Long Beach Symphony Musicians Lend Their Talents to STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS Score

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Image courtesy of the Star Wars official Facebook page. 

A not-so-long, long time ago (this past summer), in a city not too far, far away (Los Angeles), several Long Beach Symphony Orchestra (LBSO) principal musicians sat down with legendary composer John Williams to lend their talents to the score for easily the most-anticipated movie of the year.

They may not be Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes, but Roger Wilkie, Alex Iles, Phillip Keen, Gary Bovyer, Jenni Olsen, Doug Tornquist, Heather Clark and Katia Popov are all seasoned LBSO players, and each contributed to the soundtrack for Star Wars: The Force Awakens—premiering worldwide this Friday, December 18.

Now, thanks to a CBSNews 60 Minutes “Moment of the Week” released Sunday, fans of the beloved franchise can watch a Hollywood scoring session with both Williams and director J.J. Abrams in the studio.

Roger Wilkie, Long Beach Symphony concertmaster and Alex Iles, principal trombonist, spoke with the Long Beach Post about their experience as instrumental players in the music made this past summer to complement the continuation of George Lucas’ saga on the silver screen.

Iles, who has played for many talented composers for many renowned films and television shows, including Planet of the Apes, Frozen, 127 Hours, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Incredibles, Animaniacs and LOST, just to name a few, said that before he received the call to participate, he was simply thrilled to find out the latest Star Wars score would be recorded in Los Angeles.

“Hearing that the score for [The Force Awakens] was scoring here instead of London was great news for our whole community!” Isles told the Post. “When I got the call myself, it was icing on that cake! It was not even on my ‘bucket list.’ I just never thought they would ever NOT use the great London Symphony Orchestra on a Star Wars film. Getting to be there in the trombone section was a fantasy I had really suppressed since I was in high school when the first [Star Wars] film came out!”

Iles, a Star Wars fan himself, says Williams’ 1977 score to the original Star Wars film was the “lightning bolt” moment that led to today’s continued use of orchestral scores in film, “that put the sound of the symphony orchestra back in filmmakers’ heads.”

Wilkie, who has served as concertmaster for John Williams’ orchestras since 2005, notably for Indiana Jones IV, Munich and Memoirs of a Geisha, and has performed in his film recordings since the 80s, spoke of working with Williams.

“He’s very demanding, always respectful, but demanding,” said Wilkie. “And I think there’s always an almost palpable feeling in the room that you are doing your best and you have to put out your best every second.”

Iles lamented that most musicians often feel disappointed while watching the final product of a film because “we all wish we could hear ourselves better,” but not with a composer like Williams at the helm. While some directors and composers prefer the score sit unnoticed in the background, Williams’ work supports and advances the storyline, yet also stands alone from the movie.

“When you hear his music, you instantly think of the film for which it was written,” said Iles. “Star Wars, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Schindler’s List, Memories of a Geisha, Catch Me if You Can, etc etc. We can’t help but see those films in our minds when we hear his music.”

Iles says they played the themes of some of Star Wars’ old characters for The Force Awakens, drawing applause from the orchestra each time they sight read the cues, and also heard and played the themes for several of the new characters, such as Finn, Rey and Kylo Ren for the first time. Iles described it as a “surreal and exciting experience.”

“Mr. Williams knows what he wants from a film score from the minute he steps out of the sound booth,” Wilkie stated. “Anytime working with John Williams is always a great experience because he really is a master. We go to work and there is never a note changed, or hardly ever.”

For more information about the Long Beach Symphony, click here. To learn more about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, click here.  

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Asia Morris has been with the Long Beach Post for five years, specializing in coverage of the arts. Her parents gave her the name because they wanted her to be a world traveler and they got their wish. She has obliged by pursuing art, journalism and a second career as a competitive cyclist.