Under the baton of Carl Davis, the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra took fans on a musical adventure of the Fab Four’s best hits, writes Dennis Chua
THE Fab Four’s timeless tunes came alive in symphonic wonder under the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra at the MPO Plays the Beatles concert recently. The acclaimed orchestra dazzled a packed Dewan Filharmonik Petronas with a two hour-long tribute to songs by the legendary Liverpool band. The concert was led by a one-time Beatles collaborator, conductor Carl Davis, who has conducted all the major orchestras in the United Kingdom and composed numerous scores for operas and concert suites. He collaborated with Sir Paul McCartney on his Liverpool Oratorio in 1991 (McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio was the former Beatle’s first major foray into classical music).
While many of the 90-member orchestra’s musicians were in Beatles-style fashion — funky hairdos and psychedelic suits and dresses— Davis proved to be the star attraction of the show in a shiny red and white suit reminiscent of the Fab Four’s heyday. For each song performed, Davis preceded it with witty information.
The show started with the fun-filled She Loves You, which Davis described as the song that thrust the Beatles into the national spotlight in the UK. Consequently, the audience was taken on a psychedelic journey with a medley of Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane.
Davis shared that both songs were written with the Fab Four’s hometown Liverpool in mind; Penny Lane is an actual street in Liverpool while Strawberry Fields was inspired by Lennon’s memories of playing in the garden of Strawberry Field, a children’s home near where he used to live.
Love Me Do came next, co-written by Lennon and McCartney during their schooldays. The song famously features a blues harmonica riff performed by Lennon in the 1980s. Malaysians also know it as the song used for a TV jingle for a famous poultry foods company.
The orchestra then took on the lesser known Good Day Sunshine from the 1966 album Revolver. An optimistic song, it has reportedly been played as the wake-up music on multiple space shuttle missions. In fact, McCartney played it live to the crew of the International Space Station in 2005.
Next came the Beatles’ most famous sentimental hit Yesterday. Written by McCartney, it has had more than 2,000 cover versions. One of the most recorded pop songs, it won the Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Song of 1965. The MPO also delivered a serene interpretation of Norwegian Wood, primarily written by Lennon and the first of a rock group employing the sitar in a song. Beatles’ sitar player George Harrison, was of course strongly influenced by Indian culture and a lifelong friend of musician Ravi Shankar.
The Fab Four’s poetic Across The Universe came next. The Beatles also had an interest in transcendental meditation in 1967, the year it was composed. The song title is reflected in the 2007 Beatles tribute film directed by Julie Taymor which incorporated 34 Beatles songs and starred Jim Sturgess, Evan Rachel Wood, Joe Anderson and TV Carpio.
McCartney’s ballad, The Long And Winding Road, was given a soulful rendition by the orchestra. Davis said it was written to denote the growing tension amongst the Beatles in their final years.
Ending the first half of the concert, the MPO delivered a boisterous medley of A Hard Day’s Night and Help! which were also titles of Beatles movies. Help! was No.1 for three weeks in the US and UK, and was described by Lennon as being one of his favourite songs.
After a 20-minute interval, the MPO returned with a delightful medley of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and With A Little Help From My Friends. The title track of the Fab Four’s influential 1967 album, Sergeant Pepper’s has been covered by Jimi Hendrix and U2 among others, but was never performed live by the Beatles. With A Little Help From My Friends, another song by Starr, has more than 50 cover versions the most famous of which are by Joe Cocker and Wet Wet Wet.
Davis then introduced the Fab Four’s “most criticised” song Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, which the orchestra gave a haunting yet sweet interpretation.
Said to be inspired by Lennon’s son Julian’s kindergarten drawing (although its real origin remains a mystery), it was subsequently banned by the British Broadcasting Corporation after speculation arose that the first letter of each of the title nouns intentionally spelled LSD.
Davis and the MPO then paid tribute to Harrison with a medley of Here Comes The Sun and Something. The sweet-sounding Here Comes The Sun was famously performed by Harrison, post-Beatles in the 1971 Humanitarian Concert For Bangladesh, aimed at raising funds for the country’s Bhola Cyclone victims. Demi Lovato did a cover of it in Glee. The MPO then gave a rousing interpretation of the popular Yellow Submarine, which had the audience swaying in their seats. The song went No.1 on every major British chart and became the most successful Beatles song to feature Starr as lead vocalist.
The orchestra then performed the lesser-known Blackbird, written by McCartney who was inspired to write it as a reaction to political tensions in the US in 1968.
The Beatles’ most famous reggae-influenced song Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da was deftly covered by the orchestra. Written by McCartney and inspired by an expression used by his friend, Nigerian percussionist Jimmy Scott, it was used as the theme song for 1980s Australian children’s TV programme Fat Cat And Friends.
The Beatles’ farewell album’s title track, Let It Be, and the universal anthem All You Need Is Love marked the concert’s curtain call.
Davis and the orchestra, however, returned to perform two more songs before they called it a night — the boisterous yet philosophical Can’t Buy Me Love and Twist And Shout, an early Beatles cover of a song by the Top Notes which bears an uncanny resemblance to Ritchie Valens’ La Bamba.�