An Interview with David Firman

Firman, David 1 Aug 13

Hannah Nepil interviews conductor David Firman ahead of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl – Live in Concert’ at the Royal Albert Hall.

Like all the best swashbucklers, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl saves the real romance for the end. Only then can Elizabeth and Will (played by Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom) sweep aside the traumas of the last two hours, and declare their undying love for one another. For us, the popcorn-popping punters, it is glorious wish fulfilment.

For David Firman, who is preparing to conduct the score, it’s a stressful moment: ‘The musicians have been living with a click track for about an hour and three quarters and suddenly the click track stops and we have to fit the music to picture precisely without it. It’s the sting in the tail.’ Firman should know: last year he conducted the score in Denmark, alongside a screening of the film. In April, he will repeat the experience at the Royal Albert Hall.

And no, for him it’s not like a free trip to the cinema: there are two hours of music and the film is about two and a half hours long. Synch points have to be meticulously accurate – for example, says Firman, ‘the bit in the bass drum that has to fit exactly with the sound of a cannon.’ And there’s no room for respite. ‘In a studio, it’s almost unheard of to play any more than a three minutes cue at once. With live performance, all the tempo changes are happening as you’re playing. So you have to be really on your guard.’

But it’s worth the sweat. ‘Watching a live orchestra changes the experience of the film for the audience: you’re not simply watching a piece of celluloid,’ says Firman, ‘you’re in the theatre as well, watching live people. It introduces a human element and humanises the characters you’re watching too.’  What’s more, it shines a spotlight on the music. In general, Firman says, ‘the first thing that occupies our attention is visual, that’s the way the human brain is worked out. Sound comes second.’ But in this case, ‘the musical element is somehow thrust further forward because you can actually see the music being made as well as the picture. And it’s a richer experience.’

It also means that the musicians get the attention they deserve. ‘At the end of the show the screen goes black and the only live people in the building are the orchestra, so, when we did it in Denmark we got a huge ovation,’ says Firman. After all, ‘the film is fun, it’s swashbuckling, it’s very broad brush strokes; Keira Knightley looks delicious and so does Johnny Depp (if you’re that way inclined), so it’s a joyous experience. And the musicians are the live people who have contributed to the event.’

David Firman conducts the Orchestra in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl – Live in Concert’, alongside a screening of the film on Saturday 5th April 2014, 7.30pm, at the Royal Albert Hall.

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About Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Acknowledged as one of the UK’s most prestigious orchestras, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) enjoys an international reputation for bringing audiences worldwide first-class performances and the highest possible standards of music-making across a diverse range of musical repertoire. This was the vision of the Orchestra’s flamboyant founder Sir Thomas Beecham, whose legacy is maintained today as the Orchestra thrives under the exceptional direction of its new Artistic Director and Principal Conductor, Maestro Charles Dutoit.
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