by Christopher Beale on May 8, 2024

in Concerts / Events,Film,Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


When you watch a film in theaters or play a video game at home you simply cannot recreate the power, emotion and feel of a live orchestra. As a result most music gets remembered by a few bars of catchy melody despite being, in some cases, hours long and in most cases, very detailed.

The San Francisco Symphony is presenting a slate of unique opportunities to hear some of those scores the way they were recorded beginning with The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. The symphony’s May series highlights some of the greatest film and video game scores of the last 100 years, with a whole host of offerings for the diehard symphony fan mixed in.

Constantine Kitsopoulos (photo Xanthe Elbrick)

On May 3 and 4, the symphony presented the 1980 classic Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back with composer John Williams‘ classic score played live by the SF Symphony, energetically led by Constantine Kitsopoulos. Williams has been collaborating with filmmaker George Lucas since 1973 when he composed the soundtrack for American Graffiti. When Lucas began work on Star Wars, he wanted a grand, orchestral score reminiscent of the classic Hollywood films he grew up on, and he thought of Williams. The resulting compositions played a critical role in the emotional impact and sonic identity of the Star Wars saga. Williams won an Academy Award for Star Wars, and in the time since its release he has gone on to become one of the most celebrated film composers in history.

image courtesy of SF Symphony

While at times louder than the dialogue on screen, this presentation of the film allowed me to focus on each piece of music as a whole, in the context of a scene, but with the music in the foreground. Still present were the iconic lines, “I am your father” from Darth Vader, and “I know” from Han Solo, but the orchestrations took front and center and the result is a more emotional connection with the art.

Empire Strikes Back — normally a two hour and four minute film — was presented with an intermission — something that the three-plus-hour films of the present could benefit from as the audience’s ages, and bladders, shrink. The intermission allowed for time to explore the lobby of Davies Symphony Hall and grab a beverage. Add to that a classic entr’acte from the orchestra before rejoining the film, and this really resembled a classic movie-going experience.

The next film offering is May 22 and 23, where the San Francisco Symphony will present Hans Zimmer’s moving score live over Ridley Scott’s intense and emotional 2000 film Gladiator.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
San Francisco Symphony
Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave. San Francisco
reviewed May 3, 2024
for tickets to future shows, visit SF Symphony

The rest of May is stacked with recitals and presentations for every taste. Whether you’re a film lover, a music lover, or just want to try something new, the SF Symphony has prepared a diverse slate to kick off the summer in style.

Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony (May 10 & 12)
The San Francisco Symphony presents Felix Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony, inspired by a visit to the ruins of Holyrood Chapel in Edinburgh.

Yuja Wang Piano Recital (May 15)
Celebrated pianist Yuja Wang presents a sold out piano recital.

Ryan Bancroft & Joshua Bell (May 16-18)
Conductor Ryan Bancroft, and violinist Joshua Bell present a program featuring works by Unsuk Chin, Henri Vieuxtemps, Claude Debussy, and the San Francisco premiere of Earth, by Kevin Puts.

SF Symphony Youth Orchestra (May 19)
The San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra is 100 strong, and features the next generation of orchestral talent presenting standards and new works.

Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy (May 31 & June 1)
Grammy Award-winner Arnie Roth directs a multimedia celebration of Final Fantasy with HD video displays and score selections from 35 years of the hit video game franchise.

Christopher J. Beale is an award-winning journalist, media host and producer based in San Francisco, CA.

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