Cincinnati’s Washington Park was home to a superb culmination of art this weekend that showcased the thriving nature of Cincinnati’s arts scene. BLINK transformed the park and the surrounding buildings into a wonderland of light and imagination, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s new Otto M. Budig Theater stayed seasonal with their debut of “Dracula,” Cincinnati Ensemble Theater’s new space addressed the humor in missed connections with “This Random World” and the zenith of this plethora of art took place in the newly renovated Cincinnati Music Hall as the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra took us on a journey of the fantastic with “The Music of John Williams: Star Wars & Beyond.” The beautiful, epic nature of John Williams’ music encapsulates the transformation of Cincinnati art, reminding us of the importance of humanity and hope.
Let’s start with the beautifully restored Music Hall, a National Historic Landmark and the artistic epicenter of Over-the-Rhine―it was well worth the wait! Music Hall has never looked or sounded better. It maintains all of the authentic old-world charm of its 1878 roots while updating important aspects (seating, flooring, acoustics and facilities) with a refined touch. One welcome addition includes more robust bar and snack offerings, including a specialty cocktail that brings to life the show of the evening. In this case, the Lightsaber Cocktail was a delicious concoction that reflects the whimsy and creativity of John Williams with actual lightsaber stirrers and seemingly glowing pink color. I would be remiss if I did not mention the ushers, another fixture in Music Hall welcoming us into her hallowed halls with open arms and genuine enjoyment at the privilege of working in such a special place. And did I mention the acoustics? This space is designed to bring music to life and showcase the full bounty of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, led by the exuberant and delightful John Morris Russell.
Speaking of bounty, what an extraordinary delight to have a full program of John William’s greatest hits performed, with the added bonus of two world premieres. The latter of which includes a heartbreakingly poignant arrangement of the theme from Schindler’s List for solo cello and orchestra and the music from American Journey, a film by Cincinnati-native Steven Spielberg. Kicking off with the Star-Spangled Banner, the musical scores transport you from a time long ago (“Jurassic Park”) to a universe far, far away (“Star Wars”) while evoking the magic and promise of other worlds (“Harry Potter,” “BFG” and “E.T.”). Your heart smiles and pounds with adrenaline as you hear the familiar notes of Indiana Jones and weeps as cellist Ilya Finkelshteyn reminds us all of the importance of history and humanity as he flawlessly performs the stunning “Schindler’s List” arrangement. The first portion of the evening reminds us of the unbelievable talent we have in our Pops Orchestra. For those sitting higher, you experience the wonder of watching the full orchestra at work and gain a better understanding of the mastery of style and sound that John Williams is able to achieve leveraging all the instruments at his disposal. The percussion and French horns were especially powerful, enabling just the right notes.
The second portion of the evening takes us through hyperspace by focusing solely on Star Wars, creating an epic performance that spans all seven films. It takes us from the innocence of youth and beginnings to the corruption of power and revenge to the hope of a new generation, with a little lighthearted and universally appreciated jazz (“A New Hope – Cantina Band”). For those who love the movies, each note enables you to see the scenes in your mind and feel the power of the stories in your heart; looking around, you could see the eyes of the audience, young and old, go wide as their fingers tapped out the Imperial March. Even for those who are not the biggest Star Wars fans, the mastery of the performance and the music stand on their own. The Cincinnati Pops ultimately takes you on a nostalgic journey of the fantastic, asking you to believe in the possibility of bigger (and dare I say better?) worlds comprised of dinosaurs, wizards, giants, space travel and aliens, where hope is never extinguished and the good of humanity ultimately prevails. And while this performance was stellar, the Cincinnati Pops has a line-up of performances this year that promise to over-deliver each and every note.
Christi Geary is the proud mom of two girls 10 and under, best friend and wife of her husband Brian, and an Associate Director at the Procter & Gamble Company focused on shopper and innovation insights and analytics. She enjoys art of all kinds, feeds an insatiable curiosity for learning, pursues different forms of exercise when she can find the time to balance out her foodie predilection, and delights in spending time with family and friends.