It is often said that the soundtrack for a film is its oxygen, and nowhere is that more apparant than in Star Wars. John Williams was of course the man responsible for composing the scores for the nine Skywalker movies which really give the saga its lungs. Williams is arguably the greatest composer of all time and famed for the soundtracks to the likes of Jaws, Indiana Jones, Superman, E.T., Jurassic Park and Star Wars plus many, many more. You know that though!
In the last couple of years there have been some classical music concerts in Tokyo celebrating the magic of John Williams. I was unable to attend those but when I saw the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra would be performing a show last month I made sure I snapped up a couple of tickets when they were initially released.
As a child watching the original trilogy for the first time in the mid-80s I didn’t notice the soundtrack but that sure changed when I re-watched them on rental video back in the mid 90s. I now own all the Star Wars soundtracks on CD, and have listened to over 60 episodes of ‘The Magic of John Williams‘ on the ForceCast Network podcast where the hosts wax lyrical about the maestro himself, and play a mix of famous and less known tunes. This concert, taking place at Suntory Hall in Minato-ku, was all about the former though.
On the short walk from Roppongi-itchome station (Namboku Line) to the concert hall I was expecting to see a steady stream of attendees in Star Wars t-shirts but they were hardly any. Even once we were inside I only noticed a small number of people in such clothing items. There wasn’t a single cosplayer either! Definitely a more sophisticated crowd than I’m used to!
We took our seats in the 2000 seater hall which is supposedly one of the best in Tokyo for the acoustics and sound. Not something I was able to notice but my wife (a trained pianist) could! I’ve never seen so many people sit in the wrong allocated seats and sure enough we were eventually moved on by staff too!
Despite having a huge back catalogue of film scores, it was actually the theme music Williams composed for the 1984 Olympics that kicked things off before the MC took to the stage and interviewed conductor Keitaro Harada for a bit.
Two absolute classics followed then in the form of famous themes from E.T. and Indiana Jones. I was hoping we’d get to hear the likes of Jaws, Superman and Jurassic Park in the “…and beyond” part of the show but instead it was Harry Potter all the way up until the break. This was no doubt joyful for the majority of the audience as it is a hugely popular franchise but sadly it is one that I have only ever seen the first movie from! I should make it clear that the setlist was written in the programme so I was aware beforehand what was on the agenda.
There were no gimmicks here such as having a giant video screen. When you’ve watched the films so many times you don’t need the pictures to know the scenes involved! The focus is on the orchestra and conductor only. Watching the latter is always of particular interest for me as a man with zero musical ability or experience of note. I still don’t understand what the conductor does exactly but it’s a joy to watch! My binoculars also allowed me to get a real up-close look at who exactly was playing on certain tunes.
The first part of the show lasted about 50 minutes and there was then a 15 minute interval which was needed for me to stretch my legs as the seats were a little restrictive for me.
Part two was what I was really there for though and it was Star Wars music all the way. The first eight saga films were all represented in some way with half of it being from the original trilogy. ‘Duel of the Fates‘ from ‘The Phantom Menace‘ (1999) is one of my favourites but that was sadly not performed. I wanted to sing and add the missing choir parts from ‘Battle of the Heroes‘ not that I can I know what is actually being sung!
A lot of extra musicians (steel drums and clarinets were noticable for me) joined to the left of the stage for ‘Cantina Band‘ which is so different to all the other tunes with its Afro-Caribbean feel. Audience participation occured here as the conductor getsured for the crowd to start clapping which was fun.
My wife often says she has goosebumps or whatever after hearing tunes but it had never happened to me at all. Not until ‘Yoda’s Theme‘ was played directly after the upbeat ‘Cantina Band‘. The change in mood gave me emotions which I’ve never felt at a concert before which was related to the scenes between Luke and Yoda in the film.
The programme listed ‘The Rebellion is Reborn‘ from ‘The Last Jedi‘ (2017) as being the final piece of music which I thought was a strange choice when there are so many more crowd-pleasing classics like ‘The Imperial March‘ on the slate. However, there was an inevitable encore and ‘The Throne Room/End Credits‘ resulted in a more fitting and satisfying finale.
After two and a quarter hours (including the interval) we exited the concert hall with the rest of the crowd into a busy market right outside and went home humming many of the classic John Williams scores we had just heard.
(Part 1) The Olympic Spirit; E.T. Flying Theme; Indiana Jones Raider’s March; Harry Potter – Hedwig’s Flight; Hogwarts Forever; Voldemort; Nimbus 2000; Fluffy & His Harp; Quidditch; Family Portrait; Diagon Alley; Harry’s Wondrous World.
(Part 2) 20th Century Fox Fanfare; Star Wars Main Theme; Anakin’s Theme; Across The Stars; Battle of the Heroes, Princess Leia’s Theme; Cantina Band; Yoda’s Theme; The Imperial March; Han Solo & The Princess; Luke & Leia; Rey’s Theme; March of the Resistance; The Rebellion is Reborn; The Throne Room/End Titles.
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