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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Symphony returns to galaxy far, far away in “The Music of ‘Star Wars’: The Symphony Awakens”

No matter how you feel about the prequels, Jar Jar Binks, the more recent anthology films or whether Han shot first, there’s no denying the music of “Star Wars” is as imperative to the franchise as the Force.

After a successful “The Music of ‘Star Wars’ ” concert in 2016, the Spokane Symphony, again conducted by Morihiko Nakahara, will return to a galaxy far, far away in “The Music of ‘Star Wars’: The Symphony Awakens” at 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday at Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox.

Until a few years ago, Nakahara was more familiar with the music of “Star Wars” than the films themselves.

“I kept conducting the ‘Star Wars’ music always with the caveat that I’ve actually never seen it,” he said.

It wasn’t until he watched the original trilogy a few years ago that Nakahara understood the hype.

Now each time he’s conducted a “Star Wars” concert in recent years, including a performance in August with the South Carolina Philharmonic, where he is the music director, that coincided with the solar eclipse, Nakahara has dressed as Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver in “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi.”

For these concerts, he’s updating his costume to reflect Ren’s look in “The Last Jedi.”

“I’ve always been fascinated by his character,” Nakahara said. “It’s easy. It’s black, so I can wear it for a normal concert almost.”

“The Music of ‘Star Wars’ ” will feature pieces from nearly every film in the original and prequel trilogies as well as from 2015’s “The Force Awakens,” the first film in the sequel trilogy, and 2016’s “Rogue One: A ‘Star Wars’ Story.”

The concert will also feature “Mars, the Bringer of War” and “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” from English composer Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.”

The driving, repetitive, almost menacing quality of “Mars,” Nakahara said, likely influenced Williams when writing pieces like “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme),” which will be performed during this series.

“It’s such a colorful piece because in ‘The Planets,’ he used the huge orchestra,” Nakahara said. “He got so many different colors out of the orchestra by combining different instruments to create new colors, so to speak, instrumental colors. It’s one of those pieces that has inspired a lot of film composers because it is such a visual piece.”

“Jupiter,” on the other hand, while still exciting and colorful, has a completely different feel thanks to the astrological views that associate Jupiter with jollity and buoyancy.

Unlike the first “The Music of ‘Star Wars’” concert, which focused primarily on music by noted composer John Williams, this series will also feature music from Michael Giacchino, who composed “Rogue One.”

Nakahara first became familiar with Giacchino through his work scoring Pixar’s “Up,” which earned Giacchino the Academy Award for Best Original Score.

“The orchestral suite is a beautiful, lyrical style, so maybe it’s not as dramatic as John Williams’ score to ‘Star Wars’…” Nakahara said. “It’s different colors too because a couple of the things that we are doing from it, for instance, features more solo writing, which you don’t necessarily get (from Williams’ scores)… It gives a different, more intimate feel to it.”

The “Star Wars” experience starts as soon as guests enter the Fox. Pre-show activities, which begin 90 minutes before each concert, include a photo opportunity in the cockpit of an X-wing fighter, the Mos Eisley Cantina, featuring Spokane’s RBMC Jazz Band as the cantina band, a robotic, interactive R2D2, Chewbacca, an Ewok and Han Solo.

During the show, musicians will play string instruments with lightsaber bows, and some members of the orchestra will be in costume.

There will also be projection mapping from Bellingham’s Sensebellum that will project images on the walls, ceiling, orchestra and audience.

“It takes so much,” Nakahara said. “Bethany (Schoeff), she’s our personnel manager, and her husband Dan (Cotter) is the second clarinetist in the orchestra, but he’s been our general manager for a couple years. Those two go way above and beyond. They’re like the heart and soul of this series that we do couple times a year where it’s based on something like ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘Star Wars.’ They make it into a very much interactive and fun event for the entire family.”

Nakahara said concerts like “The Music of ‘Star Wars’ ” take on a different energy than more formal symphony shows and said these concerts are a great way for someone who has yet to experience the symphony or the Fox to see what they have to offer.

“This is a perfect way to showcase that (the symphony) is not a world too far removed from ‘Star Wars’ or the music that people are familiar with,” he said.