Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Symphony Strikes Back - The Music of Star Wars

I'd had tickets for this performance by the Virginia Symphony Orchestra since they went on sale back in March.  I'd been super stoked about it ever since then.  My seats at Ferguson Center were good, and I found myself with an extra ticket on the day of the show.  How could I increase the stoked factor even more?  A quick phone call to my geek/musician brother Darius Teasely AKA Shakespeare's Ghost who I consider a hype man by nature (see link to our collab at the bottom of the article).  I've known he is a Star Wars geek, probably even more so than myself, and he was with me at the drop of a hat!

We both were expecting greatness from this performance ... what is not to love about hearing full blown authentic, live re-creation of one of the greatest movie soundtracks ever penned?  But neither of us were prepared for just HOW awesome the program would end up being.  It had been a while since either of us had heard a symphony orchestra, and to hear one up close 8 rows away felt powerful and dynamic. Unfortunately we could not see the entire orchestra from those seats, mainly just the string section and conductor, but we could FEEL and hear the whole thing with complete clarity (which I don't get with too many other live shows these days ...).

Aside from The Imperial March and Main Title, I didn't recognize the names of any of the selections on the menu aside from Rey's Theme, which I bought on a picture disc at Record Store Day this year.  What made this performance special to me was that as soon as these pieces began playing, I immediately recognized them as melodies and accompaniment so familiar that I felt as if I had known them forever, and some of them I suppose I have actually "known" since early childhood.  It is only when you hear and see them performed without the film in their forefront that you realize just how much the music impacts the film and how much of it you take away with you as an actual seamless part of the film, one that is just as recitable as any its endearing spoken lines.

On top of the great music, the conductor, Benjamin Rous, kept the program interesting with anecdotes and tidbits surrounding the compositions, and really caught our attention with a few theories about the new movies that are based purely on musical themes rather than any words or action from the films.  According to Rous, as the master composer that John Williams is, he has left us musical clues to some mysteries.  One in particular involves a new character from The Force Awakens, who's origin is currently anyone's guess.  With the help of the orchestra playing bits and pieces of musical themes, he demonstrated that a recurring theme in this character's music bears a strong resemblance to that of an antagonist from Episode III.  There were a few "wow moments" in this regard and I can personally get behind those theories based on their musical explanations.

Another powerful moment of the concert came when the Star Wars Festival Chorus came out to join the orchestra for two soundtrack pieces.  This was a huge choir made up of students from Bethel, Hampton, and Warwick High Schools.  Their most impressive number came with "Dual of the Fates" from the Phantom Menace - blowing the barometer level up to its max for a symphonic wall of sound.

An obvious ommission from the program was the beloved "Cantina Theme" which we were treated to as an encore with the rhythm section. And to finish the encore, Rous excitedly proclaimed "We can't send you home without the closing credits!" and commenced the memorable closing theme to finish the evening.

I am not certain that this Star Wars program will be performed again anytime soon ... there was no indication of that ... but I'd highly recommend looking out for other concerts by the VA Symphony Orchestra.  Last Friday Night they performed a full program of "The Songs of Bowie."  The ensemble seems to be staying innovative in their offerings and is choosing truly the best of the best music in that is set for a symphonic setting.  Shakespeare and I approve!

Check out the VA Symphony Orchestra!

Uglyography's Collaboration with Shakespeare's Ghost: