The Indiana Jones theme is a household tune, but the entire score of director Steven Spielberg’s first entry in the series, Raiders of the Lost Ark, is a historic entry in the canon of film scores. Its nuanced themes and arrangements conjure imagery of the primitive tribes, noir aspects, Middle Eastern locals, love interest, spiritualism, and fascism that are depicted in the film as well as demonstrating a nod to the serial adventures that inspired George Lucas and Philip Kaufman to write the story (refined into the screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan) 35 years ago. On Saturday night, costumed and civilian attendees packed Irvine Meadows to experience a screening of the film that launched the franchise performed with an orchestral accompaniment.
Constantine Kitsopoulos, who is in his eighth year as music director of the Queens Symphony Orchestra and is the general director of Chatham Opera, conducted the Pacific Symphony for the Raiders performance. This is not the first time the film has been screened with an orchestral accompaniment, but composer Williams’s blessing for this performance was included in the program notes: “I’m especially delighted that the magnificent Pacific Symphony has agreed to perform the music this evening in a live presentation of the movie.”
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Overall, the experience was wonderful. While it goes without saying that it is a privilege to see a classic action film on a large screen, with thousands of adoring fans in attendance, hearing an entire performance of one of John Williams’ best scores while watching said film is a rare treat. Naturally, not everyone demonstrated the appropriate reverence for the occasion. There were a few obnoxious jabberjaws who wandered in late, noisily fondled their plastic feed bags, and didn’t seem to notice that there was an orchestra performing.
Beyond those distractions, those intimately acquainted with the score probably noticed a couple of instances in which a single, stand-out trumpet blast did not ring out as triumphantly as it had in the original London Symphony Orchestra performance. Additionally, given the exactitude of much of the score, occasionally a musical hit slightly missed the onscreen punch or gunshot that it was supposed to have enhanced. However, given this was a live performance, without the multiple takes allowed when recording a film score, such discrepancies are acceptable (as was the low volume of the effects track in the sound mix).
Among the live performance highlights was “The Map Room: Dawn,” during which the complex arrangement seemed more discernible than in the original soundtrack recording. The irresistible and epic “Desert Chase” merited a round of applause and cheers. The brief musical cue that occurs when the Nazi insignia mysteriously combusts spontaneously was particularly chilling. And, of course, the “Raiders March” was highly satisfying.
As in the case of last year’s Star Trek performance, many people who don’t ordinarily go for classical concerts were induced to experience the kind of magic that only a symphonic orchestra is capable of conjuring. Future presentations of this nature will certainly provide a similarly wondrous sensation, and, gratefully, the Pacific Symphony is kind enough to continue showcasing works that were not only composed by brilliant composers like Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, and Wagner, but also by film composers like Williams, whose synthesis of these and other inspirations introduced countless film lovers to symphonic music.