Under the necessarily-firm hands of conductor Joshua Gersen, the North Carolina Symphony provided a live musical score for the celebrated first film in what eventually became the "Star Wars" series of interstellar drama. Before it became "A New Hope," George Lucas' blockbuster science fiction film was known simply as "Star Wars," but its popularity spawned numerous sequels and, later, prequels, thus adding a new word to our collective vocabularies.
The NC Symphony, which began their new season in fine form two weeks ago with another Joshua (Bell, the acclaimed violinist), continued to play with musicianship and energy as they responded to Gersen's clear and incisive baton technique. It's no easy task to play almost two hours' worth of music, let alone music which is not in the "standard repertoire" of most orchestras, but they acquitted themselves excellently.
The only thing lacking was any mention in the program of the name of the man who composed all the music: John Williams. The program booklet contained only a single-page glossy ad announcing the concerts (this one is repeated on October 6 at 8 pm and October 7 at 7 pm), and a half-page bio of Gersen on the back of an inserted ad for this season's pop concerts. Yes, of course John Williams' name was in the film credits, but surely the composer of so many important film music scores deserves credit in a live concert. This brief review is not the place to discuss Williams' importance as the leading composer of this important genre of American music, but much is available online.
The audience applauded when the famous introductory fanfares began, and as other iconic characters appeared on the suspended motion-picture screen. The synchronization between film and live music performance was, in a word, perfect. If anything, it was better than when I first experienced this film in 1977 in a theater with "surround sound." When the music is coming from the same general area as the film screen, the effect seems more "real," less contrived (and, for that matter, less likely to take a toll on one's auditory senses).
When the orchestra was not playing, either because a particular scene was not enhanced by music or because a scene utilized computerized music (such as the famous cantina scene), the orchestra became part of the audience, turning towards the screen to watch the action.
Williams' score is colorful, using the entire resources of a large symphony orchestra; the original film music was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. It is evocative: sometimes dramatic, sometimes eerie, sometimes majestic. Indeed, the closing "award scene" suggests that Williams was channeling one of Elgar's famous "Pomp and Circumstance" marches. The NC Symphony was slightly augmented in size to meet the score's demands; where their normal complement of horns is four, "Star Wars" requires seven French horns, only one fewer than Mahler or Wagner in their largest scores.
According to Wikipedia, "Star Wars" is the second-highest-grossing film of all time in Canada and the US, with 178,119,600 estimated admissions. The large audience at Meymandi Hall, more intergenerational than usual, clearly enjoyed this multimedia experience. An iconic motion picture plus an orchestra in a superb performance of its score – what better way to escape from the turmoil of daily events?
For information on the repeat performances, see our sidebar.