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The North Carolina Symphony’s Resident Conductor, William Henry Curry, has organized a summer pops series that’s nothing if not eclectic. Thematic flights to Britain and Broadway, a light survey of European repertoire, an Independence Day-themed dose of American classical pieces, and guest artists like country crooners and duo piano players make for bustling Saturday nights at Regency Park’s Booth Amphitheater. But Saturday’s performance drew primarily from the kind of repertoire that made pops, well, popular — that is, film music.
Summerfest’s third installment, “2007: A Space Odyssey,” included celestially-themed classical pieces and flashy excerpts from film and television scores. Josef Strauss’ 1868 “Sphären-Klinge” (“Music of the Spheres”) waltzes, the Finale of Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 ( the “Jupiter”) , and two selections from British composer Gustav Holst’s The Planets dazzled alongside a slew of excerpts from the work of the patron saint of the American film score, John Williams, and an encore of themes from the Star Trek shows and movies. In addition to Williams’ music from Superman, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, movie music on the program included the proclamatory fanfare from Richard Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathustra,” the essential theme from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Jerry Goldsmith’s reverent “The New Enterprise” from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Summerfest’s June 9 debut performance relied solely on classical hits; music not easily recognizable to the casual patrons picnicking on the lawn of Booth Amphitheater, and so overplayed that the oppressive humidity was enough to sap the performers of the necessary enthusiasm. This time, the orchestra sounded much more comfortable, performing with the sharp focus and nuanced delicacy that marks regular season indoor concerts. From the evocatively evil strains of Williams’ “Imperial March” at the start of the first half through the first iteration of the lushly triumphant chorale in Holst’s “Jupiter,” and the otherworldly soundtrack to the unveiling Starship Enterprise, the orchestra dazzled an eager audience with fantastic playing and a few throwaway gags to heighten the already festive atmosphere. Audiences who turn out only for cheesy pops can frustrate musicians and more regular patrons alike, but in this case good programming made it easy for performers and listeners openly to share the same objective — to have a good time with some great music.
With this program, fluffy though it may seem at first, the NCS struck a compelling balance between edification and entertainment. The diverse program, spanning more than two centuries, was unified by a current of awe running through each piece. Weightier classical pieces complimented flashy, action-packed film scores so well because this music was written to convey humanity’s connection to the unknown. It’s musical mythology, whether Strauss’ nimble waltz or Williams’ universe-sized themes, striving to connect us to our own solar system or a galaxy far, far away.