Interview: Tim Burden and The Music of Star Wars

By Tony Sower TimBurden

At the Ulster Hall, Belfast on Sunday 22nd March, the Ulster Orchestra will perform the first of two concerts featuring music from the existing Star Wars films, with each show being devoted to the Prequel and Original Trilogies respectively.

The concerts are being produced by the film music expert, presenter and voice-over artist Tim Burden. Tim kindly took time out of his incredibly busy schedule to answer some questions about the shows via email.

TS: How did the idea for the shows come about?

TB: The Ulster Orchestra asked me to devise a concert for this season, after successfully delivering Psycho LIVE and Patrick Doyle's Music from the Films of Sir Kenneth Branagh last season. I had a think and with the anticipation of a new instalment in the Star Wars saga imminent, I thought that a Star Wars Concert experience which builds and utilises the excitement for Episode VII chronologically would be fun for an audience.

TS: You're the producer of the concerts; what does that entail?

TB: The first job is to devise the overall concept and ensure that the correct sign offs are actioned. Approaching John Williams about what music is available to be performed was paramount (not Disney or Fox! Bad pun, sorry!), as it's important to me that he approves what music of his is being programmed. I also negotiate fees and have full artistic sign off. Sourcing sheet music can be timely and tricky, but thankfully in this instance it was a smooth process.

TS: Without giving too much away, what can people attending the concerts expect?

TB: Successful voice actor and star of Episode I - The Phantom Menace Marc Silk (Aks Moe the three-eyed senator) will be on stage co-hosting with me. He will do some character voices from the saga and talk about his work with George Lucas and recording at Abbey Road Studio 2 whilst John Williams was recording with the LSO next door in Studio 1! A world premiere of Joel McNeely's thrilling music for Shadows of the Empire (the book and video game) was something I had wanted to do for many years, so thanks to Joel and Robert Townson at Varese this will be realised - 'The Destruction of Xizor's Palace' is quite the showpiece for orchestra and choir. Speaking of the choir, they will also be busy with JW's terrific 'Battle of the Heroes' and 'Duel of the Fates' from Episodes I and III. We will also have characters dressed up from the 501st Legion, which is a Lucasfilm endorsed volunteer organisation similar to the Emerald Garrison.

TS: What was the process/criteria for deciding the set lists?

TB: As this music is brass heavy, programming the selections so that the brass players won't actually drop down dead during the concert is key (minor and major! Sorry, no more puns I promise!). Selections like 'Leia's Theme', 'Anakin's Theme' and the theme for Yoda help tremendously. It also gives the audience a breather. Splitting the Ulster Orchestra concert in two means there's more time and space to let the music breathe. Obviously there is some repetition across all six episodes, but that isn't a bad thing as it means the audience identifies with everything and the concert journey flows.

TS: Were there any particular tracks/cues that you wanted to include as you felt that they've been overlooked? Conversely, will there be any selections that won't be performed, despite your best efforts?

TB: I go back to contacting JW's management. There are many pieces out there. I'm not talking about the dodgy take downs and naff arrangements, rather the original Star Wars suite which Zubin Mehta and Williams himself performed. 'The Little People' and 'The Final Battle' especially. I also wanted to have the Charles Gerhardt arrangements performed so badly. In some cases Williams arranged these for Gerhardt and the National Philharmonic Orchestra's deceased leader Sid Sax kept all of this music very safely. Sax's son is in possession of this music and I made attempts to get clearance (Clarence!) , but John Williams is only happy with the current Hal Leonard Signature Series selections. Thankfully the release of new pieces last year made this concert experience easier to create.

I was also keen on 'Anakin's Dark Deeds' from Revenge of the Sith, but alas another no. Perhaps another time.

I know of other orchestras performing unapproved selections, but I would rather do it properly. At the end of the day, John Williams has to approve what is out there for his legions of fans to appreciate. It's an artist’s privilege.

TS: Over the two concerts, will the orchestra and choir be performing any of the Star Wars Concert Suites that John Williams has composed?

TB: Yes, The Phantom Menace Suite from 1999. The RSNO performed its premiere recording for Varese in 1999 you may recall. The revised Star Wars Suite will also be performed, but I’ll be splitting it up a little for both concerts. 'Cantina Band' can't be performed for the Episodes I-III concert for example.

TS: You will be giving a talk prior to the show in March; what will you be discussing during it?

TB: Yes, I'm really looking forward to speaking about the significance of the Star Wars scores and the BAFTA winning composer Christopher Gunning will be joining me to talk about its effect from an industry perspective. Christopher is a superb composer/conductor and was an active composer/session musician during the time that Star Wars shook the world of music and film. It should prove interesting.

TS: I'm sure that both the Prequel and Original Trilogy concerts will be great successes; are there any future plans for any similar events? A show devoted to the music from the Indiana Jones films would seem a logical progression.

TB: I'm delighted to say that other orchestras have picked the concert up for performance later this year, but I can't say who yet. I can narrow it down to England though. Part 2 of this Ulster Orchestra Belfast concert will be performed in November, weeks ahead of the new Star Wars film (The Force Awakens), so the excitement should be at boiling point. Performing more selections from Episodes IV-VI and yet more from Shadows of the Empire will be lots of fun.

Indiana Jones would be wonderful but, again, very little of the music is available for a full concert. It might also kill the brass players! A Harry Potter Concert Experience is currently being worked on, more news will be announced about this soon.

TS: I believe that John Williams has approved the title of the concerts; has he had any further involvement or offered any particular words of advice?

TB: The “Music from the Star Wars Saga” title and concept was signed off, that's right. He's incredibly busy so he is focusing on his own Star Wars work and we are just a tiny pawn in his empire. However, he has very kindly agreed to write an introduction for the concert programmes which is much appreciated.

Further details (as well as ticket booking information) about the Prequel Trilogy concert can be found here:

On the night before the Prequel Trilogy show, Saturday 21st March, the Ulster Orchestra will be performing Metropolis – LIVE, in which they will perform Gottfried Huppertz’s original score live to the film. Details and booking information can be found via the following link:

Many thanks once again to Tim for taking the time to answer my questions.

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