A New Hope for the Philharmonic

Music and cinema collide to bring a unique viewing experience


Everyone remembers that opening shot of Star Wars: The title flashes onto a black screen. Stars twinkle in deep space. There is a blast of brass instruments, overlapping into triumphant crescendo. The main theme is one of the most memorable overtures in history, as familiar to Americans as the National Anthem. The Star Wars score, originally composed by John Williams in 1977, has inspired generations of fans.

This month, the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra will perform the score live – while the full movie is screened behind the musicians. Conducted by Lucas Richman, the event will in introduce audiences to the wonders of an in-house cinematic orchestra.

“There are some incredible film scores out there,” says David Beauchesne, executive director of the RI Philharmonic and Music School. “Many are as complex and as moving as any symphony, and yet they rarely get performed. There’s some logic to that, because out of context they often lack the power they possess when presented
with the film. Likewise, movies are not as compelling unless they possess a great score.”

Synchronizing live instruments and moving pictures was once a common practice, especially during the silent era. Today, this combination is a special treat, especially for a movie as beloved as Star Wars. The performance nicely complements an accessible 2019 season; the TACO Classical series will present favorite classics like Rossini’s William Tell Overture and Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and the Amica Rush Hour is designed for music lovers with busy schedules. Last month, the Philharmonic performed for a screening of one of the Harry Potter films, showcasing another John Williams composition. No other screenings are scheduled for now, but the Star Wars event sold out so quickly that symphony added a  matinee performance.

Beauchesne was five years old when the film came out, and he eventually convinced his mother to let him watch it; Star Wars was the first film he ever saw in a movie theater. Decades later, Beauchesne still holds its music in high regard. And although the instrumentals must rigidly match the action on screen, the experience is thrilling to everyone involved.

“The musicians in the orchestra have pointed out that one of the reasons the score is so good is because it is so hard to perform,” says Beauchesne. “John Williams knows how to write for an orchestra. He uses the full range and capacities of every instrument, which makes it challenging for each performer, as well as satisfying for both the musicians and the audience when the music is played well.”

May the force be with them. Star Wars: A New Hope in Concert performs March 9 at 2pm and 8pm at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset Street