PSO to play movie score while ‘Empire Strikes Back’ screens
The force is definitely with John Williams. His scores for the “Star Wars” series of films are among the most popular music for orchestra of our time.
Excerpts from Williams’ film music have figured prominently at Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concerts for decades now.
Williams himself has led the local orchestra many times in his music. His close relationship with the symphony includes making a CD called “Cinema Serenade” with Itzhak Perlman at Heinz Hall for Sony Classical.
Williams’ music is so popular that many times other conductors have led his music here. None have done so with more distinction that Lawrence Loh, who was a PSO resident conductor for more than a decade and now is music director of two American orchestras. Williams even authorized Loh to lead the concert premieres of some excerpts from his scores.
But the best way to experience Williams’ genius is to hear his entire composition, not just snippets from it.
“There’s just so much more music than the excerpts we hear. It sheds a whole new light on the artistry of the composer and makes it even more difficult to separate from the storytelling,” Loh says.
‘Empire Strikes Back’ live
The Pittsburgh Symphony will present the film “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” with Williams’ music played live by Loh and the orchestra on June 19 and 21 at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall.
Loh has been a fan of Williams’ music for most of his life.
“This is the music of our childhood, and not exclusively for my generation. So many people saw these films at a pivotal point in their life,” Loh says. “I was 10 when this one came out. I remember so clearly begging my mom to take me to the theater to see it.
“I remember getting the record, and the scratches it got from being played over and over. ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ is the greatest of the Star Wars films and it is because of the darkness, the dramatic story telling by the incredible music,” he says.
Williams’ score employs a recurrent theme for each of the main characters, a technique called leitmotif, which was developed by Richard Wagner in his cycle of four operas called “The Ring of the Nibelungs.”
“Darth Vader has his own theme, which is a very dark march called the Imperial March,” the conductor says. “It is the best-known excerpt from this film and one of the most famous marches ever written by John Williams. It has a darkness and aggression we haven’t heard before.”
The conductor notes that Yoda’s theme conveys the wisdom of his old age and strength, as well as an unsettled nature because he has so much still to do.
Loh is charged up at the prospect of conducting the complete Williams score with the film it accompanies.
“The most incredible aspect to this concert is that the Pittsburgh Symphony is going to be playing this music,” he says. “The Pittsburgh Symphony will be firing all cylinders. I can’t wait to conduct it with my friends in the orchestra.
“There are super Williams fans all over the orchestra. We always have conversations before the concert about ideas for future concerts.”
Mark Kanny is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.