The program is the orchestra’s annual Halloween show; costumes are welcome.
By Don Thrasher
Oct 9, 2023
No matter how much time you’ve spent in the “Star Wars” universe, it’s not often you get to combine that the experience with music from the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. You’ll have just such an opportunity when Dayton Performing Arts Alliance presents a screening of “Star Wars: A New Hope” at the Schuster Center in Dayton on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 14 and 15. This SuperPops Series program features the original 1977 film with John Williams’ Academy Award-winning score presented live by the orchestra under the baton of artistic director and conductor Neal Gittleman.
“We all think we know the ‘Star Wars’ music and we do,” Gittleman said. “We certainly know the main title and the closing credits and some of the major themes that appear. One of the interesting things is there is a lot of music in this movie we don’t really know that much. Some of it is literally designed to be in the background and not in the way. When you see the film, some of it is largely covered by the sound effects so it’s interesting to hear all the details he put into it.
“In the fight scenes, and there are a lot of fight scenes in ‘Star Wars,’ there is blasting and explosions and stuff like that covering the music,” Gittleman continued. “There’s still all this intricate stuff the orchestra is doing. A lesser composer might have invested less time and energy in writing the music for the orchestra to play knowing it was likely to get covered up by the sound effects. It’s very cool all the detail that goes into the music.”
A space western
Many film directors in the mid-’70s utilized electronic music to make their science fiction work spacey and futuristic. George Lucas went the opposite route with “Star Wars” and commissioned a symphonic score from Williams to give the story the gravitas of a sci-fi epic.
“George Lucas wanted a western that takes place in space,” Gittleman said. “If you’re going to have a western, you’ve got to have a big western-style score. That film came out in 1977 and movie soundtracks with big symphony orchestras were kind of passe at that point. There was a lot of rock ‘n’ roll soundtracks and sort of electronic soundtracks so for John Williams to go seriously old school here was a big deal.
“It reminded people of what movie soundtracks could sound like when you had a big orchestra,” Gittleman continued. “It was part of the film’s appeal and the success of the show sort of reopened the gate for more of that sort of thing.”
Student of the form
Gittleman notes that Williams was a student of classical music and drew from many different composers.
“It’s interesting because he’s a composer who has his own style, in terms of big gestures but he uses a lot of old fashioned techniques,” Gittleman said. “He’s got music motifs for different characters just like Wagner had in his operas. He has composers of the past who are obviously favorites of his that he likes to, I wouldn’t say steal from, but he drops little Easter eggs for musical people.
“It’s not in this movie but when you hear the Ewoks theme in ‘Return of the Jedi,’ it’s Prokofiev,” Gittleman continued. “There are other bits and pieces of other composers he works in there and not in a rip-off sense the way Hans Zimmer sometimes does.”
Williams also draws from other film composers.
“It’s really in tribute to the old fashioned kind of movie scores by Bernard Herman, Franz Waxsman and all those great composers of the mid-20th century,” Gittleman said. “Many of them escaped from Europe and went to Hollywood and brought their sensibilities to the great classic movies, Max Steiner and ‘Casablanca’ and that sort of stuff. Williams is very much in that tradition. He grew up in the Hollywood music writing.
Wookiees, Storm Troopers and more
This concert is a first for Gittleman, who has been with the Dayton Philharmonic since 1994.
“There’s a lot of great John Williams music out there but I’ve never actually done one of his movie scores like this so that’s exciting,” he said. “I’ve done lots of movie shows but none with John Williams music. We were supposed to do ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ a couple of years ago but that got wiped out by COVID. I’m actually working on putting the final touches on what we’re going to play in the program ‘John Williams and Friends’ in June.
“That will be a survey of some of the great music that was written for the movies,” Gittleman continued. “There’s also some great music used in movies but not written for film like Scott Joplin’s ‘The Entertainer.’ Another part of the art is figuring out what is the right music to capture the right mood. Sometimes that’s just as hard as writing original music to do the same thing.”
The “Star Wars” program is also the DPO’s annual Halloween show.
“This is filling in for the PhilharMonster concert,” Gittleman said. “Hopefully we’ll have lots of kids in ‘Star Wars’ and other costumes in the audience. Members of the orchestra usually dress up for the PhilharMonster. It would be natural to have Wookiees, Prince Leias and Storm Troopers on stage but we’re actually prohibited by the Disney company from doing that. They want the presentation of the show to be clean and free of gimmicks. We’ll be politely dressed in black, but the audience can completely go to town.
“We’re going to have the local group of Imperial Storm Troopers out in the lobby,” Gittleman added. “They won’t be part of the show, but they will be participating on Sunday afternoon. That will be fun for everybody. And if people want to wear a costume on Saturday night, go for it. My only caution to people dressing up in costumes is if you’re going as a Wookiee, make sure you’re not blocking the person behind you. And if you’re coming as Jabba the Hut, keep your tail in your own seat.”