Saturday night in San Pedro, California was heaven on Earth for the nearly one thousand nerds who packed the historic Warner Grand theater to listen to an evening of music from Battlestar Galactica and other sci-fi favorites as part of a big ol’ birthday bash for legendary composer Stu Phillips. Special guest Bear McCreary (seen above sharing a hug with Mr. Phillips after the final encore) also took the stage and shook the theater to its very foundation with his new BSG composition, proving once and for all that both versions of the series can not only peacefully coexist, but can actually rock the house together!
The Golden State Pops orchestra didn’t waste any time kicking off the night of sci-fi music from film & television as they belted out the suite from Star Trek: First Contact, which included a rousing rendition of Jerry Goldsmith’s classic Trek march. In addition to this fabulous aural treat, much to our surprise and delight, the band also provided some eye candy – just in time for Halloween, every single artist showed up in costume (yes, the horn section were decked out in TOS gear):
Next up we were probably the first audience to hear live music from the new Astroboy, which was followed by the first acts’ show stopper: the world premiere of Stu Phillips’ brand new concerto: Variations for Piano and Orchestra. Yup, we played witness to some serious music, and the extended piece was a rich, swirling, complex and pulse-pounding epic that Phillips has been writing for the better part of the last two years. Bravo, Stu!
Following a brief intermission, Stu took the stage and delivered the moment we’d all been waiting for – an extended suite of music from the original Battlestar Galactica score. It included familiar themes from not only the pilot, but memorable pieces from Tombs of Kobol and War of the Gods – complete with a female voice choir to perform the climactic “resurrection of Apollo” music!
He immediately followed up with a suite of music from Buck Rogers (never before played live, by the way), but first offered a prolog and spoke to the audience a bit about the nature of his score; he explained that, back in the 70s, television had a clear delineation between heroes and villains and his music was written to reflect that. He also reminded us that the hero would often find romance, “although it never went too far,” he joked.
I have to admit, I really did get a kick out of hearing the Buck Rogers score again – Stu revealed that Larson had wanted the show to sound like “James Bond in space” and while I think we’re all happy to have seen television mature over the years, it was nice to listen to music that reminded us of a time when TV was just plain fun.
As Stu took his final bows, he welcomed Bear McCreary (composer of the reimagined Galactica) to the stage for the premiere of his latest magnum opus – a brand new, extended version of the theme to Battlestar Galactica. But far from being a simple reworking of classic theme music, Bear’s new piece paid tribute to Stu’s work and took it to places that would have left lesser scores crying for their mother; the familiar “Colonial Anthem” and “Exploration” were electrified by the new series’ trademark tyco drums and bought to the edge of chaos by swirling strings, angry brass and the intense guitar/blender of Steve Bartek. Just as the violent cacophony began to dislodge plaster from the ceiling, we stop just short of the brink and are saved by the tender, melancholy tones of the new series, and finally come to rest in a bittersweet but familiar place.
And if you think this all sounds a tad melodramatic for a piece of music – all I can say is if you were there, you’d understand. I think Stu said it best when he came back to the stage following Bear’s piece, gave him a hug and said to the audience, “I think the future of film & television music is in good hands.”
After the show, a healthy portion of the audience filed into a nearby cafe, where we downed more than a few bottles of champagne and sang happy birthday to Stu, who was enthusiastically signing fans’ CDs, record albums and sheet music. Shortly thereafter, we were all too happy to answer his request and help him finish off his birthday cake.
Happy Birthday (and many more) to you, Stu Phillips! Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?
Special thanks to Captain Jon Lane for the photos!