Metro Weekly

NSO Pops performs live alongside The Empire Strikes Back

Conductor Steven Reineke calls the immense undertaking "a workout" for the musicians

Star Wars

“Presenting a film live with an orchestra is a fairly new phenomenon in the world of symphony orchestras,” says NSO Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke. “They’re a lot of fun, but for the conductor, I’ll be honest with you, they’re the hardest thing that I do. I would rather be conducting a classical concert that’s all Stravinsky and Bartok, because there at least you have control over the music and the tempos of how you want to interpret it. In a movie, you have to be right on with the synchronization.”

As Reineke points out, full movie scores were never intended to be presented in a single performance setting. “The soundtracks were recorded after the fact, in chunks and pieces. As a matter of fact, The Empire Strikes Back was recorded in 16 different recording sessions over a two-week stretch. They never thought that it would be performed in real time from start to finish. So, it’s very challenging.”

The challenges often extend to the musicians. “Certain musicians may double a couple of instruments. For example, the third bassoon player often also plays something called the contra-bassoon. They’re two different instruments. In a recording session, they can stop, switch instruments, and resume. In real life, some of that gets really tricky for the musicians to navigate and maneuver how quickly they have to move back and forth between instruments. This happens a lot in the percussion section as well. Everybody really gets a workout.”

Next week, the NSO Pops is performing to The Empire Strikes Back, which many consider the finest of the Star Wars films. In September, they played along to A New Hope, and will perform similar duties for the third film in the original trilogy, Return of the Jedi, come January. That particular film, marvels Reineke, concludes “with over 3,000 measures of non-stop music. That’s about 40 minutes of the orchestra playing without stopping. It’s pretty unheard of. It’s like playing an entire Wagner or Mahler symphony.”

The NSO Pops performs alongside a screening of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Tuesday, Oct. 23 to Thursday, Oct. 25 in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Tickets are $34 to $149. Call 202-467-4600 or visit

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