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Behind The Scenes At The Symphony’s Surprise Star Wars Concert

The crowd at the surprise Star Wars concert performed by the San Diego Symphony, July 10, 2015.
San Diego Symphony
The crowd at the surprise Star Wars concert performed by the San Diego Symphony, July 10, 2015.

Behind The Scenes At The Symphony’s Surprise Star Wars Concert
The San Diego Symphony performed a surprise concert for 7,000 Star Wars fans during Comic-Con and it was all kept top secret.

The most-buzzed about event at Comic-Con included a surprise Star Wars concert performed by the San Diego Symphony in front of 7,000 fans waving light sabers.

But making it all happen meant keeping the plans top secret. The musicians didn’t know what was happening until just two days before the Friday concert.

“And in fact they had to read a statement and agree that they weren’t going to tell their mother, their aunt, their grandmother or their kids,” said Martha Gilmer, CEO of the symphony.

Security guards were positioned at the union rehearsal hall where the musicians practiced, keeping everyone out.

Walt Disney Pictures is producing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which will be the first film in the third Star Wars trilogy. They did all of the planning and wanted a big reveal. Disney acquired Lucasfilm in October of 2012.

During the Comic-Con panel for the new film, director J.J. Abrams asked the fans in Hall H: “Who wants to go see a live Star Wars concert right now?”

He then directed everyone to follow the Stormtroopers assembled onstage. In a surprising logistical feat, all 7,000 fans marched from the convention center to the Embarcadero Marina Park South to hear the San Diego Symphony perform a free concert of award-winning composer John Williams’ Star Wars music.

Fans were also given a light saber in their color of choice.

But so were the musicians. When they arrived on stage, they found light sabers on their chairs. It took an hour-and-a-half for the crowd to assemble in a venue that usually holds 2,500.

“It was exciting to be on the stage and watch them all arrive,” Gilmer said. Many of the musicians were taking pictures of the audience and the audience took pictures of the musicians. It was pretty great.”

“As you kept seeing more people arrive, I kept thinking well that must be the end,” Gilmer said. “Then a whole new wave would come.”

Williams appeared on video to welcome the crowd and say: “The music tonight will be performed by one of my favorite orchestras, the San Diego Symphony.”

The concert was led by the orchestra’s new assistant conductor, Sameer Patel. Clips from past Star Wars films were shown on a jumbotron interspersed with close-ups of the performing musicians.

Ben Jaber is the principal horn player in the Symphony. He had a solo during one of the pieces.

“You know when the crowd saw a big scene or heard something they recognized, they would just go crazy,” Jaber said. “And one of those times happened to be when my head popped up on the Jumbotron. I saw it out of the corner of my eye, but I just tried to focus.”

Jaber said that kind of crowd response, with light sabers waving, is obviously not what the Symphony is used to.

“It was definitely the biggest group I’ve ever played for in one sitting,” Jaber said.

The concert concluded with fireworks timed to the Symphony’s performance.

“It went so viral,” Gilmer said.

“So now the San Diego Symphony will be forever connected with this incredible event.”