On Saturday, October 24 at 7:30 p.m. in the Helena Civic Center, the Helena Symphony Orchestra & Chorale will present a concert of two seemingly unlikely pairings – the music Brahms coupled with the legendary film scores to John Williams’ Star Wars.
The concert opens with two of Johannes Brahms’ most eloquent and yearning works – his Song of the Fates and Song of Destiny. Brahms composed from personal experience, especially heartache. Like many Romantic artists, Brahms was plagued with what Beethoven called an “inner demon.” Beethoven lost his hearing; Tchaikovsky struggled as a homosexual with serious bouts of depression; and Robert Schumann went insane. Brahms suffered from a more common and perhaps more painful demon – loneliness. Ironically and tragically, he loved the wife of one of his greatest supporters and closest friends – the composer Robert Schumann. Artistically, the heartache and anguish sowed the seeds of several major compositions, Brahms’ major compositions for chorus and orchestra address matters of fate or destiny, and often the fragility of human existence. Brahms turned to harsher images by 19th century German poets that wrote about humanity as subject to the whims of the gods, suggesting a sense of fate that was out of our control, and he captured emotions ranging from desolation and isolation to resignation and acceptance.
The Song of the Fates for chorus and orchestra explores man’s struggles in the face of the gods’ complete indifference to our struggle. While there is a brief moment of harmonic brightness, the music returns to tragedy, ending with quiet utterances of sad resignation. Similarly, his Song of Destiny explores our own human error and mortality with wonderful comparisons of the joys humanity and despair.
“Even though we open the concert with a reality-check of how much of our lives are beyond our control and have inevitable, occasional suffering, our musical intrigue to fate and destiny is not always a dark road,” explains Music Director Allan R. Scott. “The music of Star Wars is one of the musical works of the last four decades that nearly everyone recognizes and relates. This performance is not so much to celebrate the films (even with the upcoming new film in December); rather, this concert is to show how Williams’ music to the films embodies exactly what so many composer attempt – an exploration of themes of humanity and our fate, destiny, and choices.”
Very few composers can claim to be true legends during their own lifetime, yet John Towers Williams has maintained international success, popularity, and fame for over a half of a century. Today, John Williams has won multiple awards and is one of the highest compensated artists today. In addition to all six Star Wars films (and the upcoming seventh film), he has composed the music for over 100 films, including: Lincoln, the first three Harry Potter films, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Amistad, Seven Years in Tibet, Nixon, JFK, Far and Away, Catch Me If You Can, Angela’s Ashes, Memoirs of a Geisha, Jurassic Park, Home Alone, Hook, Born on the Fourth of July, the Indiana Jones trilogy, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Superman, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws, and Goodbye Mr. Chips.
The success of Star Wars owes a great deal to Williams’ score that provided much of the continuity of the film. Seldom does a score so vividly paint musical pictures of such accessibility and precision that one becomes aware of the narrative through the music alone. In any given moment there is no mistaking desert for space, or spaceport for detention block. All of the film’s themes, quests, and philosophies very much exist in the music as they do on the screen.
Star Wars is a symbolic retelling of a basic myth that focuses on the growth and personal development of the individual. “The ideas in these films have little to do with science-fiction,” explains Maestro Scott. “The films are tapping into legendary themes and stories where the hero must struggle against society and culture as he struggles to understand his own self.” Symbolically, the struggles are often set in stories where the hero is an orphan who discovers the secret of his birth, battles larger (non-human) forces, faces his fears, and receives assistance from wise, older counselors. Ultimately, the hero matures into a patriarchal authority, often by destroying a faulty father figure who occupies the hero’s rightful place. Characters such as King Arthur, Oedipus, Harry Potter, and Siegfried (from Wagner’s Ring Cycle operas) all depict variations on this idea. Likewise, George Lucas used this hero formula in Star Wars with the main protagonist Luke Skywalker.
The films and most of their music centers around the mythological hero (Skywalker) and his relationships with his father Darth Vader (“Darth” being a variation on “dark,” and “Vader” is Dutch for “father,” or “Vater” is “father” in German), his mystical-like mentors, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, and his fate and destiny versus his own redemption. “This is nothing short of an opera,” explains Maestro Scott. “All of the components of incredible operatic drama are there, and simply by hearing Williams’ music without the films, we will gain a whole new understanding of this.”
Williams’ epic scores capture the themes of fate, destiny, and the mythological hero so brilliantly that the dialogue to the film is almost unnecessary in a sense. While the “films themselves showed us characters we hadn’t seen before and planets unimagined and so on, the music was emotionally familiar,” explained John Williams. In addition to the expected musical depictions of romance and adventure, the score more importantly portrays the hero’s bravery, inner struggles, facing of fears, abandonment, coming of age, and battle of fate and destiny. Just as Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, and Verdi have done before, Williams attempts to “force” us to see our own inner mythological hero and question our own fate, while we explore our own adventure.
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Season Tickets Still on Sale!
Special discounted packages are still available for the remaining five Masterworks Concerts. In addition to the upcoming performance, other Season highlights include exciting programs a tribute to Shakespeare for the 400th anniversary of his death featuring highlights from Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet ballet and Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream featuring celebrated Broadway actor Rick Wasserman; the return of internationally acclaimed Pianist Claire Huangci to perform Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 along with the very intoxicatingly popular Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov; and Beethoven’s prequel to his Ninth Symphony – his epic Missa Solemnis. The Season ends with a unique concert titled And the winner is…, where the audience chooses the program by voting for some of their favorite works of all time.
The Non-Series Concerts include the nationally-noted Symphony Under the Stars celebrating the 100th birthday of Frank Sinatra; the traditional Christmas in the Cathedral, and a showing of The Wizard of Oz film on the big screen accompanied by the HSO. In addition to the substantial discounts on season tickets, subscribers also receive the new Bring A Friend Pass, the The Art of Listening Newsletter, first access to Non-Series Concerts, and several other benefits.
Subscriptions and single tickets to the 2015-2016 Season can be purchased on line at helenasymphony.org, or by calling the Symphony Box Office (406.442.1860), or at the Symphony Box Office located on the Walking Mall at the Livestock Building (2 N. Last Chance Gulch, Suite 1) between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Subscription packages are available in several price ranges, and single tickets to Non-Series Concerts go on sale to the general public September 21.