To borrow a phrase from Jerry Mcguire, “You had me at hello.”
The City Of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra ( CBSO ) have come to town, to perform a selection of pieces from John Williams’ brilliant Star Wars scores. Dozens of musicians take their places, dressed in their finest, and Conductor Michael Seal climbs onto the podium and raises his magic wand….the spell is cast!
Opening with the Fox Fanfare, this is Star Wars done right, and I could not be more impressed by the inclusion of this important detail, setting the tone for what follows. I must admit that like many Star Wars fans, I am quite ignorant of the larger world of classical music, and what I am aware of is largely confined to movie themes. In saying that however, the one big fat exception to this is John Williams’ masterful Star Wars scores, the crowning achievement in a career which could be described as an embarrassment of riches. Flying bikes, giant sharks, raiders and arks…and Star Wars
I may not know a Viola from a Double bass – not before I looked them up on Wikipedia at least – but I know this music. Star Wars music is the soundtrack of the movies, and also my life. It runs through so many of my fondest memories, and runs through my head like a radio station constantly tuned to a galaxy far away. When I heard this concert was coming to Oxford my first thoughts were “but will it be good?”. Surely we are in the realms of the cover band, like your uncle and his football mates doing Bryan Adams songs at a wedding.
I am pleased to say I could not be more wrong about that. This is not only an authentic rendition, but an enthusiastic one, welcomed and warmly appreciated by the cheering audience. John Williams’ score binds us together in the love of Star Wars and the magic of George Lucas. Present are the heroes and villains, the many places and peoples of the galaxy parade through the air summoned forth by the music which first brought them to life on screen.
Lead by Conductor Michael Seal’s lively baton, swirling swooping strings and the underpinning of the kettle drums and double bass deliver a note perfect recreation of these pieces we know so well. Every drum roll into a cymbal crash, every snare drum fill arrives exactly where it should be. The subtleties of the supporting members of the orchestra are much more apparent when you can watch as well as feel the delivery of the bass notes, and one or two small movements of the bow go a long way. The string section furiously sawing away fall still as a single sustained note is accented by the gently answering strum of the harp suggesting Darth Vader’s theme. Perfection.
The music when freed from the constraints of the action on the screen, the lightsabers and heroics which would usually distract from the score, really comes to life. You realise how much of the movie is in fact supporting the score and perhaps the movie could be considered a wrapper for John Williams’ music as much as the story of the Skywalker family. Seeing it performed in front of you, allows a view of every string pluck, every movement from one side of the stage to the other as different sections rise to prominence, and then fall away in turn.
The highlights of the story are delivered via narration and take us to the appropriate time for each piece. The chariot race influence of ‘The Flag Parade’ and the thrilling ‘Duel Of The Fates’, leads to the melancholy beauty of ‘Across The Stars.’ We bank and glide through space on the Millennium Falcon during a ‘Tie Fighter Attack’ and flee through ‘The Asteroid Field.’ We walk the halls of the Massassi Temple for a medal ceremony and travel to Jakku for ‘Reys Theme’. The well deserved standing ovation is followed by a succinct but again perfectly delivered encore.
I have come away with a new appreciation for the music, which I already loved, and for the good folk of the CBSO for the obvious devotion to their craft and the time invested in getting this precious music right. The success of Star Wars as a brand and cultural phenomenon is in large part due to John Williams music and that music is alive and well on nights like this. It will endure every time we listen to the soundtracks, every time we watch the movies, every time we stand in line somewhere and Duel Of The Fates starts to play in your mind. Star Wars will be with you, always.
You can purchase tickets for Saturday nights show in Stoke on Trent here