For the final Pops! concert of the season, conductor Robert Moody and the Portland Symphony Orchestra, with a little help from singers and other guests, put on a stirring tribute to composer John Williams.

The feature films and series franchises of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas would not be the same without the musical contributions of the now 84-year-old Williams, and this weekend’s program was heavy on titles from their movies while not ignoring some of the composer’s other work.

The suite from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” was a highlight of the first half of the program. Beginning with mysterious and portentous modernist rustlings that gradually spread across the orchestra, the musical suspense grew. Moody seemed intent on shaping the sometimes discordant and attenuated sounds into an intricate, sonorous whole from which the famous five-note theme finally emerged.

The overture from “The Cowboys” revealed how Williams can evoke open spaces and suggest sweeping adventure while also adding touches of a Copland-esque hoedown to the mix. “Midway March” included fife-and-drumlike passages as a heroic battle was musically framed in marching-ever-onward patriotic terms.

The orchestra fell silent for several sweet moments as Charles Dimmick on violin and Janet Reeves on piano performed a duet on the theme from “Sabrina,” a romantic piece that was a warm and welcome departure from the fully orchestrated works that surrounded it.

The Pihcintu Multicultural Chorus, an all-girl group that includes immigrants and refugees, joined with the University of Southern Maine Chamber Singers for a moving take of “Dry Your Tears, Afrika” from “Amistad.” This mixture of African rhythms and choral diversity featured an animated Moody urging the girls to bring their voices to the top as the orchestra powered up at the end.


The university singers stayed on stage for the beginning of the final portion of the program, a musical retelling of the “Star Wars” saga in “story order,” as Moody put it.

A Wagnerian grandiosity marked “Duel of the Fates” from “The Phantom Menace,” with the singers riding atop orchestral surges. But the piece also took a softer turn when a folkish theme from the harp entered.

Moody, in a Jedi robe, mostly kept the music moving forward, referencing a total of eight films, while an offstage Yoda provided narration. Some “Star Wars” characters, including Princess Leia and R2-D2, made appearances on stage.

Wookiees notwithstanding, it was the soaring music of Williams that made this a winning Pops! concert.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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