Saturday, February 17, 2018

Star Wars in Concert with the SSO

For so long have I waited for this concert series. The original Star Wars trilogy played by a live orchestra.

I grew up with Star Wars. Yes there are lots of people that can say that these days. I have it, my son has it, his sister has... Well no, she doesn't because he doesn't have a sister. But you know what I mean. Star Wars was what introduced me to the music of John Williams, was what opened my mind to the world of film music.

Unfortunately, it seems like the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (and many others in Australia) has decided that the only time they'll now perform film music is in front of the source film, complete with dialogue. I'd rather just focus on the music without the dialogue and the visual distraction, but beggars can't be choosers.

So I payed far more money than normal for a movie ticket and bought premium seats at the first of the concert series, Star Wars A New Hope in Concert.

This was my first visit to the venue for the performance, the new International Convention Centre in Darling Harbour rather than the Sydney Opera House. The entrance displayed the concert name on the big screen, giant lightsabers were setup for a photo op with characters in costume and an area set aside for Jedi lightsaber training.

Inside were other characters in costume. We had our photo taken with a huge Chewbacca. There was a Darth Vader and stormtroopers and even a George Lucas lookalike with an R2D2 unit.

Then we filed into the cavernous hall and took our seats. The orchestra gradually took their places, eventually joined by young conductor Nicholas Buc, who introduced the concert with the help of a couple of stormtroopers.

The Twentieth Century Fox prelude sounded and the concert began.

When comparing the soundtracks to the three original Star Wars movies the first of them always sounds a bit "thinner" than the others, as if the orchestrations weren't quite so full. That was true here as well, so perhaps it is not just the sound quality of the original recordings. There were times to that I wondered if the sound was coming direct from the orchestra or via the big overhead speaker installations.

I know the music intimately after four decades of listening to it, but I didn't mind that sound levels from the different sections of the orchestra didn't quite match the original recordings. It offered an element of novelty and highlighted hitherto unrealised contributions, especially from the piano.

The music itself is rich and complex, tearing my eyes from the screen to watch the strings racing or the brass and woodwind in unison was fascinating.

Yet there was something missing in the performance. Maybe it was the acoustics, but I felt like the orchestra just wasn't contributing as much as it should. The real letdown was in the performance of the final credits, which was messy and lacking in love and energy. I've heard it performed so many times by this orchestra and others, but I've heard it better. It was a disappointing end to a much anticipated night.

Maybe I should look to go down to Melbourne for the subsequent performances. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra hasn't failed me yet and it is my spiritual home for Star Wars...

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