Darth Vader and the Dark Side invaded the Windsor Symphony Orchestra this weekend with the first Toldo Pops show of the 70th season, The Music of Star Wars. Armed with a baton obviously blessed with the power of The Force, WSO musical director and conductor Robert Franz led his ragtag crew of musicians through a selection of pieces from the famous Star Wars movie scores.
Franz gave the crowd a little more for than they bargained for when he took battle against Darth Vader during the opening number. Vader and his stormtroopers went to stage early in the show as the Orchestra tore into The Imperial March and held the WSO’s maestro in a Force choke hold. With a passion that must have been fueled by the music he was conducting and a magical transference of The Force itself, Franz was able to defend himself from the hold and send Vader and his crony’s packing.
This year marks 40 years since the first Star Wars film was released. The iconic music is as much a part of the Star Wars franchise as any character in the show, giving a classically scored ambience throughout the entire movie series. Composer John Williams drew heavily from his classical influences when he crafted the music for the seven feature films and it shows when performed by a full orchestra that usually plows through some Beethoven or Mozart.
Unlike most symphony shows, the program told nothing of the pieces in advance, instead allowing for Franz to switch into game show mode to host a “Name That Tune or Character” session between teams of characters from The Dark Side and The Jedi. Each piece began with a small snippet from the score and the teams had to name the music, character or situation where the piece showed up. It was much harder than one may think, with as little as two notes being given as a clue.
After the festivities and introductions, the show began with The Asteroid Field, from Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back in a lively and bombastic way. It was clear right from this moment that the strings weren’t the only ones going to get a workout on this show. Almost all the pieces from this point on would feature a vast amount of percussion, timpani and wind instruments – far more than any traditional piece would ever allow.
Across The Stars (The Anakin and Padme Theme) from Episode II: Attack of the Clones, was next and it might very well be one of the most beautiful modern orchestrations ever written. The Orchestra nailed the piece, giving the beginning notes much more emphasis as the song began and keeping that emphasis as the song grew bigger.
The Ewok’s Theme (Parade of the Ewoks) from Episode VI: Return of the Jedi seemed slightly faster than the movie version, but it was still easy to visualize the little furry creatures bopping to the melody. Franz was excited to talk about the Ewoks and even shared some trivia that most in the audience never realized.
Duel of the Fates from Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was performed without a chorus and those choral pieces orchestrated mostly for horn. It gave the overall price more of a concert sound and more fullness than the soundtrack version. Cleary this was one of the more popular pieces from the repertoire and enjoyed immensely by the audience.
Princess Leia’s Theme from Episode IV: A New Hope was dedicated to Carrie Fisher, the actress famous for her role as Leia in the movie franchise and the hauntingly deep piece was a gorgeous tribute to Fisher, who tragically lost her life earlier this year.
The first half closed with Jedi Steps and Finale from Episode VII: The Force Awakens, a long combo piece with dramatic tones and a few familiar samples from the famous Star Wars theme.
The second half of the show opened with a vibrant listen to the music of Anakin Skywalker from Episode I: The Phantom Menace and then jumped into Yoda’s Death Theme from Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, which was very subdued and calming.
The concert continued with Scherzo for X-Wings from Episode VII – The Force Awakens. The short score was lively and energetic, taking the audience for a quick trip around the universe and back. This was another piece where the percussion got a workout.
The Luke and Leiah Theme from Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi is a beautiful piece of music with an emotional vibe to it unlike most of the other pieces in the entire Star Wars collection. The first time you hear this theme in the movies is when Luke and Leia are speaking in the Ewok village about their parents. This was about as close to Williams’ original sound the orchestra would achieve this night, with the piece actually timing out nearly identical to the composers own recording from 1990.
The most fun piece of the night was a tribute to the most disliked of the Star Wars characters – Jar Jar Binks. The fun and almost goofy sounds found in Jar Jar’s Introduction and The Swim to Otoh Gunga from Episode 1: The Phantom Menace gave the music a bit of Jar Jar’s goofy character and bouncy personality.
When Rey’s Theme from Episode 7: The Force Awakens was performed, the contestants from the night’s trivia game were invited to sit in open orchestra seats and take in the rest of the concert, which consisted of Rey’s Theme and the Star Wars main theme song. As the main theme was being played, it was hard not to imagine a few scenes from all seven Star Wars movies dancing in the imagination. For me, TIE Fighters and X-Wings were taking battle, armies of Storm Troopers were marching in unison, Luke and Leiah were planning their attack and Han Solo and Chewbacca were celebrating a victory.
Tonight’s show may not have seemed like a typical symphony performance, but deep underneath all the Star Wars costumes and movie magic, lied a very powerful symphonic score influenced by the great masters themselves. The Windsor Symphony Orchestra and Star Wars composer John Williams gave the audience not only a journey into some movie music, but also an example of modern classical composition.
Next up for the WSO is Concerts for Kids String Quartet on Oct. 14 and Beethoven’s Beer Garden on Oct. 18, when they perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 with musicians and listeners sharing the Pentastar stage as it transforms into a beer garden. Tickets for all WSO shows can be purchased online.