‘Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage’ goes where few have gone before: the music of the sci-fi franchise
“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise…”
You can’t recall those famous words — which introduced “Star Trek” to TV audiences in 1966 and have been spoken over the years by William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart and Chris Pine, all playing officers of the USS Enterprise — without hearing the accompanying music in your head.
It’s the Enterprise fanfare, written by original “Star Trek” composer Alexander Courage. Those eight notes, now one of the world’s best-known musical signatures, will figure prominently in a concert of “Star Trek” music celebrating the franchise’s 50th anniversary April 1 and 2 at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood.
In fact, argues Shatner (the original Capt. James T. Kirk), that music has, like the series, become a part of American popular culture. “If ‘Star Trek’ has had an effect on the culture, and it has, even in the space program, the music is responsible for a portion of that,” he said in a phone call.
“Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage” is a live, two-hour concert of “Trek” music set to classic clips from the five TV series and 12 movies spawned over the years from creator-producer Gene Roddenberry’s original conception of a 23rd-century starship exploring the galaxy and encountering new life forms.
It’s the brainchild of conductor Justin Freer and his producing partner Brady Beaubien, whose CineConcerts company does live-to-picture concerts of complete films, including “The Godfather,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “Gladiator.” Paramount and CBS (which control the “Trek” franchise) entrusted them with the idea of a 50th-anniversary musical tribute.
Freer will conduct an 85-piece orchestra in music by 13 composers, including themes by Oscar winners Jerry Goldsmith (who scored five of the movies, starting with “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”), James Horner (“Star Trek II” and “III”), Leonard Rosenman (“Star Trek IV”) and Michael Giacchino (the recent “Trek” reboot) and Emmy winners Dennis McCarthy and Jay Chattaway, who together scored more than two-thirds of the four later “Trek” series (“The Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine,” “Voyager” and “Enterprise”).
“I admired so many of these composers and so much of what the producers and directors created over the years,” says Freer. “What better way to celebrate it than to marry some of the great music of the franchise to many of its great visuals?”
Freer made the musical choices while Beaubien wrote the narration (read by Michael Dorn, who played Worf in “Next Generation” and “Deep Space Nine”) linking the various themes of the evening, which they said would include exploration, life forms, friendship and man versus machine.
“Each montage is a dramatic, unique story, almost like a mini-film,” adds Freer. “Not a documentary effort, but an emotionally driven story that people can immerse themselves in.”
Freer had a lot of music to choose from. Nearly half of the original 79-episode 1960s series featured original scores, as did all 622 episodes of the four spinoff series and all 12 feature films — two of which, Goldsmith’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and Rosenman’s “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” received Oscar nominations for their music.
It turned out to be one of the greatest scores Goldsmith ever wrote, and it established an incredibly high bar for music [for future films and series].
— Author Jeff Bond
The seemingly endless reruns of the TV series have propelled the music, more than most TV shows, into the public consciousness, according to author Jeff Bond (“The Music of ‘Star Trek’”).
“The original show was scored at a time when TV music was very dynamic, by composers who had strong personal styles and voices,” Bond notes. He has high praise for Goldsmith’s initial “Trek” score: “It turned out to be one of the greatest scores Goldsmith ever wrote, and it established an incredibly high bar for music [for future films and series].”
Goldsmith’s music became an integral part of the franchise. He scored four additional “Trek” films before his death in 2004. His theme for the 1979 movie was adopted (at Roddenberry’s insistence) as the theme for the “Next Generation” series in 1987; he later won an Emmy for his theme for “Star Trek: Voyager” and even toyed with the idea of a “Star Trek” opera.
One key aspect that distinguished “Star Trek” music from that of many other TV series in the ‘80s, ‘90s and beyond was the producers’ insistence that it be performed by musicians, not with synthesizers, which was becoming the norm at the time.
“These [producers] were very smart people, and they understood music,” says Chattaway, who scored more than 180 episodes and won an Emmy for a “Voyager” episode. “It became addictive to get up in front of the best musicians in Los Angeles and have them play music that you’d written maybe only hours earlier. I don’t think I’ll ever have as amazing an experience.”
McCarthy, who holds the record for the most “Trek” music of any composer (more than 250 episodes plus the “Generations” feature), says the weekly orchestra on the four later shows ranged from 35 to 60 players. He earned an Emmy for his “Deep Space Nine” theme and considers the “Trek” years “the high point of my career. Nothing else has come close,” he says.
This weekend’s concerts will include Gerald Fried’s savage, Stravinsky-esque Vulcan fight music from the original series, which has since been parodied everywhere from “The Simpsons” to “The Cable Guy.” Fried, who later won an Emmy for scoring the miniseries “Roots,” is now 88 and lives in Santa Fe, N.M.
The only surviving composer among the eight who worked on the 1960s series, Fried is busy scoring the “Trek” spoof movie “Unbelievable!,” due this fall. “I had never done science fiction before,” he recalls, “but what I liked about it was that it was about people. Good basic human stories, just way out in space.”
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