May the Force be with the Westminster Chamber Orchestra
You've never heard of the Millennium Falcon? It's the ship that made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs.
Brandon Derfler definitely has heard of the Millennium Falcon.
Head of the Westminster Chamber Orchestra since earlier this year, the music professor has programmed a night of music that even stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerf herders would have a hard time staying away from.
The hybrid orchestra of Westminster students and community members will perform "Star Tours: A Symphonic Journey Through the Cosmos," a two-tiered night that will feature music from John Williams' memorable scores from Episodes IV and V of the Star Wars saga, along with the Utah premiere of John Cage's "Atlas Eclipticalis."
To underscore the intergalactic planetary themes of the latter a 1962 compostion based on star charts "Atlas Eclipticalis" will be accompanied by a multimedia presentation of NASA imagery curated by professor Chris Cline, of Westminster's physics department.
But with all respect to the late Cage, who would be 100 years old if he were alive today, much of the excitement of this concert revolves around Wookiees, Skywalkers, tauntauns and a certain member of the Imperial Senate on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan especially since the recent news about "Star Wars: Episode VII" in development at Disney.
Derfler, a 42-year-old Utah native who landed his "dream job" when he began teaching at Westminster in the fall of 2011, remembers seeing the first three Star Wars films at Salt Lake City's well-loved Centre Theater, which was demolished in 1989. While Derfler likely knows more about "Star Wars" lore than your average geeky uncle, his true passion is devoted to J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth.
How devoted is he? Before the second chapter of the "The Lord of the Rings" film trilogy was released, The Seattle Times ran a contest to identify the area's biggest Tolkien geek. Derfler, living in the area at the time, handily won. "[My girlfriend] was slightly embarrassed," Derfler said.
The most shocking part of his story, however, might be finding out that a Tolkien geek even had a girlfriend.
Now happily married (but not to that girlfriend), Derfler plans to take his significant other to see "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" when it premieres in mid-December. The only reason he won't attend the midnight screening is because his wife, also a fan, has to work the next day.
Members of the orchestra seemed excited to be performing music from George Lucas' films, though most had no idea that playing Williams' scores was similar to the challenge of navigating an asteroid field. ("Star Wars" fans can tell you that the chances of successfully navigating said asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1.)
On the timpani will be 62-year-old Ed Makowski, by day a financial adviser for Wells Fargo and by night a member of five community orchestras. He remembers seeing the original films, and always thought the music was compelling. He had no idea it was so challenging, though. In terms of musical simplicity, "I'd rather play Haydn or an early Beethoven symphony than 'Star Wars,'" he admists.
On the student side is Anna Hunter, a 41-year-old Magna mother of four who is earning degrees in education and music. While she plays percussion, her daughter Kathleen, 20, also a Westminster student and member of the 50-member orchestra, plays bassoon.
Hunter was raised by a single father who resorted to bribes to get her to accompany him to see the "Star Wars" films. She admits she wasn't ever a real "Star Wars" fan; she considers herself more of a musical fan, and can't wait to see the film version of "Les MisÃ©rables" when it's released on Christmas.
But Anna Hunter is happy to play the music of "Star Wars," even without the threat of being sent to the spice mines of Kessel and smashed into who knows what.
A short time from now, not too far away
Westminster Chamber Orchestra performs "Star Tours: A Symphonic Journey Through the Cosmos."
When • Wednesday, Dec. 5, 7:30 p.m.
Where • Vieve Gore Concert Hall in the Emma Eccles Jones Conservatory, 1250 E. 1700 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • Free