Roderick Vonhögen's Virtual Edition ~ see things before they happen ~ Roderick Vonhögen's Virtual Edition ~ see things before they happen ~ Roderick Vonhögen's Virtual Edition ~ see things before they happen ~
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Title tba
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by Nathaniel Reed,  9/2005

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Welcome to
Roderick Vonhögen's
Virtual Edition
April 2009
Reviewing Star Wars : A Musical Journey
20th April 2009
It was very good, but..... :o)
First off, the event, which my wife and I saw on saturday the 11th of April, was most definately spectacular, on a vast scale befitting the vast Star Wars Saga !
In a large open section of the surrounding semicircle of the O2 Arena sat the Star Wars exhibition accompanying this event, uniquely selected and arranged, including costumes, props, models, artwork, scene-scrolling flat screens, and production and in-lore trivia scrolling on flat screens too. Some items had departed from the LFL Archives for the very first time, such as the two Jedi Master's Plo Koon and Kit Fisto ; and the scrolling trivia was unique to the show too, specially compiled and interspersing the source of the facts, be it film production or story mythos. Costumed members of the UK Garrison and the 501st were wandering around nearby more than happy to help arrange fans' photo opportunities.
Nearby was a merchandising stand, primarily offering the souvenir programme, T-Shirts, and Sweatshirts, as well as minor items like mugs and pins. My wife was saddened to see no themed lanyard for work this time ! The merchandise was unsurprisingly a little expensive, but presumably such items will solely accompany the event, and not be available elsewhere, or not for some time to come at any rate. I picked up the programme and one of the 'Musical Journey' T-Shirts, Vader's helmet outlined in silhouetted orchestral instruments - pretty neat design, I must say ! The programme was an A4+ size, and very high gloss, with a potted production history of the Star Wars films, brief biographies of George Lucas and John Williams, an excerpt from the comprehensive liner notes by Michael Matessino found in the 1996 re-issue of the ANH soundtrack, and an introduction to the accompanying exhibition. As ever with Williams' music, I'd love to read some articles on the scoring notation, analysing why his themes are so often instantly recognisable and indeed hummable ! Here seemed the perfect opportunity to look closely at 'Yoda's Theme' or 'Vader's Theme', for example.
Once we had taken our seats (following some re-arranging, ostensibly for "poor sight lines" but possibly more due to the fact the the second night wasn't completely sold out as the friday performance, which apparently held 20,000 audience), we listened to a medley of Ben Burtt's sound effects as an 'overture' ahead of the show.
And then the 86 piece Royal Philharmonic Orschestra, conducted by Dirk Brossé, struck up with the opening fanfare. Once Anthony Daniels joined the stage with his inimitable style to provide the accompanying narration, the London Concert and City of London choirs elevated the performance with the 'Duel of the Fates' and 'Battle of the Heroes' renditions.
Interspersing the musical sections, Daniels narrated the Saga, and whilst the musicians played, a huge LED screen, at 100 feet wide the largest in Europe and possibly the World, flanked left, right, and top by narrower margin screens, presented film scenes and occasional artwork and musician close-ups. There was a brief comic moment when Daniels waxed lyrical as he transgressed about a certain golden protocol droid, until a stern look from the 'exasperated' conductor brought him back on track !
Forty-five minutes later, a 30 minute intermission was followed by the second half, sans choir, and punctuated by green laserlight timed to the beats of the music. As the film scenes and music progressed into the Original Trilogy era, there were some sepia sequences showing the Prequels, for example, fading from Vader to Ani the slave boy and Anakin the Jedi before returning to the Dark Lord. A standing ovation concluded the rousing climactic fanfares, which were accompanied on the huge screen by the movie posters and their scoring dates.
This was Star Wars writ large, live orchestration and choir, movie clips played out on a huge screen, enthusiastic narration, vast auditoria ; and an exhibition of new and favourite material, as well as a sophisticated blend of production and saga trivia alongside stills, clips, and animated artwork. Two years of intense commitment from all the artists involved in bringing this grand production to fruition.
As I expected, much - if not all - of the material was essentially the bonus dvd disc 'A Musical Journey' that accompanied the Revenge of the Sith soundtrack release. There were some minor changes to the segment titling, the inter-connecting narration text, and, to my untrained ear, amended flourishes in the music cues.
I have compiled my own 80 minute cd of favourite Star Wars music themes, sequenced to introduce the galaxy and tell a story, but arranged to the music rather than the story chronology ; I can't help but feel something similar could have been composed, essentially taking this unique opportunity to present the Star Wars music mostly divorced where possible from the imagery specific to its cues, creating a concerto or a symphony where the music told the story not illustrated it. Where my home-made cd is restricted to relying on a blend of timed film cues and sweeping concert arrangements, this event could have allowed for Williams' existing music to be re-arranged into something far more organic and less restrained.
A good example of this is a cd track that I have [found in the 4 disc set 'John Williams 40 Years of Movie Music' compilation] on which is the 'Han & Leia love theme' from Empire that is the only full concert arrangement I know of for it, while all other recordings are cued to the beat of the film scene, which in this case crashes into the 'Imperial March' as Captain Needa meets his fate. Such an event as this brand new world-touring Musical Journey could have re-arranged this famous music into brand new concert-type themes, and ultimately be in addition to the ROTS bonus disc, adding to the pantheon of related material out there.
My wife commented it was a pity that the choir wasn't utilised in the second half, and I'd agree with her. Here we could have had the 'Emperor's theme' or the final stage of Luke's duel with Vader, or even the 'Order 66' lament ; or, taking my criticism above, 'Duel of the Fates' from Episode I could have been held back - or reprised - for the end stages of the closing material. The cynic wonders whether the laserlight addition was deliberately included to distract from and make up for the absence of the choir !
And in one sense, the vast size was its undoing : I have attended many orchestral concerts where the Star Wars music was played, and the auditorium, although large, generally enabled one to visually focus in on the musicians. In the case of this music, one can think of the flutist opening 'Leia's theme', or the harp work within 'Across the Stars' ; additionally, such performances aren't over-shadowed by a huge screen with flickering mesmerising imagery ! I'm being pedantic here, I know, for such an event as the 'Musical Journey', by its very nature, requires a large space to host it !
The 'Musical Journey' production was indeed very good, and I'm glad I attended..... but to my mind, it could have been better, if only by being different and therefore unique. The fact that too much of it is similar to what can be found on a soundtrack bonus disc that one could pop into a player any time, tarnished the experience for me. has this 'diary' entry, one of many, and detailing the debut opening night, from exhibition curator David Iskra - which also notes that George Lucas joined the audience for the saturday event ! - as well as UK fan and website master Mark Newbold's review from the friday performance. Mark is interviewed along with James Burns of by TFN for their 30 minute podcast here. This gives good honest coverage, and does indeed touch on the ROTS bonus disc.
You can discuss this event and review in the forum here !
Nathaniel Reed, 20th April 2009
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