Cincinnati Pops Music Hall
September 11-13, 2009
The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra conducted by Jack Everly
Anthony Daniels, Narrator
‘A John Williams Spectacular’
Star Wars Suite edited and compiled by Erich Kunzel
J.S. Bach Air from Suite No. 3
John Williams Call of the Champions
Hymn to the Fallen, from Saving Private Ryan
arr. Kunzel When the Saints Go Marching In
John Williams Star Wars
Episode I: The Phantom Menace
The Adventures of Jar-Jar
The Flag Parade
Duel of the Fates
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Across the Stars
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Battle of the Heroes
Episode IV: A New Hope
The Little People
Princess Leia’s Theme
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)
Han Solo and The Princess
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Luke and Leia
Parade of the Ewoks
The Forest Battle
Star Wars Main Theme
Encore: Cantina Band
By Adam Thomas
The concert began on a solemn note, as the founder and conductor of the Cincinnati Pops, Erich Kunzel, passed away less than two weeks before the concert. The strings’ unconducted performance of the Bach work accompanied a video presentation dedicated to Kunzel, a master of the Pops genre. It was truly the softest and most heartfelt performance I have ever heard of the Bach Air.
With the arrival of conductor Jack Everly (of the Baltimore and Indianapolis Pops Orchestras) and the May Festival Choir, the concert moved on to a more uplifting note with the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics theme, Call of the Champions. I was pleased to hear this work, to which the choir added a joyful energy. I spent part of the piece feeling that the timpanist was being a little timid, but by the final measures, he let loose and did not disappoint. His performance for the rest of the concert was a real highlight for me.
At this point, there was a special video message from John Williams, speaking on the passing of Kunzel. It was a nice surprise to hear from the Maestro, and a fitting tribute. Hymn to the Fallen was then performed, with a more powerful, Williams-esque ending than the soft conclusion featured on many recordings.
The concert was supposed to include music from E.T., Close Encounters, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but they were left off the revised program. I absolutely understood the need for revision, due to the circumstances, but I couldn’t help being a little disappointed to not hear a live performance of The Adventures of Mutt, which I think would have added a nice energy to the show.
The first half ended with stirring performances of the Olympic Theme (using Williams’ fanfare, rather than Bugler’s Dream) and an unconducted rendition of When the Saints Go Marching In, Kunzel’s own arrangement which started as a Dixieland-style group of soloists and branched out to the entire orchestra. The orchestra seemed to have as much fun as the audience! The only disappointment I had with the first half is that it seemed to go by so quickly…
When the orchestra announced the start of the second half with Alfred Newman’s 20th Century Fox Fanfare, the audience knew they were in for an hour of The Force and great music. The afternoon’s host, Anthony Daniels, (C-3PO himself!) arrived on the stage in his (appropriately) golden jacket, and after a brief mention of Kunzel, proceeded to entertain the audience with a few stories. He even took a humorous but unsuccessful turn at conducting the orchestra (he said of the baton, “This thing’s broken!”), but quickly passed the conducting responsibilities off to Everly.
As Daniels narrated the story of the Star Wars saga, the orchestra painted a picture of George Lucas’ classic story through the music of John Williams. From the prequel selections, Anakin’s Theme andAcross the Stars were moving, and I was particularly impressed by the full ensemble’s presentation ofThe Flag Parade. Definitely a highlight of the concert for me.
The May Festival Chorus added so much just by being present for Duel of the Fates and Battle of the Heroes. Both were thrilling. Although both are in my top ten John Williams pieces, I typically find Duelto be the (slightly) superior work. However, I was completely blown away by this performance Battle of the Heroes. Hearing the tense strings and sinister horns during the opening measures took me back to May 2005, eagerly anticipating the release of Episode III. Kudos to the Pops and the May Festival Chorus for outstanding performances of both works.
For the Classic Trilogy selections, I found The Imperial March performance to be excellently powerful (with surprise visits from members of the 501st Ohio Garrison and Rebel Legion Midwest Base, in full costume!), Yoda’s Theme playful and sentimental, and The Forest Battle, though performed a bit slower than I was used to, an exciting climactic moment, especially in the spiraling accelerando, well handled by Everly and the Pops. And how can you beat the full orchestra having fun with Cantina Band as an encore?
Everly had big shoes to fill as a conductor, and did so admirably. Daniels mentioned that he was sure Kunzel was with us in the hall that afternoon, and his spirit was evident in the performance. Daniels himself was enjoyable, pointing out with pride any moment in the story when C-3PO was important. Who better to tell the story than the one man who appeared in all six films?
I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting with Mr. Daniels briefly before the concert. He was incredibly kind, and I will always be grateful for his generosity in spending just a few minutes with this Star Warsfan. Star Wars has always been my favorite movie, C-3PO my favorite character, and John Williams my favorite composer, so this afternoon couldn’t have been more exciting for me.
I consider the music of Star Wars one of the reasons I got into music education as a career, and it was great to hear a high quality ensemble perform the works so well. It was a great tribute to the amazing talents of John Williams, as well as to the spirit of Erich Kunzel. Bravo, congratulations, and thanks to the Cincinnati Pops, May Festival Choir, Jack Everly, and Anthony Daniels for bringing a wonderful afternoon of music to a very receptive audience. May the Force be with You!