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Music

Conducting a live Star Wars soundtrack thrills this super fan

Six-time Emmy Award winner Mark Watters speaks with CNET about directing a live orchestra soundtrack for Episode IV: A New Hope.

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The musicians must make sure they don't drown out the dialogue.

Faeries of the East

Epic space opera Star Wars wouldn't be the same without John Williams' iconic soundtrack.

From the menacing brass and timpani beats of the Imperial March to the resoundingly triumphant Star Wars theme that has you cheering along, the music of Star Wars resonates strongly with fans.

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Mark Watters saw the original Star Wars 17 times the summer after its release in 1977.

Courtesy of Mark Watters

And if you think there could be nothing better than watching the films as a live orchestra plays the soundtrack in a concert hall, you are on the right track, so to speak.

There have been at least 200 such performances in cities Tokyo, New York and London. This time around, the latest Star Wars film concert will take place in Singapore. 

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope will play for two nights at the iconic Esplanade Concert Hall on Dec. 14 and 15 and feature Emmy Award winner Mark Watters conducting a 70-member orchestra.

Watters has an impressive pedigree as both composer and conductor and has served as music director at two Olympics. Watters also co-conducted the 2002 Academy Awards with Williams.

CNET spoke to Watters to find out more about how it's done. Below is a slightly edited transcript of the conversation. Be sure to check back for our review.

Q: How is conducting this film concert different from a normal concert
Watters: The difference is that the orchestra is accompanying the film so the performance has to match John William's original recording exactly.

Is it tricky trying to balance the volume of the music to the sound from the film?
Watters: Sometimes it is. John is very sensitive to composing music that is supposed to be "under" dialogue, but there are times we have to adjust. Fortunately, there is a top-notch audio engineer who has control over the dialogue and the sound effects.

Most people don't notice the soundtrack until it comes to very pivotal moments -- the music is very much at the back of the mind. How does this change your conducting?
Watters: That gets back to the dynamics and the way the original score was arranged. Larger moments will have everyone playing at a loud level while dialogue sections are scored with far less players and they are directed to play this softly.

Have you been enjoying your time conducting the Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope in Concert?
Watters: I graduated from college the summer Star Wars premiered. I saw it 17 times that summer! It was the film that inspired me to pursue being a composer.

What's your favorite highlights from conducting the soundtrack?
Watters: I love John's themes! He has a theme for Luke Skywalker, for Princess Leia, for Darth Vader and so on.

How do you handle the "dead time," or is there always music playing in the background?
Watters: There isn't much. I am concentrating as much during these short pauses because I don't want to miss my entrance.

I assume you're a Star Wars fan yourself. What's your favorite piece from the movies?
Watters: I love them all! I suppose the first one, A New Hope, is my favorite only because it was such a thrill to see it for the first time.

What's your favorite piece to conduct in Star Wars?
Watters: I suppose it is either the Main Title or my favorite piece of music from all of the Star Wars movies, the famous Asteroid Field chase from Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back. I think it is as dazzling as any piece ever written.

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