The Empire Strikes Back in concert with the MSO

A long time ago in a city far, far away a young boy went to his very first movie at the cinema, an epic of duelling starships, aliens and a mysterious power called “The Force”.

The year was 1980, the movie, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, the city, Melbourne and the young boy was me aged six.

My best friend Dishan and his father picked me up from home and together we drove into the city for a night time viewing of the second Star Wars movie. I recall loving it, but being rather confused at some points. Why was (force ghost) Obi-Wan Kenobi good at the beginning and evil (hologram Emperor) later on? What should I call the dog walker vehicles (AT-ATs)? And… Well, I can’t remember because it was such a long time ago.

Afterwards I used the small amount of pocket money given to me by my parents to buy a Kit-Kat.

And so began my long love affair with Star Wars and its music.

I saw the Empire Strikes Back at least twice more in Melbourne, saw Star Wars on video and then at the cinema, queued up for Return of the Jedi. Even though we then moved away from Melbourne I managed to return to view Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith and The Force Awakens at cinemas there.

In my mind the movies, the music and Melbourne are inextricably linked. When I hear Yoda’s Theme I am always taken back to the elegant southern city of my birth, recalling the yearning to return from my many years of exile elsewhere in Australia.

So despite watching The Empire Strikes Back in Concert with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra back in July I knew I had to go down to Melbourne to see it there as well.

When it comes to performing film music I have always sensed a resistance and lack of respect from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, whereas the opposite is true from the Melbourne Symphony and that was another incentive to head south.

Prior to the Sunday matinee concert the three members of The Art of the Score, comprising the conductor Nicholas Buc, Andrew Pogson of the MSO and Dr Dan Golding, held a highly informative pre-concert talk. I admit that, despite my passion for film music, I rarely analyse it, so I learned a lot from the talk and will be downloading their podcasts in future!

The Dad Joke level humour was also much appreciated and it was great to have a chance to talk to the team.

Meanwhile, in the lobby there were Stormtroopers and Imperial Officers, along with a jazz band doing a fine rendition of the cantina music from the first Star Wars movie.

The performance was held in The Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre’s Plenary, a huge venue that I’d previously sat in for a couple of Doctor Who concerts. Unlike in Sydney, this time I was seated in a premium row close to the stage with a perfect view of both the movie and the orchestra. The acoustics sounded fine to me with great definition of the individual instruments.

Seated next to me was Dr Golding of The Art of the Score, a nice surprise. I’ll apologise for any incoherence in my conversation, coming off an overnight trip on a train.

Armed with the knowledge from the talk I had fun identifying elements within the score, keeping a closer eye on the orchestra than on the film itself. One surprise was how often the piccolo features in the score, from that very first rendition of the Imperial March soon after the opening credits (which I never realised until it was pointed out) onwards.

I don’t know what to say about the performance itself except to say that it was as close to perfection as you can get, an incredible feat considering that the music is performed in real time. Studio recordings are done over days and weeks with the best performances edited together.

I left the concert feeling like the effort and expense of getting there was fully justified. It may be 38 years since I first saw the film, but today I was a young boy feeling the thrill of seeing and hearing one of the best movies and scores of all time all over again.

Onwards to Return of the Jedi!

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