“Star Wars: A New Hope in concert” review- The Chicago Symphony Orchestra performs a legendary score

Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi battles David Prowse as Darth Vader in "Star Wars: A New Hope"
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“For me, movies and music are inseparable. They always have been and they always will be.” Martin Scorsese

On June 27th, 2018, in a program that was to be repeated June 28th, 29th, and 30th, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of conductor Richard Kaufman, performed the iconic and viscerally stirring score to Star Wars: A New Hope, while the sold-out audience at Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan, viewed the much-loved film on a giant screen above and behind the Orchestra.

This concert was absolutely delightful, as music I have heard, enjoyed, forgotten but realized upon rehearing was unmistakable was beautifully presented by this wonderful Orchestra, in form so compellingly close to the original soundtrack- yet much more vivid for being live- as to instantly bring the film’s plot and characters to life.

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, and Harrison Ford as Han Solo in “Star Wars: A New Hope”

Most people don’t stop to consider that film scores are original music written and orchestrated specifically to accompany and augment a film. In the case of this film, which is the original in the series, the music was composed by John Williams, orchestrated by Herbert W. Spencer, and Williams himself conducted the London Philharmonic in 8 sessions over 12 days capturing the soundtrack for the movie.

John Williams, 82, American conductor, composer and pianist, has won 10 Grammy awards for Best Instrumental Composition including Star Wars, and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Indeed, Williams has garnered 24 Grammys, 7 British Academy Film Awards, 5 Academy Awards and 4 Golden Globe Awards. He’s written music for the Olympics and television as well as numerous classical and orchestral works. He is laureate conductor for the Boston Pops, but perhaps best known for his collaboration with Steven Spielberg. In 2005, the American Film Institute selected Star Wars as the most memorable score of all time for an American film.

Movies and music both create feelings, ideas and mental pictures that, for better or worse, can remain with a person forever. Seeing projected images at the same time as one hears music created just for those images makes the experience even more intense, and Conductor Richard Kaufman, who worked with both a paper score and a computerized synchronizing device, is an expert at conducting for films and television. He brought out the best in our fine Orchestra; the score is particularly replete with recurring themes for the strings and resounding fanfares perfectly projected by the sensational CSO brass.

Bad guys from The Galactic Empire ready to attack; from “Star Wars: A New Hope”

Since 1977, when the film debuted and the soundtrack was released as a double LP, the film has been reissued several times, edited and re-edited, reshot in parts, dialogue has been altered, scenes added, soundtracks have been re-mixed and computer-generated effects have been added; numerous releases of the score have been issued. In 2016 the album was remastered and re-released on vinyl, CD, and digital formats by Sony Classical Records, with the vinyl version a remastered version of the original 1977 release, the other versions being a Special Edition. In 2017 Walt Disney Records remastered and reissued the soundtrack on vinyl LP; the CD digital and streaming formats followed in 2018. The versions mentioned here all contained 75 minutes of the original 88-minute score, not presented in the chronological order in the film. The version heard at Symphony Center followed the most recent edition of the film and unfolded over 2 hours with intermission.

Star Wars has become a veritable merchandising industry of sequels, trilogies, prequels and licensed paraphernalia. There has been a great deal written about the genesis of the original plot, the characters a mélange of heroes and villains allegedly inspired by the Nazis as well as such fantasy series as the The Wizard of Oz and Dune.  However, it is undeniably true that the story is beloved by generations of Americans young and old. It’s a sweet, funny, and basically violence-free tale of good over evil, living robots, animal friends, and a belief in God (“May the Force be with you”), as devoid of sexual reference as it is of blood and guts. The excitement is due equally to its special effects and its thrilling music.

Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin, David Prowse as Darth Vader, and Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia; “Star Wars: A New Hope”

For information and tickets to all the great programming of The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, go to www.cso.org

All photos courtesy of The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association








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