Lyndon Pike reviews the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Will Gregory Moog Ensemble
May 14, Joan Sutherland theatre, Sydney Opera House

The month of May saw arpeggiators, auteurs, and the Australian Chamber Orchestra come together in glorious fashion under the guidance of Richard Tognetti, teaming up with UK musician Will Gregory’s Moog Ensemble for A Clockwork Orange and Beyond.

Equally a tribute to and a reimagining of moments in soundtrack composition, the synthesisers teamed with strings for a symphonic selection of iconic movie soundtrack creations originally written by Wendy Carlos, Vangelis, Johan Sebastian Bach, John Williams, Hans Zimmer, the BBC Radiophonic workshop and more.

For many people, the first introduction to Robert Moog’s iconic electronic keyboard, the Moog synthesiser, was likely to have been the million selling Popcorn by Hot Butter, a cover version of another Moog pioneer and early adapter, Gershon Kingsley. If it wasn’t Popcorn that heralded the popular exposure to the instrument, it was the 1968 album Switched-On Bach, composed entirely on Moog and released by Wendy Carlos, aka Walter Carlos, which sold over a million copies and influenced everybody from Glenn Gould to Georgio Moroder.

For this performance held in the Joan Sutherland Theatre at the Sydney Opera House, the four took centre stage with seven ACO performers on either side. Under Tognetti’s tutelage, the strings began proceedings with the strains of Franz Waxman’s Sinfonietta: I. Lento – Allegro. With a pulsing undertow, the audience were introduced to the washes of the synthesisers along with a sample of dialogue by Harrison Ford’s character Deckard, taken from the film Blade Runner. The Blade Runner main title, written by Vangelis, was a perfect immersion into the marriage of the analogue and the electronic. Bleeps and bass notes coloured by whale song like sustains, accompanied by strings and percussion, drew the crowd in.

By not having scenes from any of the films projected behind them, and with a minimal but effective V-shaped lighting structure being the key visual component, the audience’s attention was directed to the roles of the various musicians on the stage and the communication between them as the focal point of the performance.

Moog Ensemble member Hazel Mills, switching between the Sequential Prophet-6 and vocoder/synthesiser, played the main melodies, with Will Gregory and Simon Haram performing on wind synths, or wind controllers, which are usually played like a woodwind instrument. Like their other synthesiser counterparts, wind synths can sound like any other instrument and the Ensemble used them to great effect across pieces such as crowd favourites Chariots of Fire main titles, and Hanz Zimmer’s Cornfield Chase, as heard on the soundtrack to Interstellar.

The first half of the show presented the best known pieces, such as the iconic and still remarkably affecting Doctor Who theme, originally created (although uncredited at time of release) by Australian composer Ron Grainer, and coloured by pioneering electronic musician Delia Derbyshire,
of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Also heard in the first half were selections from Switched-On Bach (Brandenburg Concerto No.3 in G Major) and the aforementioned Chariots of Fire main titles.

The second half of the performance began with two pieces by John Williams written for the 1972 film Images. A further tribute to Wendy Carlos followed and then another Bach composition, taken from the Soviet sci-fi drama Solaris, set the stage for the show’s zenith – a realisation of selections from A Clockwork Orange.

For myself, and I imagine most of the audience, hearing iconic compositions such as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Second Movement, and Rossini’s William Tell Overture presented with amplified intensity and new tonal and sonic elements, was a pure delight.

This event was indeed unique, and a testament to Richard Tognetti’s vision as Artistic Director of the ACO. The thunderous applause that greeted the players upon the finale was a well-deserved appreciation for a truly original and exhilarating evening of music.