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Composer George Fenton performs live score at Snape for David Attenborough’s Frozen Planet

PUBLISHED: 16:40 09 February 2018 | UPDATED: 16:41 09 February 2018

Penguins enjoying the spring sunshine  from the BBC's Frozen Planet which is being screened with a live score by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by composer George Fenton. Photo: Chadden Hunter

Penguins enjoying the spring sunshine from the BBC's Frozen Planet which is being screened with a live score by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by composer George Fenton. Photo: Chadden Hunter

© Chadden Hunter

George Fenton rarely gets to perform his work in front of an audience. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to him about conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra at a live screening of the David Attenborough documentary The Frozen Planet.

Polar Bears enjoying the midnight sun from the BBC's Frozen Planet which is being screened with a live score by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by composer George Fenton. Picture: JASON ROBERTSPolar Bears enjoying the midnight sun from the BBC's Frozen Planet which is being screened with a live score by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by composer George Fenton. Picture: JASON ROBERTS

Theatre, film and television composer George Fenton knows how music can enhance a performance, add atmosphere and provide a sense of place to the best drama or documentary. A self-taught musician he started his career as an actor before swapping the stage for the orchestra pit with the RSC in the 1970s and then discovering a lucrative career writing scores for film and television – including popular series like Bergerac, Shoestring and a long-running professional relationship with Alan Bennett on the stage, the small screen and the big screen – including Talking Heads, The Madness of George III, The History Boys and Lady In The Van.

Lord ‘Dickie’ Attenbourgh gave him his big break in the world of cinema when he commissioned him to write the score for Gandhi, which gained him an Oscar nomination. He worked several other Attenborough movies including Cry Freedom and Shadowlands and a whole host of films by Britain’s maverick social commentator Ken Loach including Ladybird, Ladybird, along with Land and Freedom, Carla’s Song and My Name Is Joe, among others.

He has also worked alot with Stephen Frears on Dangerous Liaisons, Mary Reilly and Mrs Henderson Presents.

Composer George Fenton who will be conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra at a live screening of David Attenborough's documentary The Frozen Planet. Photo: Snape MaltingsComposer George Fenton who will be conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra at a live screening of David Attenborough's documentary The Frozen Planet. Photo: Snape Maltings

But, it is in the world of wildlife documentaries that the music of George Fenton has really found a place in the hearts of the public. He has been responsible for creating the music for a whole raft of David Attenborough natural history epics including The Blue Planet, Tales From The Freezer, Trials of Life and Planet Earth.

Now East Anglian audiences have the rare opportunity to enjoy a live performance of his evocative work as George Fenton conducts the BBC Concert Orchestra at a live screening of The Frozen Planet at the Snape Maltings Concert Hall.

The orchestra will perform the score live as the film is projected onto a screen on the stage.

Sir David Attenborough pictured at the Abberton Reservoir for Essex and Suffolk Water and Essex Wildlife Trust. Photo: Sarah Lucy BrownSir David Attenborough pictured at the Abberton Reservoir for Essex and Suffolk Water and Essex Wildlife Trust. Photo: Sarah Lucy Brown

George says that the event represents a rare opportunity for him to experience how an audience reacts to his work. “Normally I only ever hear the finished piece on the soundtrack. Recording is so complicated with cues and technical requirements that its all recorded in bits, so you never get to hear the whole thing as a complete work, so it will be a real thrill to perform it in front of an audience in a venue as wonderful as the Snape Maltings.”

George is also looking forward to finally performing at the Snape Maltings Concert Hall after his first opportunity was cruelly snatched away 40 years ago.

“Years ago I was touring with the English Music Theatre, which was Benjamin Britten’s company, and we were touring an opera called Paul Bunyon and we were due to end up at Snape. I got to Aldeburgh and was immediately struck down with kidney stones. I was taken to Ipswich Hospital and missed the performance and missed even setting foot inside the concert hall – so I am really looking forward to finally getting to perform there.”

There will be snow in Snape Malting this weekend. Picture: CHADDEN HUNTERThere will be snow in Snape Malting this weekend. Picture: CHADDEN HUNTER

He says that the opportunity for audiences to hear the music performed live will provide an extra dimension to seeing the programmes being broadcast at home. “It will be a real audio-visual experience.

“The footage on screen at the performance has been specially cut so it can be viewed without narration.

“Of the Attenborough series I have done, The Frozen Planet, for me, is the one I like most because it is about a place which is so unique and I found it especially poignant because the arctic and antarctic are disappearing worlds.

“The frightening thing is that a lot of the places that were shot for the series no longer exist. We can’t go back and get those scenes in those places. They have been lost forever.”

Outside wildlife documentaries George Fenton has been enjoying a return to theatre, his roots, writing a stage musical of the Stephen Frears film Mrs Henderson Presents, which he also scored.

“The idea of doing a stage musical was my idea and it was the producers who brought Don Black on board as the lyricist. I originally thought we would use the music from the film as the basis of the show but in the end I only used one tune ‘Everyone Loves The Windmill’ in the stage version, everything else was new.

“I think the reason for the new music was because the show fundamentally changed moving from screen to stage. The film was a story about Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins whereas the stage show is more about the Windmill Theatre itself, so I wanted to make the music much more of the time.”

He says he so enjoyed the Mrs Henderson Presents experience that he is writing a new musical based on The Third Man which is being produced in conjunction with Sir Trevor Nunn.

Limited tickets for the live performance of The Frozen Planet by George Fenton and the BBC Concert Orchestra are available from the Snape Maltings box office.

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