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The Illinois Symphony Orchestra Celebrates Real and Fictional Heroes With Its New Program

Man stands in front of a harpsichord.
Ken Lam
Ken Lam directs a "Heroes & Villains" concert on November 15, celebrating some of cinema's greatest scores.

Some instrumental film scores can instantly invoke a feeling in the listener, regardless whether they are watching the movie or doing something else. The Imperial March from "Star Wars" creates a sense of foreboding, the theme of 1978’s "Superman" is uplifting and powerful, and who doesn’t get a shiver when hearing John Carpenter’s theme for "Halloween"?

Ken Lam is the music director of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra will be presenting a “Heroes & Villains” concert on November 15 celebrating some of cinema’s greatest music. He said that this music sticks with us because the visuals and the music synthesize, creating unforgettable moments.

“Some of the composers who write these soundtracks are so good at it that it really adds to what we are actually watching,” Lam said.

Lam said that he used to be a horror movie fan and he pins some of that enjoyment of the genre on the music.

“Who can forget when you see the movie "Psycho" and that shower scene when Norman Bates came up with a dagger?” Lam asked. “It’s just scary. It was not until many years later that I saw the score and what’s amazing with the score; you know they (the notes that play with each knife thrust) are not staccato notes, they are half notes, they are long notes. So, you can see on the page the actual dagger stroke which is imagined by the composer. It’s frightening if you look at the page.”

Lam said that while there’s a lot of mediocre movie music, the good stuff will stand the test of time. Music like John Williams’ "Star Wars" scores and John Barry’s iconic "James Bond" theme:

“You hear two measures,” Lam said, “and you see the character.”

Lam explained that playing movie music is a bit different from the traditional symphony.

“When you hear movie music, you’re in a theater. And so, movie music is usually scored heavily for percussion and brass. They’re going to get a workout. Now strings usually give a sort of ambiance and play the flourishes. It is difficult in a completely different way than a Mozart or Brown symphony. In a movie score there is probably not a lot of rubato especially in the more energetic ones. It is usually very rhythmic and it propels the action forward.”

He said that emphasis on the propulsive makes for a tiring show.

Aside from honoring movies, the Illinois Symphony Orchestra will also be honoring veterans at the program.

“In superhero movies, we celebrate fictional superheroes,” Lam said. “But we also want to celebrate our living heroes and so while we play "Captain American" and "The Avengers", we also wanted to play Armed Forces Salute to celebrate our veterans and celebrate America.”

You can see “Heroes & Villains” at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, November 15. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and there is a discount offered for active and former service members.

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