#Review: Love Actually in Concert, Liverpool Philharmonic


Having never before attended a concert where full orchestra accompanied a film, I really didn’t know what to expect and wrongly assumed that the orchestra’s attendance would be superfluous to the film. I was wrong.  Very WRONG!

The highly talented scratch touring orchestra not only enhanced the showing of this iconic Christmas film (if that was even possible) but heightened emotions through the variety of instruments played and sensationally brought a new dynamic to the whole performance.

The musicians were all smartly dressed with their signature black dress code.  Each musician entered the stage took their seat and under instruction from the female concertmaster they all tuned their instruments to an ‘A’ chord before the conductor took to the stage.  If, like me, you are fascinated by the wonderful array of instruments within an orchestra yet are unsure of the roles, etiquette and mechanical preparations that take place before such a highly professional orchestra can commence a concert; let me enlighten you.  

Despite the harp being the most heavy and cumbersome string instrument on the stage, they are the first to tune to the wind instrument of the Oboe. Why the oboe you may ask? Well..the oboe has the most reliable and stable pitch of all instruments so everything is taken from their note  The harp must be placed on the stage at least sixty minutes before it is tuned and played to allow it to warm up and acclimatise to the concert hall.  Who knew?  The oboe also needs to acclimatise however it only requires thirty minutes on the stage.  All other musicians carrying portable instruments can then enter and take their positions.  I thought that the conductor had the most important role by keeping the musicians all together and bringing in the correct players at the correct time; apparently not, as the 1st flute and piccolo player explained to me after the performance.  The most important person with the most accountability on the stage is the concertmaster.  The concertmaster ensures each section: wind, brass, string, percussion are in tune and prepared.  If s/he is not happy then the performance doesn’t commence! Simple as that. They liaise with the conductor and if the conductor is demanding too much by conducting too fast/slow then it is up to them to reign in the conductor’s enthusiasm. This is why the conductor always acknowledges first the concertmaster before s/he acknowledges the rest of the orchestra.  Often the conductor will nod or go over to the concertmaster during performances to discuss matters.  All courteous conductors will also allow the concertmaster to separately take a bow ahead of the orchestra at the end of a performance.

Back to Love Actually… It is surprising how you take for granted the sheer volume of music that is played during a film.  This wonderful touring orchestra not only played with precision the production music of Universal Studios which led onto a full overture lasting fifteen minutes; every musical note in between including the pop songs and, never stopped until the final credit of the film was played. The conductor had a small split screen in front of him.  One showing the real time of the film – what the audience sees and the other is moments ahead which indicates when he needs to conduct the musicians to play.a red bar flashed to ensure timings were meticulously met.  

This whole performance was truly outstanding!  It was highly emotional and definitely the best way to see a film.  I have a new appreciation for all things musical and especially this new phenomenon that is entertaining audiences and sweeping the U.K.

Finally, this venue is definitely the jewel in Liverpool City’s crown.  It has an eclectic array of live performances in an acoustically perfect venue however more importantly, the staff at The Philharmonic are exceptional whose customer service is comparable to Disney.  Not only are they polite and courteous, they go above and beyond to make sure every guest – not the coldly termed, patron – feel that they are welcome and no issue is too much of a problem to sort.  I have had numerous dealings with Lily Hagan who always goes above and beyond to resolve any press accreditation issues.  The box office team are also exceptional and again with a smile, friendly patient manner have resolved any issues that myself or others have had on the night. The same can be said of the wide teams of ushers and floor managers who resolve queries with ease, common sense and the utmost professional integrity especially when some theatre goers are not displaying or affording them the same courtesy. 

This was a Christmas event not to be missed!  If you have been unable to catch Love Actually this year, make sure you book early to avoid disappointment next year. Orchestras accompanying iconic films to enhance audiences’ love of films is something everyone should experience at least once. It is a magnificent cultural experience that is spine tingling, utterly enjoyable, giving  a new way to appreciate the big screen and an evocative score.

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