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Mr. Sulu does the Time Warp Again

SciFi George 1In space, no one can her you scream, but if you listen carefully you can often hear some very good music,

Certainly a highlight of their current pops season, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at Strathmore recently celebrated all things “geeky” with a Sci Fi Spectacular.   There were people in Imperial Storm trooper outfits outside the concert hall and plenty of lighting and laser effects inside the concert hall.  It’s not something you see every day at Strathmore.

And for once, the topic of science fiction stayed close to its roots - all too often the topic gets stretched to include Hogwarts style fantasy or Stephen King style horror.  With very few exceptions, if it did not include aliens or space crafts or some other SF staple like time travel, it was not included on this program.

That still gave conductor Jack Everly and the BSO plenty of room to maneuver.  It also showed a bright spotlight on the music of one film composer – John Williams.  Williams has won a ton of awards, and his scores for those classic Spielberg and George Lucas films are as iconic as the films themselves.

So it was no surprise that the show opened and closed with music from “Star Wars,” featuring one of the most instantly recognizable march fanfares ever written.  But let us not forget that simple five note theme to “Close Encounters” that is so hard to get out of your head once you hear it.  The score for the original Superman movie with Christopher Reeves showed that Williams had more than one march fanfare up his sleeve.  Plus the suite from “E.T.” reminded me that it has been a while since I’ve seen that landmark film. 

Everly mentioned how Williams brought the orchestra back into film scores – full of soaring strings and rousing brass fanfares.  For a while films were trending toward pure pop music, but at least for this type of epic adventure, an orchestral score is now almost mandatory.  I think it is also important how Williams developed memorable little themes for his films and constantly reused them throughout the score, almost like Wagnerian leitmotifs, adding an extra psychological dimension to the music.

But the evening was not all John Williams.  The snippet from John Barry’s score for the Time Traveling epic “Somewhere in Time” is as gorgeous a love melody as anything written by a Hollywood composer, and you cannot hear the opening to Richard Strauss’ tone poem “Thus Sprach Zarathrustra” without thinking about Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”  

The big name on this pops programs was our host and narrator, George Takei, best known as Mr. Sulu on the original Star Trek series.  Takei is certainly having a great post-“Star Trek” career these days.  Here he regaled us with often humorous stories about the early days as a cast member of the TV show, which led to a suite of Star Trek music scores written over the past decades.

In the second half we had a film score from one of the legendary Hollywood composers – Bernard Hermann.  From his suite from “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” we got floating strings and even electronic sounds (either a Theremin or synthesizer) to suggest outer space while heavy brass denoted the giant robot Gort.  Mr. Takei returned for one of the great moments in SF movie history – the final speech of the alien Klaatu offering an Earth then in the midst of the Cold War a very stern warning.

Also on board was vocalist Kristin Plumley for hitting those high notes very well – especially the main Star Trek theme.  There was also a group of vocalists called the Sci-Fi-ettes, because what is a space opera soundtrack without someone going “Ahhh” at one point.  However they had a great moment singing Sanskrit for an ominous Duel of the Fates from the John Williams score for “The Phantom Menace.”

But perhaps the best moment for us baby boomers was “Lost in Syndication,” a medley compiled by Mr. Everly of TV theme shows over the years.  “This will drive you crazy on the way home tonight,” Everly told us after the suite, and he was right.  I recognized quite a few tunes – X Files, Lost in Space, Twilight Zone, even the overlooked TV classic “The Outer Limits.”  There were several tunes that seemed familiar but I still cannot remember what they are.  It drove me crazy on the way home that night.

It would be easy to dismiss this as just movie or TV scores, let alone Science Fiction music.  But conductor Everly clearly enjoys this type of music and the BSO responded with enthusiasm throughout.  Science fiction at its best shows us our greatest fears but also our greatest hopes and aspirations.  The best film scores do the same thing, to the point that even if you never saw the original Star Trek series, you know that tune and what it stands for.

There are many concerts left in the BSO’s 2013-2014 season.  The remainder of the season features many intriguing works, including a lesser known Shostakovich symphony (number 12), the complete Brandenburg Concertos, and a pops concert devoted to the music of the Bee Gees.

For more information on the BSO season, call 1 (877) BSO-1444 or go online to www.BSOmusic.org

3 stars

By David Cannon

Mocovox Entertainment Critic

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