Darth Vader, Storm Troopers Crash Stage as L.A. Philharmonic Honors John Williams

The Los Angeles Philharmonic started its sixth year under conductor Gustavo Dudamel by honoring composer John Williams on Tuesday at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

“Musicians try to be close to composers like Mahler, Shostakovich. But in this opportunity, we have the chance to be so close to this one, that is, John Williams,” Dudamel told the audience. “I remember going to the cinema to listen to music,” Dudamel recalled. “To see the movie, of course! But as a musician you try to focus on how the music does the magic to the movie.” Addressing Williams, who was seen cheering and applauding throughout the program, he continued, “We are here tonight to pay homage to your genius and to your heart, because you are one of the best composers in our time. But the most important thing, you are a great human.”

The U.S. Army Herald Trumpets accompanied the orchestra to kick off the gala with the 1984 Olympics theme. The audience also heard selections from “Schindler’s List” with Itzhak Perlman on the violin; “Fiddler on the Roof”; “Catch Me if You Can”; “The Adventures of Tintin,” and of course “Star Wars,” with a video presentation featuring concept art from the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art’s “Star Wars” Archive.

The Los Angeles Children’s Chorus and Angeles Chorale joined in during selections from “Amistad” during the encore, and got to stretch their acting skills, screaming and running off stage while the orchestra played the “Jaws” theme.

L.A. Phil topper Deborah Borda said she watched the kids rehearsing that afternoon. “If you could have seen the kids screaming and getting off stage, they loved it.”

Williams conducted the encore of “The Imperial March” but didn’t address the crowd. He did, however, get crashed on stage by Storm Troopers and a lightsaber-wielding Darth Vader. The “Star Wars” gang stayed to take photos with party guests at the gala reception afterwards, and Dudamel introduced a special cantina band flown in from “far, far away” to play the afterparty. (Williams will be composing music for J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars: Episode VII” slated for release in December 2015.)

“John Williams has had a long and wonderful connection with the orchestra for decades,” Borda said. “He conducts the L.A. Philharmonic every summer at the Hollywood Bowl, he also conducts many winters and he’s also friends with almost every member of the orchestra. Also when Gustavo wrote his new piece for the film ‘Libertador,’ he and John worked very closely. So it’s a very personal connection also.”

As for the next act, she said, “I was just talking to Gustavo and he said after this program, Mahler’s 5th Symphony is going to be easy.”

The evening raised $3.5 million for the L.A. Phil’s educational and community outreach programs.

Borda was pleased with the turnout. “We have a fabulous crowd, a real Hollywood crowd and a great L.A. crowd, I might add.”

That crowd included Julie Andrews, Michael and Jane Eisner, Frank Gehry, Sherry Lansing and William Friedkin, Herbie and Gigi Hancock, Anjelica Huston, Retta, as well as Mayor Eric Garcetti, L.A. County supervisors Don Knabe, Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky.

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