The Oklahoma City Philharmonic, in a “Sci-Fi Spectacular” evening, brought actor George Takei, soprano Kristen Plumley, and guest conductor Jack Everly to the Civic Center Music Hall stage to highlight the music of John Williams and other composers who have illustrated great moments in science fiction.
With his rich and beautiful voice, Takei spoke of Gene Roddenberry's initial vision for the crew of a starship: a large group of diverse people with a variety of backgrounds, histories and cultures who work together as a team. He might have been describing the OKC Philharmonic.
Takei told a series of anecdotes from the early history of “Star Trek” and later performed the famous speech of Klaatu, the visiting alien from the 1951 film “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Originally from a 1940 short story, this prescient text calls humanity to consider the cost of aggression.
Plumley sang Alexander Courage's theme from the original “Star Trek” series as part of a medley of the themes from all five shows. Later in the evening she provided the vocal instrumentation in the suite from Bernard Herrmann's compelling score for “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”
Everly conducted not only the orchestra but the whole event; his informative commentary was lighthearted and enlightening. His arrangement of themes from science-fiction television was a great hit in the first part of the event; later, audience members were challenged to name the shows included.
The Philharmonic's brass and string sections engaged in an exciting dialogue for most of the evening. By far the composer most frequently played was John Williams; his use of the strings and brass to speak to each other and to create dramatic textures is a marker for his music. His scores for the “Star Wars” films were well represented by four selections.
Suites from his scores for “Superman” and “E.T.” were also included. The piccolo solo in “The Adventures of E.T.” stood out as a delicate and poignant moment, backlit by an evocative full moon behind the orchestra and chorale. This was great music, theatrically and warmly presented, played with spirit and skill.
Williams' suite from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is based around a (now iconic) five-note phrase and often uses thinner textures and more sparse layers than his other works, asking for a different style of performance; the Philharmonic complied with graceful clarity. In addition, the Philharmonic Pops Chorale provided necessary thickness to the sound. No doubt an electronic keyboard could have subbed for the chorale, but not with the power and drama of the human voices that rose among the orchestra as instruments themselves.
The Chorale, often serving in a supporting role, had two further opportunities to stand out. In his “The Duel of the Fates From Star Wars: Phantom Menace,” Williams builds on a choral presentation of a text in Sanskrit, and vocalist Plumley's unannounced and soaring performance of “When You Wish Upon A Star” included a rich choral layer.
Another unexpected addition to the program was the “Cantina” music from “Star Wars”; it was played with gusto by a small group of soloists.
Before and after the show, the Civic Center Music Hall lobby was peopled with characters from “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” universes, and complimentary punch and treats gave the evening the feeling of a social gathering among the stars. The entire event was a grand musical voyage with the crew of the starship “OKC Philharmonic.”
— Anna Holloway