Music from the movies | Kevin Abela

Ahead of Malta Philharmonic Orchestra’s Movie Spectacular concert, which showcases some of our favourite classic film soundtracks, conductor Kevin Abela speaks about how the popular event helps shatter the perception that classical music is only for the elite.

Kevin Abela.
Kevin Abela.

What's the secret behind the success of this event?

I honestly don't think there is a secret. Our audience enjoys a concert with a difference. What I originally had conceived for the very first edition was based on a very simple idea: how to lure a new audience to the theatre - an audience that is not aware of what the orchestra has to offer, an audience who tends to shy away because of a 'perception'... and the Movie Spectacular was born.  

Why do you think classical music has a reputation of being 'elitist'?

I don't think it's a matter of being 'elitist'. I think that classical music does have a 'niche', just as much as other genres of music have niches. But this is a reality not only for Malta but everywhere. It is true that in Malta the crowd seems to be smaller because of the actual population size. However, I think that lately; because of particular drives, there is a new awareness towards classical music, which ultimately is the root of all genres.

Do you think the songs featured in the Movie Spectacular work as standalone pieces?

More often than not they do stand alone. Apart from the great composers like John Williams, Elmer Bernstein and Trevor Jones whose scores are amazing even without a visual stimulus, one also has to consider that a lot of film directors use music that was written independently of the film. In some cases it is the music itself which inspires the development of the film. Take for example Eyes Wide Shut, where Kubrick uses the classic works of Mozart, Ligeti and Shostakovich throughout. That is just one example of hundreds, and maybe people don't realise that the music they are humming to is actually 'classical' music! I find this fascinating, because it actually proves that people are not averse to 'classical' music, but to what they perceive classical music to represent.

What do you think makes a good soundtrack song... particularly one compatible to a concert?

There are many features that make a good soundtrack, but subjectivity plays a very important role, obviously. When building a programme one has to keep in mind the audience type and why they are there. So in building a programme there has to be a healthy mix of well known soundtracks such as Superman, The Magnificent Seven and James Bond, evocative songs like the one from Scent of a Woman, and fun pieces like music from the Princesses. I start off with a long list of desirables, and slowly mould the final product, keeping all the ingredients mentioned within time and budget.

For the layman, describe what the job of a conductor really is, during an event of this scale and with such a 'mainstream' audience (presumably)?

Well, there is a general perception that the conductor is just that person standing in the middle waving his hands in the air! There is so much more to that! The conductor is crucial, especially in the rehearsals, to bind everything together. He is the one who is ultimately responsible for the final product, and moreover has to manage a good 80 musicians to not only play together as one but to perform together. He has to find a healthy balance between rigour and making them play at their ease in order to bring out the maximum potential. Music is all about feelings and emotions and when a conductor is sensitive towards the orchestra, in response they will project a beautiful sound.

The concert will take place at The Mediterranean Conference Centre, Valletta on May 19 at 20:00. Bookings:, 21 243840/3, 21 245900.