Star Wars: A New Hope in Concert (Queensland Symphony Orchestra)
Brisbane Convention Centre
Before there was Harry Potter (which the QSO have also celebrated in concert), there was an even more iconic story of a hero’s journey. Not only this, but “Star Wars” brings with it one the most famous signature soundtracks of all time, making it perfect fodder for musical celebration courtesy of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, performing John Williams’ musical score live to the 1977 film “Star Wars: A New Hope”.
From the time the in the live symphonic concert experience begins with ‘20th Century Fox Fanfare’ over the opening searchlight logo, it is clear that the audience is in for a very enjoyable evening. It is more experience than show and a shared one at that as audience members join in reactions to the film in addition to the music, in reminder of the original film’s humour and the relatability of its quintessential alien cantina scene, for example.
Legendary composer Williams’ epic score is as memorable as it was ground-breaking in its change of film music; it not only earned an Academy Award for Best Original Score, but the American Film institute lists it as number one amongst the 25 Greatest American Film Scores of all time. Luckily Conductor Benjamin Northey mentions in the evening’s introduction that the orchestra welcomes the audience to show appreciation during the movie as countless times applause is needed to acclaim the QSO’s spectacular work in bringing the instantly recognisable score alive after a 40-year embargo on adaptations of Williams’ work.
Ovation comes too, not just at the end of musical numbers but as iconic characters make their appearances in the story of a civil war ‘a long, time ago in a galaxy far, far away’. When, searching for a lost droid, young Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is saved by reclusive Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) and so begins to discover his destiny. With Rebel forces struggling against the evil Galactic Empire, Luke and Obi-Wan enlist the aid of hotshot pilot Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and, joined by the quirky droid duo R2-D2 and C-3PO, they set out to rescue Rebel leader Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and make use of stolen plans to destroy the Empire’s ultimate weapon.
Over 60 QSO musicians brings the mythic storytelling to life through their presentation of the epic musical score, beginning with the glorious grandeur of ‘Main Title’, otherwise known as the emotionally-charged ‘Daaah dah dahdahdah daaaaah dah’, arguably the most recognisable theme in cinema history. Although the score is sweeping, it gives many different instruments their times to shine. Indeed, there is light and shade as the music softens momentarily, only to then soar in musical narrative, underpinning the film’s important moments with memorable melodies in follow of Richard Wagner’s compositional technique of using leitmotif method, meaning that music relates to a character or a thing.
‘Princess Leia’s Theme’ uses violins and light sounds to show the gentle hope that underpins her struggle against the Empire, while ‘The Death Star’ theme uses brass and percussion to convey a military theme. The Imperial motif (not Vader’s theme which does not come until later in the series) is drama-filled, allowing us to sense Darth Vader’s brooding menace as the dark lord is confronted by Leia for the first time.
The beautiful concert suite ‘Princess Leia’s Theme’ is extremely touching thanks to its multiple melodic upper string and French horn sounds, adding a sense of solitude to the Princess’s capture by Darth Vader. And it is particularly poignant with oboe sounds when R2-D2 plays Leia’s holographic message for Obi-Wan Kenobi. The beautiful score swells, too, with, the noble ‘Force Theme’ (also known as Ben Kenobi’s theme or Luke’s theme) which showcases the orchestra’s wonderful string sounds, most notably when it is first heard in the emotional Binary Sunset scene when the young, eager-for-adventure Luke watches the twin suns of Tatooine set behind the horizon, having just left dinner with his (adopted) parents where his Uncle has asked him to stay for one more harvest, meaning that he can’t go and join the rebellion.
Although the famed cantina-band song is played on-screen, the score is filled with memorable moments. Strings send us into combat with the rebel alliance, only to then complete with horns in a bombastic good vs evil battle. It is a challenging task for the musicians as the orchestra plays for most of the movie’s duration, however, the QSO’s members are more than up for the task, particularly during the demanding battle sequences.
‘The Throne Room/End Title’ finishes things on a magnificent note. The Royal Award ceremony in the Great Temple on Yavin 4 the morning after the Battle of Yavin, for Princess Lisa Organa to bestow medals of bravery to honour Luke Skywalker for firing the shot that destroyed the Death Star, as well as Han Solo and Chewbacca for helping during the battle, begins with a brass fanfare of trumpets which leads into a formal processional version of ‘The Force Theme’ as the award ceremony begins. And then there are the final credits, which are a real highlight. (This is one movie for which you want to stay for the credit duration).
Having the score played live to the film is a special experience that shows how without its music, the movie that began it all would probably be just another space movie. And the world-calibre Queensland Symphony Orchestra do an outstanding job in showing this and doing the original London Symphony Orchestra’s score justice.
“Star Wars: A New Hope in Concert” is marvelous for so many reasons. It is at-once a celebration of a classic movie and an iconic soundtrack, a show for lovers of cinema and classic music alike, made all the more joyous by its shared experience. It illustrates the power of music to evoke emotion alongside on-screen performances without the need for words, making the on-screen drama all the more riveting through its sweeping strings and building percussion, as if we are enjoying the story’s nuances for the first time. And is a great way to introduce young people to the stunning display that is live classical music. There is no denying the audience buoyancy brought about by the live score, with attendees of all ages delighting in not only the show itself but the pre-show photo opportunities with the foyer’s roaming cast of characters. Now we only have until December 1 to wait until the intergalactic greatness continues with “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back in Concert” which will include what could be one of the most famous pieces of cinema music of all time in ‘Darth Vader’s Imperial March’.