April 17, 2016

Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage

A bit late writing this, but whatever. Saw this concert last week, but it's still been on my mind 'cause it was so cool!

Star Trek has been a phenomenon that I’ve loved since I was a little kid when my dad sat me down in front of our old boxy twenty-year-old television set and had me watch a few episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. A few years later, after going through a good portion of the franchise, he took me to see the New Mexico Philharmonic perform a stirring concert celebrating the music of the franchise, and it was super exciting, something that’ll stick in my mind as an important moment between me and my dad.

So when the Portland Center for the Arts subscription news email came in informing me that Portland would be doing an “Ultimate Voyage” concert, well, naturally I had to check this out. Schnitzer concert hall is awesome, aesthetically pleasing and has great open acoustics… a bit of a problem, actually, as the orchestra on stage performing this numbered only around 35 to 40 people, so their sound was constantly muted and muffled. But the conductor was excellent, very energetic and on top of his game, as he conducted the orchestra to picture—they played actual musical cues from the various shows and films while the scenes themselves played overtop of it, and while the use of clips was the weakest part of this, as the sound mixing was all over the place in terms of balance, it was a decent attempt at giving us something more to do than listen to the music. I personally would have been just as well satisfied had they just played the score without the clips; I think this music in particular is strong enough to stand on its own as a fine listening experience without the actual show getting in the way, even if the music was written as situational music.

But the highlight of the evening—for the general crowd, at least; I myself was giddy over about five different pieces—came when Ron Jones, veteran Star Trek composer who does some awesome work for up-and-coming musicians actually, came out and conducted the opening titles score to the video game Star Trek: Starfleet Academy. I don’t enjoy video game scores very much; unlike film scores, video game scores are often very long, repetitive (because missions and scenes and levels and such for the game can go on for a while) and don’t stand on their own very well. Obviously there are myriad of game music scores that can trump that argument (Zelda, for example, or Skyrim), but on the whole, it’s just not my thing. Also, having Star Trek as a video game seemed like an odd choice for me just on a medium level, and I thought this score would be bombastic and thrill-ride cliché numbers throughout. But no! Ron Jones cooked up a beautiful melodic sweeping piece for the game’s opening, incorporating the classic eight-note figure from the original Trek score into this in a great way. I loved how the atmospheric space-ness of the game got filtered through the orchestra—the strings were stars, the brass bold starships exploring the final frontier, the winds churning up visuals of orbiting planets and weird spatial anomalies and such—just the whole thing was beautiful to listen to. And bringing Ron Jones himself onto the stage was great! It of course invigorated the audience and also further cemented the fact that the music for this franchise was something special, something that could stand on its own, and was something that a lot of its contributing composers cared deeply about.

Other highlights of the night included the performance of Next Generation’s “The Inner Light” flute theme that was always a favorite of mine, the awesome end credits to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (the strings nailed all the high runs up there; that made me smile!), and of course the opening titles to all four Trek shows peppered throughout the concert. It was a good show, mostly for the nostalgia factor and the fact that I was hearing the scores to Star Trek live. While the orchestra was good, their small size meant that musically the performance felt a bit shallow, exacerbated I think by the fact that the audio for the clips playing was often too loud and covered up sections of the orchestra. Very unfortunate! I’m glad I got an album recording of this to listen to it again with proper mixing. Ron Jones’ contribution to the concert added a lot, I think, and his video game score had me taken aback and humbled in a way as it challenged my assumptions about the video game music scene. Overall, a good time, and a happy reminder of how awesome the Star Trek music has been over the course of the franchise’s 50-year existence!


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