Arts & Culture

Wichita Symphony salutes ‘Star Wars’ in its ‘May the Fourth’ concert this weekend

She deals with independent films as part of her day job, but at nights, Gray Brand is a full-fledged “Star Wars” geek.

“I’ve been the person waiting for eight-plus hours for a ‘Star Wars’ movie at the Warren” Theatre in 2015 for “The Force Awakens,” said Brand, marketing and communications director for the Tallgrass Film Festival. “It’s pretty much in line with my personality.”

Brand will be the host of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s pops concert of “Star Wars” music this weekend.

“The music does a great job of enhancing that universe and making the story exciting,” she said.

Brand said she doesn’t feel like there’s a difference between the “Star Wars” movies and the films she promotes at Tallgrass.

“I think any movie is a good gateway for the cause, whether it’s an independent film or a big-budget film like ‘Star Wars,’” she said. “If they’re getting people in theaters talking about stories and connecting with people through that experience, I’m on board.”

MC Gray Brand.jpg
Gray Brand, the marketing and communications director for the Tallgrass Film Festival, will host the Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s pops concert of “Star Wars” music this weekend. Kacy Meinecke Courtesy

Wichita Symphony conductor and music director Daniel Hege said that when programming the pops concert to conclude the season, the calendar made the program a natural fit.

“To perform this concert on May the 4th is a masterstroke already,” Hege said, referencing “May the force be with you,” one of the films’ many iconic lines. “May the 4th is the big nerd-out day for all the ‘Star Wars’ geeks.”

All eight of the “Star Wars” films will be represented in the concert, Hege said. The series’ “most identifiable song,” its main title theme, will open the performance, and “The Throne Room/End Title” will conclude it.

“I basically organized the pieces so they work musically from one piece to the other,” he said. “It’s not necessarily in the order chronologically.”

Hege said going against the order of the movies creates a more fluid concert.

“We have some slow, beautiful music like ‘Rey’s Theme,’ ‘Leia’s Theme’ and ‘Yoda’s Theme,’ but we also have fierce music that it wouldn’t be complete without – ‘Imperial March,’ ‘Darth Vader,’ ‘Phantom Menace,’ ‘Duel of the Fates,’” he said. “Those are intense and exciting.”

The original “Star Wars” soundtrack in 1977 was the first tape Hege bought for his cassette player, and he says he wore it out before watching the movie for the first time.

“This music is super fun to conduct and to play,” he said. Soundtrack composer “John Williams just knew so well how to make an orchestra sound great. He has great melodies and an ability to get the sound and the drama across. It’s practically unparalleled in film music writing today. He’s at the pinnacle of film music composition today.”

Hege had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with Williams at the composer’s California home in 1992, while the former was getting his start in conducting.

“He’s the most humble, genuine gentleman you can imagine. So polite and kind,” Hege said. “He made me lemonade in his kitchen.”

While they spent the time talking about conducting – Williams is most famous as the maestro for the Boston Pops – Hege said he avoided talking about his many film compositions.

“I didn’t want to fan out too much,” Hege said with a laugh.

Hege directed a concert of Williams’ music two years ago, and the May the Fourth concert will be like that, with no visuals above the orchestra.

“It was a sellout crowd and people just loved listening to the music. We thought, ‘You know what? That works just great,’” Hege said. “People love the music so much they don’t have to see the movie.”

The symphony is encouraging audience members to dress up in their favorite “Star Wars” costumes. Hege said it’s been suggested to him that he could direct with a light saber instead of a baton, but he’s undecided whether he’s going to be in garb.

“People see a conductor as more of a Darth Vader character,” he said. “I’m not interested in wearing a black helmet for the whole concert.”

Brand, meanwhile, said she’s undecided about whether she’ll wear a costume. She has “bits and pieces” of various wardrobes but “not one cohesive costume.” She said her Wichita home reflects her “Star Wars” passion, with several light sabers on display.

“It takes you into a totally different place,” she said. “The wide spectrum of characters is really interesting and creating this whole new world to escape to is really appealing to me. On top of that the art form that goes into the making of these movies – all the special effects, and the music and the talented actors.

“Overall, it’s an exciting universe to be able to escape to,” Brand added.

The ninth, and believed to be final, installment and conclusion of the triple trilogy, “The Rise of Skywalker,” is scheduled for release on Dec. 20.

“I’ve watched the trailer probably a hundred times,” said Brand, who isn’t mourning the conclusion of the films.

“I look forward to the many re-watches that are in my future,” she said. “I don’t think ‘Star Wars’ will ever be over.”

‘MAY THE FOURTH BE WITH YOU’ BY WICHITA SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas

Tickets: $45-$80, from wichitasymphony.org, by phone at 316-267-7658 or at the symphony box office

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