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How the Original ‘Star Trek’ Theme Landed in the ‘Discovery’ Finale

"It just seemed like the right thing to do," says composer Jeff Russo.

(Note: Spoilers ahead.) The season-finale cliffhanger of “Star Trek: Discovery,” which aired Sunday on CBS All Access, contained a startling revelation: the first sight of the USS Enterprise and a reference to “Captain Pike” – the immediate predecessor of the more famous Captain James T. Kirk of the original “Star Trek” series.

What’s more, it was accompanied by the right music: Alexander Courage’s original “Star Trek” fanfare, followed by a stunning new recording of Courage’s theme for the 1966-69 series, whetting audience appetites for more of the Enterprise in season 2 of “Discovery.”

“It just seemed like the right thing to do,” says composer Jeff Russo of invoking the famous eight-note “Trek” fanfare (which he also excerpts in his own “Discovery” series theme). “It is the Enterprise, so I must play the Enterprise’s theme.”

The bigger surprise was the fresh take on Courage’s ’60s “Trek” theme that played under the end credits, performed by a 74-piece orchestra – more than twice the 29 musicians that Courage had when he first recorded the “Star Trek” theme in 1965.

Like the original, it featured a wordless soprano voice. And that, in fact, is how Russo came to re-record that iconic piece of music. Late last year, studio singer Ayana Haviv was at Russo’s studio to record arias from the Kasseelian opera that figures in Episodes 12 and 13. In a moment of inspiration, he asked her to sing the famous vocal part of the ’60s theme.

“I filmed it on my iPhone,” Russo tells Variety. “I thought it sounded great, so I just texted that to [executive producer] Alex Kurtzman with a note like ‘Isn’t this the coolest thing?’ He immediately texted me back,” Russo adds, suggesting that the composer record the entire piece as the end-credits music for the season finale.

So Russo set out to create “an updated, modernized version of the original,” with Haviv singing the solo part.

Haviv called it “an amazing thrill. You can’t help having heard [the original] a million times,” she adds. “It’s a part of pop culture and one of the great TV themes. I felt a responsibility to be true to that iconic ’60s feel. My training is classical voice [but] you have to color it in a certain way to make it sound like that ’60s style.”

Haviv had sung the TV theme before, but as part of a chorus on the film “Star Trek: Into Darkness” and not the solo.

Variety was on hand for the Jan. 15 recording at the Warner Bros. scoring stage, and the excitement in the room was palpable. After a take of the classic Courage fanfare, Russo told the musicians, “That never gets old. Ever.” Applause in the recording booth followed several takes of the theme.

“Conducting a pretty large orchestra in the music of one of my favorite shows as a kid was like a dream literally coming true,” he said in an interview after the session. “It was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had on the podium.”

Kurtzman notes that scoring with a full orchestra was always the plan with “Star Trek: Discovery.” “We wanted it to feel epic,” he says. He has insisted on real themes, with recognizable melodies, throughout the season: “Whether or not you’re totally conscious of those themes, it affects your emotional reaction to the storytelling. In a way, it’s another part of the screenwriting process.”

Russo – who also scores “Legion,” “Altered Carbon,” “Counterpart” and won an Emmy for “Fargo” – is aware of the stellar company he is now in, having joined the ranks of Oscar winners Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Leonard Rosenman and Michael Giacchino, and Emmy winners Courage, Gerald Fried, Dennis McCarthy and Jay Chattaway, all of whom have contributed to “Star Trek” music over the decades.

“It’s terrifying and yet unbelievable to me,” he says, “to be counted among the musical contributors to a franchise that includes those people.”

Kurtzman confirmed that Russo, who scored all of the first season, will be back on musical chores for the second season of “Star Trek: Discovery,” which begins shooting in April.

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