MusicJune 21, 2016

Hearing John Williams’ stirring theme music to the “Indiana Jones” movies might whip up a number of feelings in you.

Maybe you’ll visualize Harrison Ford wearing a fedora and staring down a sword-wielding foe. Maybe you’ll be transported back to the first time you saw him outrunning a boulder across a cinema screen.

Or maybe, like Gemma New, you’ll be inspired to dance.

Yes, dance.

“John Williams is a star composer,” New, an associate conductor of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, says of “Raiders March,” the official name of Williams’ famous theme. “He’s so smart with the character he brings into his themes. And the beautiful orchestration — the way he uses the colors of the instruments to show us what’s happening on film.

Mark Timmerman at Branch Brook Park 2015And over the next few weeks, she’ll give you plenty of chances to join in.

“This one has a lot of rhythm, and I love it,” New adds. “I could totally dance to this.”

New and NJSO are kicking off a free summer concert series devoted to movie music. They’ll play symphonic versions of selections from Williams’ scores to “Indiana Jones,” “E.T.,” and “Star Wars,” as well as music from “The Godfather,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Batman,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and more.

The series will include concerts at six parks throughout north and central New Jersey, beginning this Thursday, June 23 at 8 p.m. at Overpeck County Park in Leonia.

“For a summer concert, we all want to have fun,” New explains. “We want everyone to relax, enjoy the summer evening, and just have some music the audiences love. Music they really can remember either from childhood or music that resonates with them.”

Plus, the show is also a reminder of something else film music often does: introduce new audience to classical and symphonic music, a genre they might otherwise consider old or boring.

“Film uses music to express the inner feelings of a person,” New says. “We feel the music more intensely as we view the film. A lot of people buy soundtracks to their favorite films, Maybe the come home form a hard day and want to be relaxed and be soothed by it.  Hopefully it brings people to love classical music, too.”

Each concert is divided into two parts — the first featuring classical music that has been used at key points in famous films.

Like Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, as heard in 2010’s Best Picture Oscar winner “The Kings Speech.” Or Gioachino Rossini’s opera “The Barber of Seville,” as used memorably in a Bugs Bunny Cartoon. The show will also include pieces found in “Raging Bull” and “Moulin Rouge.”

NJSO summer parks“They all use classical music in a really poignant way,” New says.

One of the most notable pieces in the concert is the first few bars of Richard Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathustra” — which scores the opening of Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

In fact, New says, this may be the prime example of a classical piece that many people wouldn’t know if it wasn’t used in a film.

Well, the beginning of it anyway.

“Most people know just the first 20 bars,” New explains. “Yet the actual piece is about 45 minutes. So it’s kind of hilarious.”

NJSO will also play selections that were used in “Fantasia,” the groundbreaking 1940 Disney film that paired animation with classical works.

“It brought so many young people to classical music,” New says. “Because it added the visual element. You kind of see the story of the music. It’s enhanced by the visual picture.”

Branch Brook 097

The concert’s second half includes music that was composed directly for film. In other words, the best of Hollywood — or the part of the show, New says, where “we generally want to let our hair down.”

That includes the John Williams pieces, as well as “When You Wish Upon a Star” from “Pinocchio.”

“Every piece is just so different,” New says of the songs in the show. “They all bring a personality. Some of it is beautiful, some of it is driving and rocking. I hope they really appreciate how much great film music we have.”

As for New herself? She was born in New Zealand and started playing violin and piano at a young age. She got hooked on classical music by playing in a youth orchestra.

“I loved being part of that huge sound and working in a team,” New remembers.

She started conducting at age 15. “It just clicked immediately,” she says. “This was perhaps the best way to express my musical voice.”

New came to the U.S. to study conducting at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She graduated with a master’s degree in orchestral conducting.

Gemma New 3

Eventually, she auditioned for the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra when an associated conductor position opened and won the job straight out of college.

New is also the founder and director of the Lunar Ensemble, a contemporary music collective in Baltimore. In 2013, New York classical radio station WQXR named her one of the “Top Five Women Conductors on the Rise.”

Last spring she was named music director of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra in Ontario, Canada, and recently New was appointed resident conductor of the St. Louis Symphony.

In other words, she brings classical music to audiences across the map.

“Sometimes, I don’t know where I am for a second,” New jokes. “I’m always traveling. Wherever I am with my suitcases, I kind of call that home. “


The dates of the NJSO summer concert series are:

  • June 23, 8 p.m. at Overpeck County Park in Leonia (Bergen County)
  • June 24, 7:30 p.m. at Echo Lake Park in Mountainside (Union County)
  • June 28, 7:30 p.m. at Branch Brook Park in Newark (Essex County)
  • June 29, 7:30 p.m. at Flood’s Hill in Meadowland Park in South Orange (Essex County)
  • June 30, 7:30 p.m. at Pier A Park in Hoboken (Hudson County)
  • July 2, 7:30 p.m. at Mercer County Park in West Windsor (Mercer County)


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About Author

Brent Johnson
Brent Johnson

Brent Johnson is a pop-culture-obsessed writer from East Brunswick, N.J. He's currently a reporter for The Star-Ledger of Newark. Before that, he was a longtime entertainment and music columnist for The Trenton Times. His work has also been published by Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated On Campus and Night & Day Magazine. His favorite musical artists: Elvis Costello, Billy Joel, The Smiths, Roxy Music, Dave Matthews Band, The Beatles, Blur, Squeeze, The Kinks. When he's not writing, Brent is the lead singer in alt-rock band The Clydes.