Symphony to perform John Williams’ ‘Star Wars’

Conductor Daniel Hege will bring his love of John Williams’ music to the stage of Century II Concert Hall on April 22, for the Wichita Symphony’s pops concert.
Conductor Daniel Hege will bring his love of John Williams’ music to the stage of Century II Concert Hall on April 22, for the Wichita Symphony’s pops concert. Courtesy photo

As an 11-year-old boy raised in the southeast Idaho town of Aberdeen, Daniel Hege recalls a treasured present from his parents: a Panasonic cassette player and recorder.

But what sticks in his mind even more, 40 years later, is the tape that went with it – the soundtrack of the then-new movie “Star Wars.”

“My parents got me the whole soundtrack to that music as my first thing to play in that tape recorder in fifth grade,” Hege, now conductor and music director of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, recalled. “I started listening to the music long before I saw the movie. So that music immediately made an imprint on me.”

Even without images of lightsabers, droids or Death Stars to go with the music, Hege was hooked.

“The music just took a hold of me, the way everything is voiced from a technical standpoint,” says Hege, now 51. “At this age, I can look at the score and marvel at what a master John Williams is, and what he was at that time.”

Hege brings that four-decades-old love of Williams’ music to the stage of Century II Concert Hall on April 22, for the Wichita Symphony’s pops concert devoted to the 85-year-old composer who brought so many iconic sounds to the big screen.

The last half of the second act of the concert is all “Star Wars.” It begins with “Princess Leia’s Theme,” followed by the “Imperial March,” “Anakin’s Theme” and “Duel of the Fates” from “The Phantom Menace,” and concludes with the indelible music from the main title.

“In some ways it’s a little reverse from what you’d hear in the movie,” Hege said. “This is the closing. It’s such an iconic piece. You have to end with something so familiar that everybody’s waiting to hear.”

Also represented in the concert is music from “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Schindler’s List,” “Angela’s Ashes” and “Harry’s Wondrous World” from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Lest Muggles feel shortchanged by the pittance of Potter, Hege said, next season will make up for it with a Harry Potter pops concert on Oct. 7. (See related story.)

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“The music is so good it can speak for itself in many ways,” Hege says of Harry Potter tunes. “I can’t say that about all film music.”

Ten-plus days before the concert, the Wichita Symphony’s website reported that fewer than 150 tickets remained for the performance.

Hege said that’s especially impressive since none of the theatrical visuals from these films will accompany the performance.

“It’s a testament that this concert is selling extremely well and we’re not even showing the movies,” he said. “They’re only coming to hear the music.”

Each act will begin with pieces Williams wrote for Olympic Games: 1984’s “Olympic Fanfare and Theme” and 2002’s “Call of the Champions.”

Williams is equally known as the longtime conductor of the Boston Pops, which Hege says gives him a different perspective on the music.

“His handling of the orchestra is so masterful,” Hege said. “He knows how to write for the brass, so it hits them right in the wheelhouse of their ranges.”

Besides the orchestra, the concert also will include the 150-voice Wichita Symphony Orchestra Chorus, contributing to “Duel of the Fates,” “Dry Your Tears, Afrika” from the movie “Amistad,” “Hymn for the Fallen” from “Saving Private Ryan,” and “Call of the Champions.”

Michael Hanawalt, in his third year as conductor of the WSO chorus, says that Williams has defined modern cinematic composition.

“He created the palette from which current cinematic composers paint from,” said Hanawalt, director of choral activities at Wichita State University. “He created that soundscape and sound world, and everyone else has taken it and run from there.”

Hege compares Williams’ technique to that of Mahler, whose works the Wichita Symphony performed to great acclaim last week.

Both create “drama without words,” Hege said.

“You can find Mahler and Wagner’s fingerprints on a lot of film composers’ scores,” he said. “I’m not saying the theme was taken, but the nature of the music is certainly theatrical in Mahler’s writing.”

Williams, Hege said, creates music that doesn’t need much background or introduction.

“The music’s there,” he said. “You just listen to it in your mind. He’s able to create a scene so well without the visual part. When you do get the visual part, it’s all that much more powerful.”

Hege, who has conducted several other all-Williams concerts with other symphonies, said the hardest part is deciding what to leave out of a program.

“We’re just spoiled in riches with John Williams,” Hege said. “There’s so much rich, great, recognizable music.”

‘The Music of John Williams’ by Wichita Symphony Orchestra

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, April 22

Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas

What: The composer’s Olympic fanfares and selections from movies such as “Star Wars,” “E.T.,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”

Admission: $35 to $80

Information: Tickets are available at www.wichitasymphony.org, by phone at 316-267-7658 or in person at the symphony box office. Box office hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.