A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

We spoke to film music specialist, and concert producer, Tommy Pearson about everything Star Wars ahead of next week's out-of-this-world programme...

You’ve had the opportunity to interview the Star Wars composer, John Williams – was there anything that surprised you about him as a person?

I’ve been lucky enough to interview John many times in the last 20 years or so; every time he has been quiet, courteous, modest and deeply thoughtful and intelligent - a true artist. I think most people who meet him for the first time are surprised at the genuine modesty, given that this is someone who has written the most famous and successful music in the world. What constantly surprises me is his ability to tell all the old stories about Star Wars, Jaws, Raiders and the others, over and over again but as if it’s the first time he’s ever mentioned them. That’s a real gift.

What is your favourite film score (apart from Star Wars)?

Actually, of the Star Wars films, I think the Empire Strikes Back score is the best; such a rich array of cues that I never tire of listening to. But the whole series is an astonishing - unique - achievement in film music. I have a few favourites (which I know is a bit of a cheat, but it’s impossible to pick one), but the ones I always seem to return to are:

  • Planet of the Apes (Jerry Goldsmith): one of the towering film scores, a serial score that sounds as fresh now as it did in 1968.
  • ET: my favourite John Williams score and surely the greatest of all time.
  • Psycho (Bernard Herrmann): because what would the movie be like without it?
  • Interstellar (Hans Zimmer): a modern classic, imaginative and unique, from one of the most experimental composers working today.

Batman Forever (Elliot Goldenthal): terrible film, astonishing score. Elliot threw everything at it. He’s one of my favourite composers.

But I could choose another 50 that I can’t live without…

Tommy Pearson.
Tommy Pearson.
John Williams and Tommy Pearson in 2012. Credit: Classic FM.
John Williams and Tommy Pearson in 2012. Credit: Classic FM.

How is the live film music experience different to a recorded soundtrack?

There’s nothing like hearing a full orchestra playing live! I get a lot of tweets during and after film music concerts that I present from people saying it was the first time they’d ever heard an orchestra live. That’s thrilling to know - that film music has brought them into the concert hall. Of course, it’s also great to hear this incredible music on its own without all the movie dialogue and special effects getting in the way! It’s an opportunity to enjoy the music for what it is and hear the skill of the composer. Plus, since with John Williams’s music it is always for really well known films, the audience can visualise the scenes in their heads while the music is playing. It’s a tremendous experience hearing an orchestra as good as the CBSO play this music. And in Symphony Hall particularly, it’s full-on - the depth and quality of sound really hits you in there.

I should also mention that Mike Seal has a real gift for conducting film scores and he’s such an exciting presence on stage. He always goes to the heart of the music - and does his research by actually watching the original films! - and it’s always so visceral in his hands.

Mike and I have known each other since we were kids, playing in the Kent Youth Orchestra, and we even shared a flat in Birmingham when I first moved there and he was at the Conservatoire. In fact, we were there when he got the job as violinist with the CBSO all those years ago. Sharing the stage with him is always special.

What order do you watch the Star Wars films in?

Well I’m old so I remember going to see the first one in 1977! And I went to see all the subsequent ones in order when they came out. I haven’t watched Ep 1-3 since they came out, put it that way. But I did attend the recording sessions at Abbey Road for Eps 2 and 3, with John Williams conducting the LSO. At one point, I found myself in the control room with just John, George Lucas and the engineer Shaun Murphy chatting away. I couldn’t believe it.

Which Star Wars character are you most like?

When I was young, I always wanted to be a Stormtrooper because the costume looked cool. But I’m probably most like one of the rebellion pilots at the end of The New Hope who gets shot down: full of energy and belief but ultimately doomed.

What colour would your lightsaber be?

I had one! But I can’t remember what colour. It might have been red. Is red good?

What would you use the force for?

I think levitating large objects could be really useful (as Luke does in Empire Strikes Back), especially when people have parked in your way.

Who would you want watching your back when attacking the death star?

Harrison Ford, obviously!

And finally, your favourite Star Wars quote?

Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back.
Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back.

Join Tommy Pearson, Mike Seal, the CBSO, and CBSO Chorus next Friday 3 November to relive the story so far, from The Phantom Menace to The Force Awakens – in thrilling full orchestral sound...