Legacy Conversations: Ben Palmer

Photo © Andy Staples Photography

Esteemed British conductor talks his work as a specialist of Live to Film concerts and his love and admiration for the music of John Williams

Hosted by Maurizio Caschetto

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Ben Palmer is part of that generation of musicians who grew up without making too much distinction between the great classical literature and the film music repertoire. He is quick to recognize that much of that is consequence of his exposure to the music of John Williams since he was a young trumpet player performing in youth orchestras in the United Kingdom.

Palmer is now one of the most esteemed and sought-after British conductors: he is Chief Conductor of the Deutsche Philharmonie Merck in Darmstadt, and the Founder and Artistic Director of Covent Garden Sinfonia, considered one of London’s most dynamic and versatile chamber orchestras. He works regularly as guest conductor with the Hallé Orchestra, the BBC Singers, the Orchestra of Opera North, and Grimethorpe Colliery Band. Other recent engagements include the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, NDR Radiophilharmonie, Deutsches Kammerorchester Berlin, and Sinfonietta de Lausanne. He also appeared with the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg, Pilsen Philharmonic Orchestra, and Czech National Symphony Orchestra.

Ben Palmer is one of Europe’s foremost specialists in conducting live to film. He conducted many of the most successful film concerts in the UK and across mainland Europe, appearing in prestige venues such as the Royal Albert Hall in London. Palmer conducted virtually all of the John Williams films available in this format, such as the Star Wars trilogy, Jurassic ParkE.T. the Extra-TerrestrialJawsHome AloneRaiders of the Lost ArkHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. He also conducted crowd-favorites like Back to the FutureThe Pink PantherPsycho and Casablanca.

Ben Palmer conducts “Jurassic Park in Concert” at the Royal Albert Hall for the film’s 25th anniversary in September 2018

Ben also conducts regular concerts featuring film music selections, including many pieces by John Williams, often juxtaposed with works from the classical repertoire by Holst, Tchaikovsky and other great composers. He’s also a profound admirer of Franz Joseph Haydn and he’s s more than three quarters of the way through his lifetime ambition to conduct all of the 107 Haydn symphonies.

Ben Palmer conducts a rehearsal of a live to picture presentation of Max Steiner’s Casablanca

Having conducted works by John Williams in many concerts, Palmer became also a profound connoisseur and student of his music, developing an intimate and profound knowledge of the composer’s style and language. Being a specialist of the live to film performance, Ben also developed a deep understanding of the artform, with all its detailed intricacies, and also the challenges of presenting it in this specific concert format:

“I think the art to conducting live to picture is to make it feel for the orchestra, and particularly to make it feel for the audience, as if there is some kind of flow. It’s like an opera. You need to understand what’s going on in the music in respect with how it integrates with the film. The amazing thing about John Williams’ scores is that the best bits of the music usually go with the best bits of the film.”

Through the performance of John Williams’s classics such as Jaws, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park, he immediately recognized the Maestro’s artistry in applying music to film, acknowledging how Williams always comes up with the perfect musical solution for the events happening on screen while also keeping a tremendous musical integrity.

Ben Palmer rehearsing Raiders of the Lost Ark in Concert at Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra (September 2018)

In this long and engaging conversation with The Legacy of John Williams, Ben Palmer talks in-depth about the details, the intricacies and the challenges of conducting live to picture performances of John Williams’s film scores. Ben also offers insightful thoughts on how to present the film music repertoire in concert halls and what will be John Williams’s place in music history, while also sharing his own deep love and admiration for the music of the Maestro.

Ben Palmer conducts “Star Wars A New Hope – In Concert” Photo © SAP arena / Soerli Binder

Special Thanks to Ben Palmer for his kindness and generosity. Visit his website www.benpalmer.net to learn more about his career and his upcoming performances with orchestras around the world.

Illustration by Gianmaria Caschetto © 2020

List of musical excerpts featured in the episode (all music composed and conducted by John Williams except where noted)

. “Welcome to Jurassic Park” from Jurassic Park (1993)
. “Aunt Marge’s Waltz” from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
. “The Factory Scene” from Modern Times (1936) – Music by Charlie Chaplin, arranged and conducted by Alfred Newman
. “Man Against Beast” from Jaws (1975)
. “Desert Chase” from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
. “The Rescue and Bike Chase” from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
. “A New Beginning” from Minority Report (2002)
. “The Beginning of a Friendship” from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
. “Race to the Dock” from Jurassic Park (1993)
. “Stalling Around” from Jurassic Park (1993)
. “Binary Sunset” from Star Wars (1977)
. “You Bred Raptors” from Jurassic Park (1993)
. “Journey to the Island” from Jurassic Park (1993)
. “Rainy Nights, Dementors, and Birds” from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
. “Flight to Neverland” from Hook (1991)
. Theme from Jurassic Park (1993)