Philharmonic launches its audience into an orbit of another world

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By Tom Lego | For the Republic
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ad you asked me to wear masks maybe two years ago at a columbus indiana philharmonic concert with a space oriented theme i would have told you i wouldn’t be surprised to see a mask from dark Vader or Stormtrooper in the audience for this opening show which took place on Saturday at the Judson Erne Auditorium. We had no idea how much would change from the planning of this concert until now.

The first concert of the 2021-22 season has been a great way to help make orchestral music accessible, especially to those who may not realize they even like it. Today, music has often been surgically cut into specific genres, which often leads us to reject it before we have even listened. Music should be enjoyed according to our ears, not its etiquette. The film music for the Philharmonic Night of “Star Wars,” “ET,” “Apollo 13,” “Moon River (from“ Breakfast at Tiffany’s ”)” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” have all become familiar to us.

A few generations ago, William Tell’s Overture introduced classical music to many of us who have seen a hero who wore a different type of black mask and rode a horse named Silver. Much of the classical music loved by this generation has been experienced through the soundtracks of our films. For most of the last half century, John Williams has composed much of this iconic film score that we have come to appreciate. For most of us, we quickly associate these themes with times and places in our lives. The music shared that night allowed us all to escape to different times, places and worlds.

How exciting to hear this music performed live. Throughout the evening, auditorium director John Johnson helped create an ambient mood with twinkling stars as a backdrop and moon images on the walls.

Overall, the concert was a very pleasant experience. Let me share a few more highlights from our evening’s trip.

For space movie buffs, or perhaps Elvis fans, the only good way to start a show like this is through the construction phrases from Strauss’s work “Also Spach Zarathustra”. We all waited patiently for the most famous eardrum solo in history (next to perhaps “George of the Jungle”). We were not disappointed. It was a night when the brass were going to practice and the intricate rhythms and musical phrases would keep us all spellbound as we were invited to travel.

From this came a very familiar medley with the highlights of the movie “Star Wars”. The brass was very impressive and the brass section led by Scott Holben made this music soar.

In a very interesting lineup, Bowden then took us on a journey of how other composers have interpreted space over the past two hundred years. Claude Debussy’s masterpiece “Claire de Lune” paints a magnificent portrait exploring the nocturnal landscape with images that emerge as our eyes adjust to the moonlight. Piano (Tim Stephenson), harp (Melanie Masher) and lush strings blended wonderfully, carrying the melody of this work throughout Alfred Reed’s arrangement.

The first half ended with two powerful moves from Holst’s “The Planets”. These sounded like the soundtrack from a George Lucas or Steven Spielberg movie, but Holst composed this 30 years before either man was born. With “Mars” we have an exciting front row seat in the battle. The orchestra did a great job keeping the intricate passages throughout the 5/4 piece. Matt Williamson’s tenor tuba solo sounded a call of “Charge!” while the brass responded enthusiastically by following him into battle.

The second half of the show began with the familiar music of “ET” and his adventures on Earth. In our minds, we saw Elliott with ET in the basket of his bike and ET trying to “call home”. Fun music, well played by a very energetic orchestra. You can feel the energy and joy that the musicians felt while playing this music. As Bowden explained, this music is a love theme that Williams works out as masterfully as the themes of battle and war.

The music for “Apollo 13” should remind all moviegoers that traveling with Tom Hanks is never a good idea. It always seems to be lost, stuck, or abandoned. We enjoyed this “space” music which is probably not as well known as many of Horner’s other films (Titanic, Braveheart, Star Trek, etc.), but the orchestra helps us imagine both a sense of admiration and pride in the heartbreaking and heroic work of NASA and the Apollo crew.

Arrangement by Dan Powers on Mancini’s 1961 “Moon River”. was lovely. The only thing I was missing here was Andy Williams’ voice. The lush strings and arrangement of this waltz made me less eager to dance than to take a reflective flight over the moonlit river below. Lush strings, woodwinds and harp support a beautiful bugle melody featuring lead trumpet Eric Rodriguez.

The conclusion of the evening brought us back to the “Star Wars” loop.

In fact, at the end of the concert, as Bowden stepped out to greet, he turned to the orchestra and shared a “Star Wars” themed encore. A wonderful way to end the evening with all of us humming the tune as we walked towards a beautiful full moon gracing the evening sky. It seemed so fitting.


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