It was a night at the movies but without the schmaltz. There were no lush strings or triumphant brass; instead there was a ghostly soprano, icy electric guitar and the haunting call of a coyote.
It was the first time iconic Italian film composer Ennio Morricone had visited Australia and Burswood Theatre was packed with fans to watch him conduct his greatest hits and personal favourites with the WA Youth Orchestra.
It was hard to tell which were the "personal favourites" because there was no dialogue from the stage to give Morricone's thoughts on the music being played.
But the breadth was impressive. More than 450 films are linked with Morricone, including the popular spaghetti western collaborations with Sergio Leone: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West and A Fistful of Dynamite. These were the highlights of the program, with Susanna Rigacci's floating soprano and the desolate string chords and sharp percussion attacks immediately conjuring a nonchalant Clint Eastwood and a vast desert horizon. Sadly, there was no whip or whistler but a 100-voice choir joined the orchestra for some blistering climactic moments.
Morricone remained true to his avant-garde roots across his career and films such as La Classe Operaia Va In Paradiso opened with a smash of noise (electronically generated by keyboard player Leandro Piccioni) and featured distorted electric guitar (Rocco Zifarelli).
The WAYO string players created a similarly chilling atmosphere from the dark, Shostakovich-like harmonies in The Battle of Algiers. Even the more syrupy score to The Mission revealed Morricone's bravery with orchestration as gothic cathedral pipe organ samples mixed with gospel groove. The complex choral polyphony and African rhythms were reminiscent of German composer Carl Orff and, more surprisingly, The Lion King, whose composer Elton John must have channelled Morricone.
The idea of featuring composers conducting their own music assumes composers are good conductors. Morricone was precise but didn't draw out the passion and energy normally associated with the WA Youth Orchestra.
But the standing ovation from fans in the audience - who included 1980s rockers the Stems, composers and film lovers - proved the risk was worth it.