Peter Capaldi and Richard E Grant team up with the RSNO to celebrate the music of Patrick Doyle
He is, without a shadow of a doubt, Scotland’s most widely heard and most broadly loved living composer – just not, perhaps, in the concert hall. Instead, the music of South Lanarkshire-born Patrick Doyle has entertained movie-goers in more than 50 films across his five-decade career – alongside which he’s also maintained a significant sideline in concert pieces and theatre scores.
So it feels only right that the Royal Scottish National Orchestra should celebrate Doyle’s achievements in his 70th birthday year. He’s currently leading a project with the orchestra aimed at emerging film composers: “I like to pass on the baton,” he says. “I always get great satisfaction from hearing the progress of younger film composers.”
Talking of younger musicians, players from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (Doyle’s alma mater in its earlier incarnation as the RSAMD) and its junior department join RSNO musicians to play Doyle’s soundtrack to 1927 silent classic IT, alongside a live screening, in February next year. To kick things off, though, next week sees two concerts celebrating the richness and breadth of Doyle’s music.
What does Doyle put his success down to? He’s refreshingly candid about what it takes to write an effective movie score. "You have to know the film and the script inside out,” he explains. “That might seem obvious, but at your first meeting with the director you have to show you’ve done your homework.” Also, Doyle advises, don’t be too precious about your art. “It’s about the film, not about your piece of music. Maybe the film doesn’t need much – maybe just a long, sustained tone, or a simple melody.” And be prepared to compromise – or stand your ground. “When you compose music for a movie, everyone has an opinion. So you have to be prepared for that Wimbledon match of competing ideas going back and forth – and you have to have some spare tennis balls of your own up your sleeve.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Doyle is full of memories of some of the greatest names in cinema, both behind and in front of the camera. Like actor and screenwriter Emma Thompson, for example – a friend since the 1970s, and dedicatee of his lyrical Corasik for violin and orchestra (requested as a birthday gift by her husband, actor Greg Wise), which features in the RSNO’s concert. Or director Brian De Palma: “He’s a cinema giant, and he’s still going strong,” says Doyle. “I was very busy one day but the phone kept ringing, and in the end one of my family gave me the message: please call Brian De Palma. So I phoned him back and this very husky voice said: ‘have you ever done a gangster movie?’” The result was Doyle’s score for Carlito’s Way, whose moody end-credit musical sign-off features in the concerts. Two more of Doyle’s starry friends – actors Peter Capaldi and Richard E Grant – join him on stage to introduce the concerts, as well as Doyle’s two daughters Abi and Nuala in vocal numbers from Into the West and Murder on the Orient Express.
But alongside the star-studded Hollywood anecdotes, there’s also a sense of humility about Doyle’s accomplishments, as if he can’t quite believe what he’s achieved. It’s a feeling that extends into one of Doyle’s highest-profile commissions – a specially composed March for the Coronation of King Charles III earlier this year, which will also get concert airings from the RSNO. “That was absolutely terrifying,” Doyle admits. “But of course, I wasn’t going to say no. You have to literally pump yourself up and tell yourself, ‘look, I’ve written a substantial body of work’, and try to forget about what it’s for.” As Prince of Wales, the monarch had been a long-time supporter of Doyle’s music, previously commissioning a piece for the Queen Mother’s 90th birthday. “And of course, the whole thing had to be timed to the second because it was being beamed all over the planet – but I’ve had plenty of experience of writing to the clock. All I can say is that people’s reactions have been very positive, which makes me very happy.”
The RSNO performs Patrick Doyle’s Music from the Movies, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 17 November and Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 18 November, see www.rsno.org.uk .