Friday, February 6, 2015

Oregon Symphony Brings out Portland's Trekkers with Star Trek (2009)

On Friday night, January 31 the Oregon Symphony shared with Portland a project that is of special significance to a great number of folks around the world. J.J. Abrams' Star Trek  (2009) caused an instantaneous rift amongst Trekkers (or Trekkies, if one prefers the old term) when it first came out. Some saw it as an abomination, its one unforgivable crime being that it had the audacity to have an entire set of new, younger actors take over the beloved roles from the Original Series and its follow up films. Or maybe it was that it altered the original Trek timeline that led to the events portrayed in the Original Series. Or maybe it was that the style of the genre itself was rebooted--this was a sci-fi action film first and foremost. So there were a number of unforgivable crimes depending upon whom you ask. Or there were none (count me in this category of fan.) The one inarguable fact is that it re-enervated, in the general public's mind, a moribund franchise which had had no TV or motion picture presence for over 5 years--yet before that had had an unbroken string of 10 films since 1979 and 4 TV shows since 1987 (and that's not including the Original Series and an animated series in the 60s and early 70s)--almost inarguably the largest footprint of any Sci-Fi franchise in history.

Whenever the discussion of the Star Trek reboot films (this one and 2013's Star Trek: Into Darkness) comes up  there is invariably controversy, but amongst Trekkers I know, no one was complaining about this opportunity to see the OSO perform Michael Giacchino's thrilling score live, accompanying a screening of the 2009 film. Upon first hearing I was immediately excited that the Oregon Symphony chose to take on this production; I remember being glued to my chair at 6 years old in the late 70s, riveted by a TV show that took my imagination to places no other show could touch. I have seen every single Star Trek film in the theater since the first in 1979 when I was 7; that's 12 films over 34 years), and have watched hundreds upon hundreds of TV episodes over the years. So it was very personally thrilling to have the chance to support both OSO and Trek, two organizations that have brought so much joy to my life.

And many, many others share this view; there were Star Fleet officers scattered throughout the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, and while I was disappointed that I spotted no Klingons or Borgs in full battle array (I hope they were there and I just somehow missed them), it was fun to see so many enthusiastic Trekkers filling the hall. The orchestra was in the spirit as well: right before tuning up there came from somewhere deep within the woodwinds on the darkened stage the iconic, 4-note prelude to the Original Series theme song, bringing an eruption of laughter from players and audience alike.

Hearing a soundtrack performed live while watching a film is a thrilling experience. The OSO grasped this and imparted a sensation of the music being more immediate--more intense, menacing, pathetic, whatever the particular emotion of the scene. The difficulty lies in not drowning out the sound effects and dialogue, and with a group the OSO's size it's not an easy task. Still, for the most part the blend they achieved was just right, and the Pacific Youth Choir did an admirable job in their role.

It also takes a special conductor. While in opera or other staged musicals the actors/singers are (ostensibly) watching the conductor, there is no such collaboration with a film, so the director must be exacting and extremely precise--missing a cue by a fraction of a second could turn a scene into a confusing dud. Conductor Erik Ochsner has a tremendous amount of experience in these types of productions, and it really showed. The ability of the orchestra to segue in and out so seamlessly was such that at times, when engrossed in the film, it was easy to forget that all the music was being performed live. The OSO played up to its usual high caliber; in Giacchino's score there was tremendous work for the low brass, and the audience ate every bit of it up.

It's always fun to see the OSO step outside the bounds of what we think of a classical symphony orchestra doing, and especially so for this Trekker last Friday night. I'm a big fan of live to projection music; a local group Filmusik has been doing this on a smaller scale here for years and I've reviewed them many times, so it was great to hear a group like OSO tackle this project.

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