Classical Concert: Wild Isles from the BBC Concert Orchestra

Words: Kevin Stanley, Rachel Imms
Thursday 21 March 2024
reading time: min, words

Kevin Stanley and Rachel Imms enjoyed the sights and sounds of nature at the Royal Concert Hall…

Kevin Stanley: Imagine a live concert orchestra providing the score as you watch highlights from the BBC nature programme Wild Isles on a cinema-size screen and you will have an idea of what happened this evening at the Royal Concert Hall Nottingham. Fantastic images of British wildlife fill the screen, colourful, majestic and wild. All set to a score that ranges from tranquil and peaceful to tempestuous. And it was really quite splendid. Except for the part where we were forced to watch leeches eating live toads (set to tension filled music)… that part was pretty horrible!

Our conductor and presenter for the evening is the series’ composer George Fenton and he and his orchestra treat the audience to a spectacular symphonic encounter with the wildlife of the British Isles, inspired by Sir David Attenborough’s landmark BBC series. Fenton is intelligent and engaging. He not only conducts his orchestra but also introduces each scene by offering insight and explanations into what we are seeing on the screen – be it the mesmerising courtship flight of the Scottish Hen Harrier or Killer Whales hunting for seals off the coast of Scotland.

We were forced to watch leeches eating live toads 

Fenton explains what happened during filming, share anecdotes of meeting Sir David Attenborough and explains the difficulty and complexities of composing music to score the behaviours of wildlife. He further highlights several places of ecological importance and wonder around the British Isles which he tells us has much more wildlife, diverse and exciting, than you might ever have imagined. It certainly inspires me to go out and explore our countryside, rivers and coastal areas more.

A rather extraordinary evening of gorgeous, sumptuous visuals combined with uplifting music performed by the accomplished musicians of a superbly talented orchestra. The evening’s finale is the chance to watch and listen to Sir David Attenborough watching Manx Shearwater fledglings hatching on the remote Welsh isle of Skomer. (Kevin Stanley)

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Rachel Imms: Beautiful big screen footage from David Attenborough’s BBC Wild Isles documentary series was brought to life in spectacular symphonic style on Wednesday 20 March 2024 at Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall. 

Musician and composer George Fenton, creator of the score for Wild Isles, as well as the BBC series The Blue Planet, Planet Earth and Frozen Planet, conducted the BBC Orchestra on a journey celebrating our country’s glorious natural habitat with excerpts from the landmark TV show, edited to play without commentary. 

Part one focused on the British Isles’ grasslands and woodlands, with an opening scene dedicated to pollen, moving on to celebrate courting rituals of the natural world. Incredible footage of bees, boxing hares, red squirrels and other creatures was accompanied by perfectly tailored orchestral pieces. 

The second part of the concert, inspired by oceans and freshwater, featured expansive seascape shots and close-ups of sea plankton, killer whales, basking sharks and more. The delight – and occasional disgust – of audience members was palpable, especially when treated to footage of an unfortunate group of baby toads being gobbled up by black leeches. A beautiful harp piece entitled Weed Dance was a highlight. 

Incredible footage of bees, boxing hares, red squirrels and other creatures was accompanied by perfectly tailored orchestral pieces

For the last segment of the show, we finally heard the familiar yet fascinating voice of David Attenborough. The finale of Wild Isles: Live in Concert paid homage to the legendary presenter, including some of his commentary and piece-to-camera segments from the series, giving us an insightful glimpse at the natural world that surrounds and inhabits our shores.

Best known for his work in film and television, George Fenton is one of the world’s most successful composers, writing scores for over 100 films including blockbusters such as Ghandi and Groundhog Day and collaborating with some of the most influential filmmakers, including Richard Attenborough and Ken Loach. 

In 1990, he composed the score for the BBC Natural History series, Trials of Life. This was his first collaboration with film producer Alastair Fothergill and the start of a long creative partnership culminating in the Earth Trilogy, bringing the wonders of the universe to audiences worldwide. (Rachel Imms)

The BBC Concert Orchestra performed at the Royal Concert Hall Nottingham on Wednesday 20 March 2024.

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