SSO Takes A Stab at ‘Psycho’ – and Nails It | The Flying Inkpot
Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho – Film with Live Orchestra’S PSYCHO – FILM WITH LIVE ORCHESTRA
A Film and Music Thriller
Bernard Herrmann: Psycho
Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Nicholas Buc, conductor
Victoria Concert Hall
23 September 2022
Review by Derek Lim
There isn’t much that hasn’t been said about Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 black-and-white film, Psycho. Tonight’s performance by the strings of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Australian conductor Nicholas Buc, allowed the audience to gain a fresh appreciation for the famed auteur’s iconic work against a live reading of Bernard Herrmann’s defining score, while the film was played on a screen hung over the stage.
Already regarded a master at the time of writing this music, Herrmann’s name is synonymous with film music; he wrote the scores of such iconic films as Citizen Kane and later, Taxi Driver. He stated that, unlike most film composers who did not have any creative input into the style and tone of the score, he insisted on creative control as a condition of accepting a scoring assignment. It is a sentiment that shows in Psycho – the movie would not be the work it is without it. Indeed, the menace and undercurrents of violence and suspense in many scenes come mostly from the music. Although it was said that Herrmann avoided leitmotif, his minimalist music in Psycho might be considered to be a character of its own, right from the Prelude played in the opening sequence, with its repetitive, agitated quality, sounding more driven and haunted in the hands of Buc and the SSO than the composer’s own reading – this was spine-tingling stuff!
Though at the first the sound balance felt much more in favour of the music than the dialogue, and frankly a little obtrusive, this quickly settled in, with the musicians bringing tenderness in the opening scene between Marion and Sam. The performance brought out the suspense in Herrmann’s string writing with clarity and colour, culminating of course in a lurid rendition of the famous murder-in-the-shower knife scene whose famous stabbing ‘Hitchcock chord’ and violent lower string accents after would give Herrmann immortality.
Accompanying a film screening with a live performance is technically challenging – the conductor has to be in complete control of the tempo of each segment of the score while still bringing out the essential quality of the music and not drawing attention away from the drama of the action on screen. In this, the SSO and Buc delivered admirably with a precise, yet characterfully shaded performance which the full-house audience rewarded with much applause.
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