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Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra celebrates music of past Star Wars films

| Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra artistic director Daniel Meyer
Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra
Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra artistic director Daniel Meyer

As “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” bursts onto the pop-culture scene, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will revisit some of composer John Williams' ultra-popular music from the first six episodes of the story in a single concert on the night before the new film's official release date.

Williams told Vanity Fair magazine the music for the new film is “all a continuation of an initial set of ideas. It's a bit like adding paragraphs to a letter that's been going on for a number of years.”

That letter began in 1977, when the first “Star Wars” film hit movie theaters.

Daniel Meyer will conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony in Williams' music Dec. 17 at Heinz Hall, Downtown.

The symphony is well versed in “Star Wars” music, having played excerpts at many concerts, including under Williams himself.

Trombonist James Nova is one of the orchestra members who's very much into the music. He's arranged many sections for trombone ensemble, at first over-dubbing all the parts. He'll conduct a 14-piece trombone ensemble in his arrangements in a pre-concert performance at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 17 at Heinz Hall.

Meyer is a familiar presence at Heinz Hall; he was resident conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony from 2003-09. Now he's artistic director of the Westmoreland Symphony and music director of the Erie Philharmonic and Asheville Symphony.

He says conducting this “Star Wars” concert of music from the first six films is, in some ways, like a fantasy, because he grew up seeing them in the theater.

“I never imagined I would be conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony in what has such emotional ties for me,” he says.

“I was fascinated by ‘Star Wars.' I loved ‘Star Wars.' I was the kid who took his parents' 8-millimeter camera and made stop-action films with my Star Wars figures. I begged my dad for a Snow Speeder for Christmas.

“Now, with DVDs, a young generation may know these films better than I do,” Meyer says.

The program was arranged for “a nice ebb and flow to the progression of the music, but it doesn't follow a straight chronological or movie order,” Meyer says.

“We're starting with the 20th Century Fox overture and then right into the main-title music, but what was important to me was that we didn't front-load all of the very powerful brass movements. The good news is that there is plenty of good music we can interpolate so the brass players won't have to play full-out fortissimo for 90 minutes.”

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or

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