BURLINGTON – Perhaps the Vermont Symphony Orchestra should dedicate all its concerts to John Williams or other pop composers? Or maybe it should invite Troy Peters, the Vermont Youth Orchestra’s stellar conductor 1995-2009, back again?
For the VSO’s presentation of “Star Wars and Beyond: The Music of John Williams,” Saturday at the Flynn Center, not only sold out, but received likely the loudest and most raucous response of any of its concerts in recent memory — throughout the program.
Part of that was undoubtedly the familiarity of the music to the all-ages audience. It didn’t hurt that Peters and the VSO delivered the John Williams experience, performing with real flair. (Peters suggested that most of the players, like him, grew up with “Star Wars.”)
Nine of the most popular parts from five of George Lucas’ “Star Wars” films comprised the second half of the program, beginning with the glorious “Main Title” from the initial “Star Wars: A New Hope.” Peters programmed the selections with an ear to building to the triumphal grandiosity of the final “The Jedi Steps and Finale” from “The Force Awakens.”
Breaking that along the way were more introspective segments, the lovely “Princess Leia’s Theme” from “A New Hope” and the gorgeous “Yoda’s Theme” from “The Empire Strikes Back.” Conversely, “Duel of the Fates” from “The Phantom Menace” was downright exciting.
Williams’ music for the “Star Wars” films is symphonic, like the greats of Hollywood’s golden age, and he’s one of the finest orchestrators of our time. However, extreme emotions from intimate tenderness to explosive power are avoided so as to not overpower the film, and his harmonic language is quite conservative even for film.
That said, the visual and emotional coloring of the music is brilliant. I suspect that much of Williams’ inspiration for his “Star Wars” music came from Stanley Kubrick’s use of Richard Strauss’ tone poem “Also Sprach Zarsuthstra” for his 1968 “2001: A Space Odyssey.” It’s not a bad choice for inspiration. (The problem with using classical masterpieces is that the film can be forgotten in favor of the music.)
The program opened with the brilliant 1986 “Liberty Fanfare” written for the Centennial of the Statue of Liberty. Though the only music on the program not written for film, it easily could have come from one of his film scores, with its overt emotion building.
Other familiar tunes included “Adventures on Earth” from “E.T.,” “Raiders March” from “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and highlights from “Jurassic Park” (with guest dinosaurs). Still, the most beautiful music of the evening was the tender “Prayer for Peace” from Steven Spielberg’s “Munich,” concerning the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics.
Sometimes symphony orchestras will slack off when playing music not meant for the concert hall, as if it were beneath them. But Peters and the VSO gave it their best and played their hearts out — and the audience responded in kind.