“The shows are always special because people are not sure what to expect – and they always end up practically euphoric,” says Simba Manjonjori. The rap singer has performed music by Dr Dre and Notorious B.I.G at over 60 shows with Re:imagine, the events series which reworks favourite classic albums with a live orchestra, MCs and singers.
“Our audiences have a lot of die-hard fans, so people go crazy for EVERY song, singing all the lyrics and loving the instrumentation,” he says. “The vibe is always high energy, and it’s been that way since the start.” Re:imagine are innovators at the forefront of this growing trend, with young Londoners going increasingly wild for inventive nights out with orchestras at their core.
Many of London’s most popular orchestra-based events feed into the hunger for ‘immersive’ experiences, with brands like Secret Cinema allowing fans to totally lose themselves into the world of the stories they love. A recent Tomb Raider evening at the Royal Festival Hall, for example, compèred by Lara Croft’s original voice actress Shelley Blond, featured a full orchestra and choir performing the game’s score, while classic moments of action were projected on a giant screen.
“I think people are now looking for concert experiences that are immersive, and connective on an emotional level,” says Barry Campbell, a promoter behind the Planet Earth and Frozen Planet and Planet Earth II live arena tours, which have had more than 400,000 visitors across Europe so far. Blue Planet II is now set to get the orchestral treatment in London too, when a live tour dedicated to the astonishing marine documentary series hits the O2 Arena next March.
“Sometimes it’s the narrative that makes the connection, sometimes it’s the music,” Barry says. “But more often than not, it’s just about having a great night out, and enjoying something that you can’t experience at home, or on a gadget.” Indeed, in our frenetic and digitised era, where you can download any film or track you want almost instantly, there seems to be something of a yearning for organic sounds and communal experiences
The popularity of live orchestra film screenings, in particular, has soared in London over the past decade or so, with scores being played live by major orchestras in iconic venues. There’s no doubt that the addition of a live orchestra’s incredible sound adds an extra layer of excitement, and a special sense of occasion, to a film screening – no matter how many times you might have seen a classic movie such as Jurassic Park or Beauty and The Beast.
“There is a huge expectation for the more famous films, with the audiences often knowing the music inside out,” says David Mahoney, who frequently conducts films with live scores, taking on the extremely complex task of leading a full orchestra in exact sync with whatever is happening on screen. “So we have to try to match – or better – those expectations.”
Because everything is happening live, in real time, these kinds of events can create a feeling of intimacy and collaboration for the audience. “It’s a real thrill to be able to share these movie soundtracks in such an engaging way,” says Mahoney. “The reaction of the audience can be quite overwhelming – I often feel a bit more like we’re headlining Glastonbury! I’ve seen audiences singing and dancing along as well as breaking into spontaneous applause. It’s an experience that’s difficult to match in other performance mediums.”
It’s possible that the new wave of orchestra-based nights out will get a wider audience hooked on symphonic sounds – and could potentially get more people listening to classical and contemporary classical music. Likewise, there’s a growing swathe of orchestral events showcasing sounds we might more readily associate with clubs and dancefloors in a different light. Ministry of Sound, for example, have just announced The Annual Classical UK tour, celebrating their legendary compilation series, which will premiere at the Royal Festival Hall on 26th January.
“It’s amazing to see people singing along, especially the younger generation,” says DJ Spoony, Garage DJ and broadcaster, who presents the Garage Classical series of events. “I’m on the stage, thinking, ‘I’m sure you can’t have been born when this record came out!’ Live performances bring music to life, but the difference here is that 99.9% of the audience won’t ever have seen an orchestra playing Garage music before. When the strings start playing, it will give you goosebumps.”