to the James Bond films, which catapulted him to fame, he followed this performance with We Have All The Time In The World from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Unfortunately but understandbly as the guest of honour, John Barry departed the stage to view the rest of the evening from the balconey with his family. He was replaced by the excellent conductor Nicholas Dodd, who took over for the rest of the night. Dodd is also associated with the movie business, having conducted the orchestral scores for the last four James Bond films, as well as other Hollywood hits such as Independence Day and Godzilla. He has mastered a deep understanding of the music of John Barry and was the ideal candidate for the concert, as he energetically conducted the orchestra through many of the exquisite compositions from the great composer.

The RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, lead by Alan Smale on violin, were also at the top of their league, as their renditions of the music were orchestrated flawlessly. Performances included the histrionic score to Zulu, the poignant theme from Somewhere In Time, the moodiness of Midnight Cowboy, the wondrous melody of Born Free and the sensuous sounds from Body Heat, to name just a few. The audience were left enraptured as the music ventured through a range of emotions, inspiring adrenaline and melancholy. The highlights of the event could be found in two of Barry’s greatest works, Out of Africa and Dances With Wolves, delivered in all their lush and thrilling grandeur.

John Barry was born in York, England and now lives in Oyster Bay, New York. He was the son of an Irish born cinema owner and it was the experience and atmosphere of being around movies which inspired Barry, who decided early on that he wanted to compose movie music. He studied music under Stan Kenton and after a three year stint in the army, he began the ‘John Barry Seven’, a rock ‘n’roll band in the 1950’s. Having become acquainted with the rock ‘n’ roll musician Adam Faith, who went on to star in the film Beat Girl, Barry was granted the opportunity to make his movie soundtrack debut.

This lead a couple of years later to an offer of working on the music for the first James Bond film Dr. No, in 1962. This was to be his breakthrough moment as he went onto compose the music for a further eleven Bond films, which helped elevate him to the legendary status which he hails today. However, it is outside of the James Bond recordings in which Barry’s accolades and genius have reached their highest levels. He is the winner of five academy awards, two for Born Free and one each for The Lion In Winter, Out Of Africa and Dances With Wolves.

Unfortunately Barry has been somewhat misplaced by Hollywood in recent years with its drift away from the melodic splendour and feeling, as found across all of his work. Barry feels that many, often wonderful, film composers today fail to compose melody, which he finds important in a great soundtrack composition. While his work not only incorporates some of the greatest melodies ever written, the emotion behind his music takes on a mythical quality of special symbolic significance, with a deep resonating narrative of passion, pathos and poignancy. Barry exudes the rare ability to strike at the very core of human emotion.

At the climax of the evening, John Barry was invited back on stage, more than once, to another resounding applause and standing ovation, where he conveyed his gratitude for the wonderful reception and was presented with a crystal bowl on behalf of Lyric FM. Although movie music history has many great composers who have created spectacular melodies, it is the combination of melody and tenderness which nobody has perfected quite like John Barry.
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John Barry is a musician who goes beyond the realms of the movie business, to being possibly the greatest classical composer of our day. It is such attributes that John Barry retained until his death today which indeed make him the man with the golden touch on music.


- Ivor Casey


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