NSO salutes ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ ‘Star Trek’ at Wolf Trap

The NSO will salute "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (left) and "Star Trek: Into Darkness" (right) this month at Wolf Trap. (Wolf Trap)

WASHINGTON — “Indiana Jones” and “Star Trek” are two of the most beloved franchises in movie history. Now, both will receive live treatment at Wolf Trap.

First up, the National Symphony Orchestra will play a live accompaniment to Steven Spielberg’s action-adventure classic “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 9.

Then, three weeks later, the NSO will play a live orchestral accompaniment to J.J. Abrams’ recent blockbuster hit “Star Trek: Into Darkness” (2013) at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 30.

Like last year’s NSO salute to “Back to the Future” (1985), Wolf Trap will set up a giant movie screen inside the pavilion with a second screen out on the lawn, each accompanied by the NSO live on stage.

“I just love being in a theater and the lights go down and I’m just a sucker for anything that happens on screen,” NSO conductor Emil de Cou told WTOP. “But I have to remind myself to not get too emotionally involved in what’s happening, because a lot of the technical work of conducting is just coordination. … Just the masterful ways these composers use tricks, like directors use tricks.”

Celebrating its 35th anniversary, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” continues to appeal to live audiences.

“There’s just something about this movie,” de Cou said. “When I do these movie concerts, I have to study them, not just like a regular piece of music, but I’m spending tons of hours with the film. … I just never get tired of watching this film. It is not at all dated … like it could’ve been made last week.”

Perhaps this is because it was a period film set in the 1940s so that Indy could battle the Nazis, as opposed to a contemporary-set “E.T.” which reeks of the 1980s. Or, perhaps it’s because director Steven Spielberg is such a master craftsman. Or, perhaps Harrison Ford is just so damn charismatic.

Whatever the reason, the timeless appeal owes a big debt to the legendary score by John Williams.

“Everyone loves John Williams,” de Cou said. “You just grow up with his music as a kid and you love it as an adult. His music is known over the entire world. There is no musician in the history of western music that is more famous than Williams, which is saying a lot. Sorry, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky!”

The score to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” features a variety of sounds, including the rousing, upbeat “Raiders March;” the heart-tugging romantic violins of “Marion’s Theme;” the mysterious wind instruments of “The Well of the Souls;” and the spiritual brass instruments of “Miracle of the Ark.”

“The way he uses it is really masterful, because you have the ‘dah ba ba bum,’ which is Indy’s theme, and [Marion’s love theme] played by cellos and low strings. … There’s a very sweet moment where they’re about to be intimate. … He’s all beaten up and bruised and he’s pointing to different [body parts] for her to kiss him … you think this is going to be the great romance moment, and he’s asleep!”

De Cou admits the opening boulder chase is one of the more difficult to conduct.

“The whole jungle scene and boulder chase is really hard, because you’ll have things happen very quickly,” de Cou said. “When he’s going in a cave and it’s all booby trapped … John Williams has this music happen: boom! … He writes something that if you played it in a concert hall, it would be the most extreme modern music. It’s notated in a very loose way … so you get this slithery, creepy effect and then a chord that’s like putting your hands on all the white keys and black keys all at once.”

The music works on multiple levels, gripping moviegoers while impressing the most artistic scholars.

“Everyone holds John Williams with equal regard,” de Cou said. “As a musician, you can analyze it as serious concert music, as art music. As a kid, you can just love it because you can hum the tunes. But Spielberg would not be the most beloved person in Hollywood history were it not for John Williams.”

If you enjoy the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” show, you might also want to check out the NSO’s live performance of “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” featuring music by composer Michael Giacchino.

While Giacchino appeared last year during Wolf Trap’s screening of “Star Trek” (2009), this year’s screening of “Into Darkness” (2013) will include an appearance by Adam Nimoy, son of the late Leonard Nimoy. De Cou will host a special pre-concert “Trek Talk” with Nimoy, who will return at intermission to present the trailer for his new documentary about his father, “For the Love of Spock.”

Spock himself appeared at Wolf Trap back in 2006 to narrate a planetary concert.

“I’ll never forget, the orchestra actually looked startled,” de Cou said. “Leonard Nimoy walks out to this full house at Wolf Trap and huge applause, and then he flashes the Vulcan hand sign to the audience, and it was like something I’ve never heard in my life. We all treasure that memory.”

Such shows are part of a wonderful trend of live orchestral accompaniments. In fact, last year’s NSO salute to John Williams — conducted by de Cou — set an NSO attendance record at Wolf Trap.

“That was our biggest audience in the history of the NSO playing at Wolf Trap,” de Cou said. “It was packed, but there were no movies. It was just the orchestra and John Williams. … Just brilliant. He is hands down my favorite living composer. Actually, when I left my position as associate conductor, they put a three-year ban on playing ‘E.T.’ flying music, because I would program it at any chance.”

De Cou hopes these concerts will keep these great movie composers alive for new generations.

“They’re geniuses with what they do, but they also know the calculated effect that their music will have,” de Cou said. “They pace it and make you go down a road emotionally, then boom, they drop whatever they’re doing. … It’s only the geniuses like John Williams, Bernard Herrmann and [Max] Steiner and [Franz] Waxman that can play your heart like a guitar. … And we’re so happy they do.”

Click here for more info. Tickets cost $30-$58. Listen to the full chat with conductor Emil de Cou below:

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