Kalamity K

The Daily Chaos of Kalamity K
2005-06-29 18:35:09 (UTC)


Star Wars reprise musically heroic


"A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away ..."

You remember the words, of course. They first flickered
across the silver screen close to three decades ago, when
George Lucas's space epic Star Wars introduced us to Luke
Skywalker, those loveable droids R2-D2 and C-3PO and
perhaps most memorably of all, that wheezing, menacing
figure behind the black helmet, Darth Vader.

They all turned up at Roy Thomson Hall last night, even
going so far as to mingle with the audience (you'd be
surprised how many ostensible adults wanted to be
photographed alongside that "walking rug," as Princess Leia
called him, the wookie Chewbacca).

A Star Wars fan convention? In a sense yes, it was that,
judging by the cheers that accompanied C-3PO when he walked
on stage, even with a shiny gold lamé jacket replacing the
shiny gold metal case in which he stiff-walked his way
through all six Star Wars movies, including the still
running Revenge of the Sith.

It was probably the first time most of those fans had ever
seen him in civilian gear, but all he had to do was take a
few steps in his characteristic screen walk to provoke more

Only this time he was on hand not to aid Luke Skywalker in
his struggle against the evil Empire, but to narrate the
world premiere Star Wars Concert, a two-hour distillation
of music composed by John Williams for the entire six-
episode screen tale.

Conductor Erich Kunzel, a frequent Toronto visitor,
concocted the program and collaborated with C-3PO (actor
Anthony Daniels in non-reel life) in writing the narration
connecting the musical sequences. Following tonight's
repeat concert, the two men plan to take their Star Wars
Concert on a tour of several American cities.

In Toronto the music was played by members of the Toronto
Symphony Orchestra together with the Mississauga Choral
Society and notwithstanding a few bloopers, it was
performed handsomely, with all the impact one might have
hoped for in a live presentation of music originally
recorded under Williams' own direction with the London
Symphony Orchestra.

Before telling his tale, Daniels recalled his startled
reaction when he saw a sequence from the original film with
music added. The music suddenly brought the film to life.

And so music often does. The composer Aaron Copland once
described film music as a candle held beneath the screen to
warm it. Well, in the Star Wars films, John Williams holds
a veritable blowtorch.

This isn't film music of the kind usually heard today. This
is full-fledged symphonic music for film of the kind
produced by Hollywood studios in decades past, the kind
associated with composers from Erich Korngold to Elmer

And it wasn't for nothing that director Lucas, when he
first heard a full-orchestra treatment of the music
Williams had composed, declared that it surpassed all his
expectations. Not to mince words, the music for Star Wars
is as important to the success of the film series as the
music of Max Steiner was to the success of Gone With the

Is there anybody today who could not recognize the Star
Wars main theme? It has the kind of declamatory power that
hasn't been heard in film music since Stanley Kubrick had
the wit to borrow the opening measures of Richard Strauss's
tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra for 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Not that Williams is quite in the Richard Strauss league.
The ghosts of composers past hover behind him, whether
Edward Elgar in the martial "Throne Room" sequence, Sergei
Prokofiev in "Parade of the Ewoks" or Jean Sibelius in some
of his brass writing.

And what brass writing it is! The Toronto Symphony
Orchestra's brass section hasn't had a workout like this in
ages. Williams is a master at evoking the epic through
brass sonorities, as well as spinning out lush melodies
with a carpet of strings.

Erich Kunzel performed his act of synthesis well, drawing
on virtually all the important motifs from the series, and
Anthony Daniels proved a droll synthesizer of the plots.

The force was obviously with them.