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PRIMER | The Mississauga Symphony Orchestra: A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away...

By Brian Chang on March 22, 2018

The opening crawl of the Star Wars films has the same music for all eight Episodes. The iconic trumpet and brass fanfare ignites emotions and feelings amongst movie-goers like few other pieces ever have, and probably ever will. John Williams has had the privilege to write all eight scores over the last 40 years. He has already been commissioned to write the score for Episode IX, due in 2019. The Mississauga Symphony Orchestra (MSO) brings life to the galaxy we all love, full of X-Wing battles, evil Sith lords, and heroic Princesses.

“These are the original charts. Divided by episode for the concert,” shares Denis Mastromonaco, Music Director of the MSO. He’s joined me prior to their weekly rehearsal to talk Star Wars at the Living Arts Centre. The MSO returns to the Star Wars galaxy after a sold-out visit in 2016. Such an incredible demand two years ago has led to a repeat concert that now includes music from Episode VIII, The Last Jedi.

Mastromonaco and I talk about the unique and masterful ability of Williams to create signature sonic experiences for the movie characters. “The great thing about these pieces is that they are descriptive,” he shares “They are character themes. Not unlike Wagner. When you hear Leia’s theme; you know it’s hers.”

“The leitmotifs and character themes carry through to the movies if you listen very carefully. There are hints of these. Anakin for example in Episodes II and III, bits of Vader’s theme are heard. You can really pinpoint “here is Luke’s theme or here’s Leia’s theme” if you listen closely.” If I were to sing Rey’s theme to you, you’d recognize the tune instantly, present throughout key scenes in Episodes VII and VIII. William’s signature ability is to create these themes that are so ingrained on our movie experience, even if we aren’t totally aware of the impact.

There is so much interplay and listening required of the orchestra at any time. The thick orchestrations mean that even while so much is going on, the most important melodies must always be heard. “Williams uses strings to create this bed of sound,” shares Mastromonaco, “either sitting softly beneath horn solos or other wind passages. At other places when the brass have the solos, the strings become percussive.“ Think about the famous “Duel of the Fates,” very much a song that features the brass with percussive strings. For most of the song, the strings are on a 5-note pattern that increases in dynamic range but the same percussive pattern throughout. Above this, grand articulations from the brass and other winds drive the action. Unfortunately, the MSO does not have a choir for these performances. The instrumentalists do make an effort though, bringing to life some of the voicings in the “Great Municipal Band” sequence of Episode I.

John Williams can create these difficult works because it is a film score, orchestras aren’t expected to play through it all straight. “It’s taxing on the players,” says Mastromonaco, “the battle scenes in Star Wars are the most difficult. They look fairly straightforward on paper but putting them all together is challenging.” “Here they Come” is one such piece that Mastromonaco highlights. It’s when all the TIE fighters appear in the Death Star battle in Episode IV. And it isn’t just the battle scenes, the “Parade of the Ewoks” is a challenging piece to line up with all the percussion at play and even a toy piano.

Star Wars music has it all: spine-tingling brass soaring over the “Main Titles”; jazzy fun in the “Cantina Band”; hopeful love in “Across the Stars”; the devastating “Battle of Heroes”; and the thrilling celebration of the “Throne Room and End Titles” of Episode 4. The MSO will bring all of this to life over its concert. This is an exhausting concert to play through. Fun and exciting, but a hard play.

The Mississauga Symphony Orchestra is a community orchestra that rehearses and performs out of the Living Arts Centre. With so many high-calibre professional orchestras in the GTA, the MSO is not another TSO or COC Orchestra. It is as Mastromonaco describes, “an orchestra of humble roots. It’s an orchestra that isn’t based in Toronto. We’re not a professional orchestra. The point is to bring music to the masses in Mississauga. That’s an important part of our mandate, to bring high-quality music to our community. We have people from Hamilton, Oakville, Burlington, York Region, and Toronto.” For trips to classical Europe or Yavin 4, the MSO means people in Peel region don’t have to go very far to find good music.

Also, we’ve been told Han Solo, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and several Princess Leias might make appearances.

March 24, 8 pm. The Mississauga Symphony Orchestra presents the music of all eight Star Wars films. Hammerson Hall, Living Arts Centre, Mississauga. www.mississaugasymphony.ca


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