- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 30, 2015

It takes tremendous humility for a composer to sit out writing music for the new “Star Wars” movie, but that is precisely what Michael Giacchino is doing — and happily so.

While his frequent collaborator, J.J. Abrams, is behind the camera of the next trip to that galaxy far, far away, Mr. Giacchino, a veteran composer for “Lost,” “Up” and “Jurassic World,” wants nothing more than to experience the music that his friend, colleague and mentor John Williams is cooking up.

“As a fan of the franchise, certainly the first three films meant everything to me growing up,” Mr. Giacchino told The Washington Times. “I want to go in as a fan and just experience that again. I love John. He’s been an amazing supporter and friend to me over the years, and I’m really excited to see what he does.”

Despite approaching “The Force Awakens” strictly as a viewer (though he did sit in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon on the London set at Mr. Abrams‘ invitation), Mr. Giacchino’s compositional acumen has taken him to outer space before, notably on 2009’s “Star Trek,” plus its 2013 sequel and 2016 installment to coincide with the franchise’s 50th anniversary.

Starting fresh, musically and otherwise, for the franchise reboot presented Mr. Giacchino with unique challenges.“‘Star Trek’ has such a long, rich musical history to it, and the thing about the movies is that they never sort of had the same [musical] theme one after the other,” Mr. Giacchino said. “There was never any sort of [theme] the way ‘Star Wars’ [has].”

For the 2009 film, Mr. Giacchino went through nearly two dozen themes, all of which Mr. Abrams pooh-poohed. Feeling flustered, Mr. Giacchino sat down with producer and “Lost” writer Damon Lindelhof, who expressed his belief that “Star Trek” was really about the beginning of the lifelong friendship between Kirk and Spock.

“I kept thinking, ‘Oh, it’s about space and it’s about grandeur and about the history of this whole franchise,’ so everything I did felt like it could belong in a ‘Star Trek’ movie, but not this one,” Mr. Giacchino said. “And once I started thinking about what Damon had told me, that’s when I came up with the theme we have now, and when I played it for J.J., he went, ‘That’s it! That’s our theme! Go no further.’”

Mr. Giacchino’s entire score for “Star Trek” will be performed Saturday by the National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Emil de Cou, at the Wolf Trap Center for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Virginia, as the film is projected above the ensemble. Rather than participate, Mr. Giacchino will enjoy his creation from the comfort of his seat.

“It’s really fun to be sitting as an audience member and just see everyone have a great time,” he said. “Because, ultimately, that’s what you want: You want people to have a special experience that they can’t do at home. Unless you have a house that can fit 100 musicians, you’re not going to be able to watch a movie with a live orchestra anywhere else.”

Mr. Giacchino realizes that most who come out to the show Saturday will be longtime fans of the Starship Enterprise, Vulcans, Klingons and “Beam me up, Scotty!” But he hopes audience members who otherwise might not enjoy large ensemble music will leave the venue with a greater appreciation.

“I hope they leave and go, ‘You know what? That was really fun. Let’s see what else the symphony is doing,’” he said. “Maybe they’ll go back and see Mahler Rossini or Mozart.”

He cited all three composers as among his influences growing up in southern New Jersey. His tastes were rather catholic during his youth, ranging as far as Glenn Miller and mariachi music.

Then he found film. Mr. Giacchino was smitten with the works of early Hollywood composers such as Dmitri Timokin, Erich Korngold and Max Steiner, who scored the original “King Kong” in 1933.

“They came out of that European sort of way of writing,” Mr. Giacchino said. “It was sort of an extension of the classical era into the beginning of film scoring.”

When he started writing his own film music, it was the works of Mr. Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and Alan Silvestri that made their impression on his style. A great film score, he said, is one that could be appreciated independently of the movie itself.

“There was something about the way you could tell a story with music that really, really captured me,” Mr. Giacchino said. “I love being able to listen to a score outside the film and remember what that scene was, or if I hear [a ‘Star Wars’ cue] I go, ‘Oh, that’s when the ship kind of came out of hyperspace’ or ‘That’s when Luke [swung] across the chasm.’

“And you soon find the one thing so many of these guys have in common is their love of storytelling,” Mr. Giacchino said of his colleagues. “And that’s what the medium of film allows you to do with music.”

Mr. Giacchino likens film scoring, especially those for “Star Trek,” to the creation of 21st-century operas.

“It’s big, it’s thematic, and when that character comes on stage, you want to announce that character’s intentions and their personality,” he said. “And these sorts of films, especially ‘Star Trek,’ give you a lot of leeway to do that.” Despite forging his own musical path for Mr. Abrams‘ film, Mr. Giacchino realized the audience for the 2009 “Star Trek” would be anticipating Alexander Courage’s theme from the classic 1960s TV show, the source material for the 2009 reboot. But when, and how, to reprise Courage’s melody presented its own conundrum.

“That’s the first [‘Star Trek’ theme] I ever heard when I was growing up, and I loved that series so much,” Mr. Giacchino said of his predecessor’s work.

He knew that placing the Courage melody in the 2009 film would be tricky, not only for the creators but also for the audience eagerly awaiting it. However, Mr. Giacchino and Mr. Abrams collectively determined the precise moment in the film for the unveiling.

“We decided, ‘You know what? We’re going to save it as a sort of celebration at the end,’” Mr. Giacchino said. “We’ll give it to everyone right when they want it most, right in the end credits, and we’ll do it in the biggest possible way we can.”

In addition to such grandiose scores as his “Star Trek” work, Mr. Giacchino has been privileged to write music to underscore the emotion and humanity of a scene, most notably in the Pixar film “Up,” for which he won an Oscar. During its five-minute opening montage, the romance of Carl and Ellie is played out, beginning in their youth and extending all the way to the death of Ellie as an old woman — all of it without a word of dialogue.

“I would watch that scene over and over, and there were many times I couldn’t get through it; I’d have to just get up and leave,” Mr. Giacchino said of composing for the touching sequence.

“The thing about ‘Up’ is that it’s a film that makes you look at yourself and realize [death and loss] is something we’re all going to go through. You sort of forget about it because we all get so busy in our lives.

“And I think what that film did so brilliantly is it made you look at the big picture and remember what [life is] all really about. It didn’t pull any punches. [‘Up’] said, ‘This is life, here’s how it begins and it ends, and what you do in between makes all the difference in the world.’”

Mr. Giacchino thanks his lucky stars that he has had a chance to meet his heroes and work on many films, and now will be watching the NSO perform his own music Saturday evening. In his youth, he would drive four hours from New Jersey to see the ensemble perform on the Capitol steps.

“There’s a lot of these concerts [of my work] happening in many different places, and I can’t always go to all of them, but when I knew the National Symphony was doing it, I said that one I want to go to,” Mr. Giacchino said. “I’m just most excited to be with that organization and hear them play again, and it’ll be a very different experience from when I heard Henry Mancini playing ‘Stars and Stripes [Forever]’ or ‘Pink Panther.’ This time, it’s playing my stuff. It’s really fascinating and fun, and I’m really excited about it.”

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