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‘Slavedriver’ conductor rehearsing orchestra

Swelling violins, crashing timpani, dramatic brass, subtle woodwinds, penetrating voices.
Pippa Williams conducts the Strathcona Symphony Orchestra

Swelling violins, crashing timpani, dramatic brass, subtle woodwinds, penetrating voices.

All come together in those glorious, unforgettable tunes that conjure images from the star-filled silver screen.

The monumental sounds galvanize our memories of legendary cinematic moments and transport us to other worlds: a haunting film noir set in Los Angeles, a historical fiction set in revolutionary Russia, a biopic of a simple Vietnam veteran, and a fantasy of an urban superhero who leaps tall buildings.

The Strathcona Symphony Orchestra’s Salute to the Silver Screen this weekend has it all in an ambitious and rousing concert that is guaranteed to elicit our deepest cultural experiences in film. The Nanaimo Youth Choir adds their amazing voices to this SSO production — a collaboration that promises a richly textured soundscape.

“The idea for this concert originated with some of the younger members of this community orchestra,” says conductor Pippa Williams. “It’s a natural part of their social-networking culture. They are absorbed in images and music.

“So when they came up with this suggestion, I thought, why not? Some of these musical scores have a sense of timelessness; some have survived in films that orchestra members have never seen. Some I’ve never seen, for that matter.

“So, I felt a kind of obligation to introduce them to ‘the movies,’ to explore some of the musical ideas found in one of the most pervasive aspects of our popular culture.”

The orchestra and choir launched into the project with gusto, beginning with rehearsals last September that found them immersed in film scores from the 1940s to the present.

“I’m not sure they knew what they were getting into,” remarks Williams with a smile. “I’ve been a bit of a slavedriver.”

To add to the complexity of the mix, she enlisted the talented Nanaimo Youth Choir. “That involved a bit of ‘give and take’ and through the wonders of modern technology, recording the two parts for each group, we’ve managed virtual rehearsals that bring together orchestra and voices.”

The SSO’s enthusiasm for the Salute to the Silver Screen project is infectious as it energetically explores other worlds in a vast medley based on John Williams’ score for Star Wars (1977), which includes Princess Leia’s Theme, selected by the American Film Institute as the greatest American film score of all time. Reviewing Williams’ filmography — for which he holds the record for the most Oscar nominations for a composer — the orchestra also selected Williams’ Superman (1978) score with the many leitmotifs that reappeared in all five films about the man of steel.

Moving into film history from this generation, the SSO invited the Nanaimo Youth Choir to join them in another John Williams award-winning score, Double Trouble from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004).

“It’s a ferociously difficult piece,” said Pippa Williams, “but they carry it off brilliantly!” Expect this part of the concert to come complete with special effects.

The SSO program also includes the haunting melody by David Rankin from the film Laura (1944); the oft-recorded love theme from The Sandpiper (1965), Shadow of Your Smile by Johnny Mandel; and the iconic theme from Doctor Zhivago (1965), Lara’s Theme by Maurice Jarre. Canadian composer Howard Shore is represented with his symphonic music from the Lord of the Rings (2001–03) trilogy, for which he won three of his more than 40 Academy Awards.

For the romantics in the audience, the SSO performs a neat arrangement of the late Henry Mancini’s Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). For the cult-minded, they will accompany the Nanaimo Youth Choir with standards from the final music written by Rogers and Hammerstein — The Sound of Music.

In stunning arrangement by Jay Bocook (Movie Spectacular, 1992), the SSO seamlessly and beautifully knits together a compilation of scores from Batman (Danny Elfman, 1989), Dances with Wolves (John Barry, 1990), and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (Michael Karmen, 1991).

Described by Williams as “a red-carpet extravaganza,” the Salute to the Silver Screen promises an Oscar-style ambience and an eclectic musical tour through film history.

The evening concerts are Jan. 28 and 29 (doors at 6:30 p.m., concert at 7), and an afternoon concert is on Jan. 30 (doors 1:30, concert at 2).

All performances are at The Old Church Theatre, 755 Harmston Ave. in Courtenay.

Tickets are $15 from Sound Advice, Blue Heron Books, Videos ’n More, or at the door.

— Strathcona

Symphony Orchestra