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Spokane Symphony’s ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ finally enters a galaxy near you

UPDATED: Thu., May 5, 2022

Resident conductor Morihiko Nakahara will lead the Spokane Symphony in “Star Wars: A New Hope in Concert” at Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.  (The Spokesman-Review archives)
Resident conductor Morihiko Nakahara will lead the Spokane Symphony in “Star Wars: A New Hope in Concert” at Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. (The Spokesman-Review archives)

After two years of postponements, “Star Wars: A New Hope in Concert” is bringing “the force” back to Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox. Resident conductor Morihiko Nakahara will lead the Spokane Symphony through John Williams’s iconic score as the film plays on screen above the orchestra.

Conducting a live orchestra while keeping time with a film is hard enough as it is. It’s a little like conducting an opera where the singers onstage can’t hear you. But add in the level of technical difficulty that comes along with a John Williams score, and you’re really in the thick of it.

On the one hand, there’s very little freedom – you don’t have much room to spend a little more time on this or that note. Luckily, in this case, only Nakahara has to use a “click track” with this particular score

With an animated film, “Bugs Bunny,” for example, “we are really tied down to the beat,” Nakahara said.

But here, as long as Nakahara narrows in on the major “goalposts,” the orchestra can keep a little more flexibility without falling behind.

“It’s probably one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve done,” he said. “But it’s also fun.”

Usually, an orchestral musician might get to play the “Main Title” or “Princess Leia’s Theme” every now and then between concerts. But in a full-length play through – being allowed to experience the whole score from start to finish – you suddenly begin to hear more of the subtle elements.

“It’s such a great opportunity for us,” Nakahara said. “To be able to hear all of the things that didn’t make it into the all-time hits … all these details and colors and sounds that John Williams was able to create – background details you don’t often notice while you’re watching the movie.”

Williams’s “Star Wars” scores are particularly powerful, Nakahara explained, because he makes use of nearly 50 leitmotifs, musical devices announcing the presence or development of a specific character, most popularly associated with Richard Wagner and his “Ring Cycle.”

“The first time you know, first time you hear for instance, the main theme or that Princess Leia is seen onscreen, they’re very subtle,” he said. “But when you watch again, you see all of these essential themes play out as we see that development, consistently throughout the entire saga.

“But even within the context of one film, you’ll have these recurring themes. … I think that has a powerful connection … that’s that genius of John Williams.”

“We’re all looking forward to it,” he said. “The brass players especially.”

The two performances are at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets for the original performance dates are automatically valid for the new dates. For more information, visit spokanesymphony.org, hover over “Tickets & Events” and select 2021-22 Concerts & Series, or call the box office at (509) 624-1200.

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