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The members of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra warm up on the Amphitheater stage on Saturday before The Empire Strikes Back in Concert. Photo by Michael Zabrodsky

CHAUTAUQUA — Watching a movie in a cinema with all the high-tech sound available can be a memorable experience.

Watching a live orchestra recreate a film score is breathtaking.

And that’s what happened Saturday at the Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater as the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra performed live music from Stars Wars: The Empire Strikes Back in Concert.

It wasn’t just a concert.

Viewers also had the pleasure of watching the film as the orchestra played in the background.

The performance wouldn’t be possible if the orchestra didn’t have a great score to play from. This gives the film a whole new dimension. It’s almost like watching the musicians record the soundtrack in a recording studio. The conductor watches the film and waits for the cues, then asks the orchestra to play at different locations.

Some musical pieces are incidental. Some music tracks are not. These pieces serve as the main themes.

The concert therefore began with the theme of 20th Century Fox. And then the main theme swept over the audience. I had a hard time watching the movie, as I was happy to see the musicians performing their parts perfectly. I sat to the right of the stage and smiled every time I heard the orchestra play.

Above the orchestra were three screens in which the film was projected. There were on-screen captions only because when they played, the music was louder than the dialogue. Usually incidental music is heard but almost imperceptible because the viewer is watching the film.

It was a neat switch.

Whether the “Main theme,” “The Binary Sunset” also known as Lukes Theme or “The Imperial March aka Darth Vader’s theme”, whenever bandleader Stuart Chafetz gave up his lightsaber (stick), composer John Williams’ music came alive on the screens to the seats.

Chafetz is the main pop bandleader at the CSO, where he also recently retired as principal timpanist after 22 seasons, according to He is also the principal pop conductor of the Columbus and Marin symphonies. Chafetz, a conductor famous for his dynamic and engaging podium presence, is increasingly in demand by orchestras across the continent and this season Chafetz will be on the podium in Detroit, Fort Worth, Texas, Naples, Florida, Buffalo, North Carolina and Seattle. . He maintains a privileged relationship with the Phoenix Symphony where he directs several programs each year.

Chafetz holds a bachelor’s degree in music performance from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and a master’s degree from the Eastman School of Music.

And I think there’s no one better at creating main themes than composer Williams.

As I’ve written in this space before, Williams’ music has graced silver screens for a long time….

So in 1977, I remember my brother John took me to see Star Wars at the Chautauqua Mall. At that time, there was no internet, Twitter, FaceBook, Tik Tok or any other social media channel. The information came from newspapers, television, radio or magazines. And that was it. When I saw the movie, it became one of my favorite movies. Because of Stars Wars (in 1977 “Episode IV – A New Hope” was not part of the title), I embraced classical music. And at 12, what also helped me embrace classical music was playing percussion in the band at Lincoln Junior High School.

In 1980, my brother took me to see The Empire Strikes Back, still at the Chautauqua Mall.

I am so happy to have had these experiences in my life, as they have helped shape my love for writing, music and the arts.

But the Star Wars saga is not the only film to which Williams lends his magic touch. It has a long list which includes “Fiddler on the Roof,” “The Adventure of Poseidon”, “Jaws,” “Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Superman,” “The Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “AND the extra-terrestrial”, “Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom” “Born on the 4th of July” “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” “Alone at home,” “JFK”, “Schindler’s List,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” and “Lincoln”. He won five Oscars for “Fiddler,” “Jaws,” “Star Wars (IV: A New Hope)” and “Schindler’s List.”

What more can i say. You should have been there.

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