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Symphony blasts off to a galaxy far, far away

The Spokane Symphony performs the music of “Star Wars” on Friday night. (Associated Press)
The Spokane Symphony performs the music of “Star Wars” on Friday night. (Associated Press)

The music of “Star Wars” is inseparable from the iconic characters and settings it accompanies, and John Williams’ celebrated musical scores are instrumental in bringing George Lucas’ universe to life. The second you hear Darth Vader’s menacing theme or the rousing brass fanfare of the opening title sequence, you’re immediately transported to a galaxy far, far away.

On Friday, the Spokane Symphony, under the direction of Morihiko Nakahara, will present a special program consisting entirely of Williams’ famous “Star Wars” compositions. The evening’s musical lineup includes selections from each of the series’ seven episodes, including last year’s “The Force Awakens.”

Nakahara said he was familiar with the franchise’s music – the symphony has featured plenty of Williams’ compositions in past programs – but he admits that he hadn’t seen any of Lucas’ landmark science fiction features until recently.

“Having been born in 1975, I should have been in that generation that grew up with it,” Nakahara said. “I grew up in Japan, and it’s a huge deal there. It wasn’t until the last six or seven years that I actually saw the original trilogy.”

But an encyclopedic knowledge of the series isn’t required to enjoy the symphony’s upcoming concert. Williams’ scores capture both the triumphant spirit and sense of wonderment present in the films, and many of the series’ well-known characters – Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Yoda – have their own distinctive musical themes.

“That concept only works if the melodies are memorable, and they definitely are,” Nakahara said. “They evoke such vivid and sometimes raw emotions, and those motifs became synonymous with key characters and key plot moments.”

“The Force Awakens,” which is already one of the highest-grossing films of all time, is both a new installment in the “Star Wars” saga and a fawning tribute to the lore of the franchise. The most recent additions to the “Star Wars” musical canon are similarly reverential, and Nakahara said pieces like “Scherzo for X-Wings” and “Rey’s Theme” pay homage to and directly quote what came before it.

“There are many allusions to the themes that will be familiar to fans of the original trilogy,” he said. “They all make an appearance in the new score, which is kind of interesting. We don’t see that as much in the popular standalone movements from the earlier trilogies.”

Williams isn’t simply defined by his involvement in the “Star Wars” canon. He’s written some of the most recognizable musical themes in cinema history: You can instantly hum his work from “Jaws,” “Superman,” “E.T.” and the “Indiana Jones” and “Harry Potter” films, and he’s racked up a whopping 50 Oscar nominations over the years. (Only Walt Disney received more nominations.)

“He and his orchestrators obviously know exactly how to write for maximum effect,” Nakahara said. “There are these powerful brass fanfares with these soaring horns – there are so many horn moments in this program. It’s noble at times, soaring above everything else.”

The “Star Wars” concert will likely attract a wider age range than your typical symphony classics showcase, and Nakahara hopes that children and young adults might be inspired to explore more symphonic music.

“I know people of all ages who are such huge ‘Star Wars’ fans,” he said. “When people hear the mighty sound of an orchestra through a program like this, it really plants the seed.”

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