Kat Murrell

Five decades of 007 at MSO Pops

By - Feb 25th, 2012 03:58 pm
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Carl Davis

James Bond first appeared on the big screen 50 years ago, as the seductive secret agent 007 in Dr. No. Twenty-two films later, many tropes of Bond’s character have made indelible marks on pop culture. The Milwaukee Symphony Pops, for example, have turned to the music of the Bond films this weekend. As guest conductor Carl Davis noted at Friday night’s opener, James is the British equivalent of Superman.

Davis surveyed the abundance of memorable tunes that have accompanied the shaken martinis, inventive villains, and beautiful Bond babes over the years. He made an affable host, with stories on the history of the Bond franchise, its slate of leading men, and theme songs. A rock drum kit and electric guitar  augmented the usual orchestral instruments. Vocalist Mary Carewe sang in the majority of the 22 songs on the program, plus two encores. Watching the orchestra bring this catalog of film music to life was, in parts like, listening to a recording session for a film score, with an extravaganza of a cabaret act attached.


Mary Carewe. Red Saunders photo courtesy of the artist’s website.

The selections ran mostly in chronological order, beginning with the classic Bond theme introduced in 1962 in Dr. No. Monty Norman penned that one, but the composer most strongly associated with Bond music is the late John Barry. His work, from the 1964 Goldfinger to 1989’s License to Kill, features complex rhythms and melodies in straightforward arrangements.

As Davis noted, the evening’s program reflects trends in pop music over five decades. Carewe showed tremendous agility in a variety of styles as she moved easily from sultry pop cooing to full Broadway boom. She brought out the nihilistic glamor of Diamonds Are Forever and especially shone in The World is Not Enough, where the dynamic interplay of orchestra and vocals melded into a powerful body of sound.

The balance of volume among instruments seemed a bit off-kilter at times, particularly on non-vocal numbers, as the drums rose to the top of the mix and other parts seemed buried. Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die could have used a crunchier, more aggressive guitar to bring out the biting force of its signature hook and to contrast with the mellow sweetness of the verses.  The Duran Duran/John Barry collaboration, A View to a Kill, started the second part of the program, but the arrangement was more akin to a loungey jazz band than a slinky rock tune. The arrangement missed the staccato punch of keyboard hits and pulsing bass of the original.

The MSO Pops’ 007: Bond and Beyond is a lively night out for movie music buffs, Bond aficionados, and for the overview of this iconic music through the decades. Some selections play up the sophisticated glamor and intrigue of classic of Bond, while others reflect the kitschiness of 007 clichés.

How to finish the evening? A martini. Shaken, naturally.

The MSO Pops will repeat this program, given at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall,  at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 25 and Feb. 26. For tickets, call the Marcus Center box office, 414 273-7206. For further information on this and upcoming MSO concerts, visit the Milwaukee Symphony website.

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