March 1, 2016

Pittsburgh, PA Review

I am a musician. Not classically trained by any means, although I did spend a few years in the woodwind section of my grade school concert band. Music has always been a part of my life. My mother played piano and my sister has an incredible singing voice, and music seemed to just fill the house at all times. I grew up mostly on contemporary styles: rock and roll, rhythm and blues, anything you could dance or rock out to. Classical music was not something I experienced beyond music appreciation class during which, I must admit, I had a tendency to not pay attention to. What I did not realize is that the music I heard in all of my favorite feature films and television shows was having a profound impact on me.

I have been a Trekkie since I was 11 years old. For all intents and purposes, it was love at first sight, and over the course of 26 years, it has played a major role in shaping my personality, my worldview, and my philosophy. It has also shaped my life in creative ways. The first classical album I ever bought was The Astral Symphony, a compilation of tracks from the first five Star Trek feature films released for the franchises 25th Anniversary in 1991. The second? The soundtrack to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, purchased not long after. If compact discs could have been worn out, these two certainly would have been.

What is so amazing about Star Treks music is that there is so much variety due to all the different composers who have worked on the franchise over the years. At that point I was immersed in Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner and Alexander Courage. Recently, complete scores of all the feature films and some of the series have been released in boxed set form, and I have acquired most of these. I could spend hours—days in fact—listening to all of this incredible work. So it should come as no surprise how I felt when I learned of Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage, a 50th Anniversary celebration of the music of this legendary franchise. Excitement is too mild a word.

Produced by CineConcerts and traveling this year to more than 100 North American cities, The Ultimate Voyage is the brainchild of Musical Director Justin Freer, who was mentored by Goldsmith, and Writer/Producer Brady Beaubien, a lifelong Star Trek fan and co-founder, along with Freer, of CineConcerts. My wife and I caught the show at the historic Benedum Center for the Performing Arts in Pittsburgh, PA. The Ultimate Voyage’s Tour Manager said she was impressed with the venues ornate beauty as well as its functionality.

The set design was quite impressive, and incorporated familiar images of starships and bridge consoles with an enormous screen on a bed of stars. The lighting changed colors throughout the show to enhance the mood of the piece being played and the clips being shown.

Nicholas Buc, this evenings Conductor, has a masters degree specializing in music for film, and has done TV and film work in Australia. I’m not a huge Trekkie,Buc said in reference to the shows theme. However, Ive always loved the Star Trek music. I sort of grew up listening to Goldsmith and James Horner, all those guys. Great influences on myself and other composers.When asked what his favorite piece from the show is, he responded: Given James Horners death last year, Ive got a very soft spot for The Wrath of Khan.”

The show was, to put it mildly, incredible. Instead of simply playing certain cues and their accompanying film clips, CineConcerts created montages based around certain themes, characters, crews, alien races, or the U.S.S. Enterprise herself. Among the themes were a focus on family and a focus on Star Trek’s philosophy of peace and exploration. The family theme was set to Dennis McCarthy’s Star Trek: Generations that concluded with a touching tribute to the legendary Leonard Nimoy. The philosophy of peace and exploration theme was set to Goldsmith’s elegant music from Star Trek: First Contact.

Brief interludes, narrated by Star Trek: The Next Generation star Michael Dorn, bridged the pieces together. All iterations of Star Trek were represented, from the original pilot episode “The Cage” all the way through the recent films directed by J.J. Abrams. There was even a selection from the video game Star Trek: Starfleet Academy, composed by Trek veteran Ron Jones, whose iconic music from the cliffhanger “The Best of Both Worlds, Part I” signaled the intermission.

If you love Star Trek, you should see this show. If you love music, you should see this show. Me? I love Star Trek, music, and the music of Star Trek, so this show was tailor-made for a Trekkie musician like me. I am so thrilled that I was able to experience this music live. I was grinning from ear to ear throughout the evening. My only sadness is that it’s over. For more on this performance and for an audio interview with Conductor Nicholas Buc, check out the latest episode of The Guest Room Podcast.

Written by: Larry Ganni