The Star Wars Suite – Groningen

Concerts fully dedicated to film music are still rare in the Netherlands, but I have the impression that they are getting more attention lately: the annual ‘Evening of the Film Music’ is moving to a bigger venue and all the Star Wars and Potter movies with live orchestra are selling out all the time. Still, I was surprised when a Star Wars concert was announced in my hometown. There were two things I noticed straight away: The first was that it was going to be held in our theater and not in our main concert hall, and secondly, it would be performed by an East-European orchestra and choir, instead of a Dutch one. With my curiosity triggered and with the venue in biking distance from my home, I decided to attend.

Right from the start of the concert, I knew that it would be different than a lot of similar events that I have attended. The concertmaster usually takes time for all the musicians to make final tuning adjustments, but on this night, conductor Raymond Janssen jumped right into the music from Spider-Man as soon as he entered the stage. The first half, which was labeled as a ‘pre show’ in the program, contained all kinds of popular film music pieces, mostly by John Williams and Hans Zimmer. The Gladiator piece consisted of two parts: first, a suite with music from the movie, followed by the song “Now We Are Free,” with the choir singing the lyrics. “Dry Your Tears, Africa” from Amistad was very pleasant to listen to with the orchestra and the choir. When Schindler’s List is being played, it is usually the concertmaster who is given the honorable task to play the violin solo, and this concert was no exception. Being a tuba player myself, I have to mention that I was hoping for another great solo in Jaws from my fellow tuba player, but sadly the solo was done by the French horn player instead. For Game of Thrones, all the cello players joined in to play the solo from the main theme, which is a very good solution as it gets the melody heard. Also, the choir was singing during this piece adding an extra layer to the beautiful cue.

After the intermission, it was time to do the title of this concert justice by playing music from the Star Wars movies. Before this concert I was already informed by friends, who went to this concert earlier in this tour, of what was about to happen. As you may or may not know, the music for the three oldest movies does not contain a choir. Therefore, it came as a surprise for many people in the audience that the choir was singing lyrics over “Imperial March,” which is definitely not in the original score. It was not the only piece where a choir part was added, as you could also hear them sing during  “Main Theme,” “Throne Room and Finale,” “The Flag Parade” and “Across the Stars.” For the second Star Wars trilogy, composer John Williams has written pieces with a choir, which were performed in this concert as well. It was a delight to hear both “Duel of the Fates” and “Battle of Heroes” as they are meant to be – with a choir. The other Star Wars pieces were also played admirably. The musicians really looked like they were enjoying themselves on stage while playing their parts. Especially during “Cantina Band” their enjoyment became very visible, as you could see the smiles on their faces while they were performing. This piece had been arranged for the whole orchestra and was quite fun to listen to. The other Star Wars cues were the regular favorites. The final piece on the program was another iteration of “Imperial March” with the choir and also the encore was a repetition: “Cantina Band” ensured that the audience left the hall with a smile on their faces.

I have been to many film music concerts throughout Europe, but this concert was very unique. When I took a glance at the orchestra, the first thing I noticed was how young the musicians were. It felt to me like they were on a holiday trip combined with concerts in the evening. It really looked like they were having a great time on their trip and it showed in their music. There were some mistakes here and there, but that always happens in a live performance. The choir had a wider range in age, but the singers also seemed to have a great time. The venue in Groningen is not really a concert hall: it is more of a theatre and because I have performed on that stage myself, I can say that it is not really suited for orchestras. You could hear that some sections of the orchestra were amplified, which resulted in some balance mishaps. I can imagine that the sound quality was far better in ‘Het Concertgebouw’ in Amsterdam, which is one of the best concert halls in the Netherlands and has hosted this very concert twice.

Unfortunately, this concert created quite some confusion among the audience due to poor advertising. Many people expected a whole evening of Star Wars music and most of the public concert announcements gave no reason to think otherwise. Only certain web pages and the official printed program (available in the lobby, but bought by very few) held the information that half of the evening’s music would be from other films. In order to help to mend at least some of the confusion, I wrote down “Star Wars in the second half” in my notebook so that I could show it to people near me who were really confused about the non-Star Wars pieces. I knew almost all the pieces that were played, but a lot of people in the audience had no clue. I even had to go into a deep search on the internet after the concert to find the name of the piece “Taras Bulba,” which is a Ukrainian opera composed by Mykola Lysenko.

It was very hard to make up my mind about whether I liked the choir in the Star Wars pieces, and I came to the conclusion that I did not like it. I prefer the regular versions as they were written by John Williams for the movies. Especially in “Across the Stars” the inclusion of the choir did not work at all. It is such a delicate piece with solos for oboe and harp, and the choir’s broad sound simply drowned the delicacy of the solos in the orchestra. However, judging from the audience, I was probably in the minority and I am quite curious if I would have liked the choir more if I had attended this concert in Amsterdam.

One thing that I would also like to mention is that The International Symphony Orchestra from  Lviv, Ukraine and the The New Romanian Symphonic Choir are not well-known in the Netherlands and they traveled a great distance to a sold out concert hall in the Netherlands to give a film music concert. I have to admit that Star Wars is a popular franchise in general: attracting a more diverse audience who is not only into film music. I just do not understand why our local professional orchestras are not able to give these kinds of performances. There is clearly a demand for these concerts, so why not simply give them? I hope the Dutch orchestras are aware of this tour and take note. We could always use more film music concerts like this one.

Concert information

Where: Martininaplaza – Groningen, the Netherlands
When: November 19, 2018
Orchestra and Choir: International Symphony Orchestra Lviv and The New Romanian Symphonic Choir conducted by Raymond Janssen

Program

  • Danny Elfman – Music from Spider-Man
  • Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard – Suite from Gladiator
  • Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard – “Now We Are Free” from Gladiator
  • Mykola Lysenko – Ouverture from Taras Bulba
  • John Williams – Main theme from Jaws
  • John Williams – “Dry Your Tears, Africa” from Amistad
  • John Williams – Theme from Schindler’s List
  • Ramin Djawadi – Main theme from Game of Thrones
  • Vangelis – 1492: Conquest to Paradise

Intermission

  • Star Wars
    • Imperial March
    • Main Title
    • Anakin’s Theme
    • Battle of the Heroes
    • Luke and Leia
    • The Asteroid Field
    • Across the Stars
    • Cantina Band
    • Princess Leia’s Theme
    • The Flag Parade
    • Yoda’s Theme
    • Throne Room and Finale
    • Duel of the Fates
    • Imperial March
    • Cantina Band (encore)

Author

  • Anton is the editor-in-chief and founder of Soundtrack World. After writing about film music occasionally, he thought it was time to create his own site to celebrate music from film but also other media. Next to working on this website as a hobby Anton has a full-time job in IT and plays the tuba in a local orchestra.

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