CCI: Battlestar Galactica Orchestra

Tue, August 4th, 2009 at 4:22pm PDT | Updated: August 4th, 2009 at 4:23pm

TV/Film
Ryan Jones, Guest Contributor

"Battlestar Galactica" composer Bear McCreary

Over the years, Comic-Con has grown from a good-sized comic book show that focused on retailers and creator signings to a full-scale media onslaught with celebrity-driven panels that draw thousands of fans. The entire city of San Diego welcomes the legion of fanboys and fangirls with open arms and plenty of tantalizing offerings.

This year, San Diego's House of Blues got in on the action by playing host to "Bear McCreary: The Music of Battlestar Galactica." "Battlestar Galactica" has been lauded for its writing, cast of actors and high production values. But one of the most unique things about the show is its musical score. The music is such an important part of the show, that in the third and fourth seasons, it became an integral part of the plot. For “Battlestar” fans who adored the series and still long to experience it once again, this sold-out concert was a dream come true.

CBR News arrived early Saturday night at the House of Blues, where we checked out the SyFy vendor booth that included CDs, posters and other memorabilia. Notable was the “Battlestar Galactica” toaster, which bore a Cylon face on the chromed front and burned either the words "Frak Off" or a picture of a Cylon onto your morning toast. Also available was a T-shirt that read "Frak Off," which the vendor said was inspired by the shirt worn by Selma Hayek during her recent guest appearance on "30 Rock." The two-disc Season Four soundtrack was available exclusively before its official release on July 28.

VIP ticket holders received a gift bag that included a "Caprica" T-shirt promoting the new “Battlestar Galactica” spin-off series, a copy of the Season Three soundtrack, Syfy network buttons, and various swag.

The show began with one of the stars of "Battlestar Galactica," Grace Park, serving as the hostess for the evening. Park wore a sparkly, metallic baby doll dress that was otherworldly and perfect for an evening with sci-fi fans. Park enthusiastically welcomed the crowd to roars, applause and a few catcalls. She then introduced the opening act, BrEndAn's Band, whose lead singer Brendan McCreary just happens to be the little brother of “Battlestar” composer Bear McCreary. The majority of the band members were part of Bear's BSG orchestra, and Brendan provided vocals and guitar for the show’s score. They played a lengthy set with Brendan McCreary dressed in a khaki flightsuit and oversized shades. The younger McCreary brother rocked the house with all the charisma and vigor one would expect from the lead singer of a rock band. They rounded out their set with a song from "Battlestar Galactica" called "When Will the Work Be Done," which was filled with references to the Twelve Colonies, Kobol and Cylons. The song was featured in the series' final episode "Daybreak" and is available as a free download on the band's MySpace page.

"Battlestar Galactica" star Edward James Olmos and composer Bear McCreary

There was a brief break as the stage was set for the main performance. The back of the stage was lined with enormous taiko drums and Asian gongs. In addition, the band included traditional drums, keyboards and a baby grand piano. In total, there were roughly fifteen members of the complete ensemble playing a wide range of instruments including winds, percussion and strings and more exotic instruments such as bagpipes. Several of the players from BrEndAn's Band also performed as part of the Battlestar Galactica Orchestra, including Brendan McCreary and vocalist Raya Yarbrough.

Once the stage was set, Grace Park returned and introduced a special guest. Edward James Olmos, who portrayed Admiral William Adama on "Battlestar Galactica," joined Park onstage to roars from the crowd. Olmos was not scheduled to appear at Saturday's performance, having hosted the concert on Thursday and Friday, so his appearance was a real treat for fans. Also in the audience was Tahmoh Penikett, who Olmost welcomed the stage, again to the delight of the audience.

Olmos effusively praised Bear's music, talent and artistry saying that the audience was in for an incredible experience. He warned the audience that the music was "emotional" and admitted that it brought him to tears the first time he experienced it live. Olmos' dedication to the series and his appreciation for the music it spawned was clear in every word he spoke. Fans responded enthusiastically to Olmos' praise, chanting "So Say We All" along with the commander of the Colonial fleet.

Olmos' comments proved to be more than true as fans enjoyed three full hours of music from the Syfy hit show. The selections were drawn from throughout “Battlestar Galactica’s” four seasons and demonstrated the emotional range of the work as a whole. The evening started with "A Distant Sadness," a haunting melody that features Raya Yarbrough's ethereal vocals. Bear McCreary took the stage and conducted while surrounded by keyboards and a baby grand that he also played himself. At one point in the evening, he even busted out an accordion!

Particularly striking was the show's emotional anthem "Passacaglia," a prime example of the distinctiveness of McCreary's compositions. The music washed over the audience with swelling intensity. During "Wander My Friends" and "The Dance," the band was joined by Eric Rigler on bagpipes. McCreary's use of the taiko drums, bagpipes and unique metallic percussion instruments added to the mystical flavor of his musical themes.

"Battlestar Galactica" star Edward James Olmos, composer Bear McCreary, musicians Raya Yarbrough and Brendan McCreary

The next piece, "Fight Night," heavily featured the enormous taiko drums which contrasted sharply with the wind instruments.

The band took a well-deserved break while Bear McCreary played the complete "Dreilide Thrace Sonata #1", a pivotal piece from the series. Only a snippet of this piece was played during an episode in which Kara "Starbuck" Thrace listens to a recording of her father's music. The full musical arrangement was performed by McCreary and is also available on the Season Four soundtrack.

The first half of the show concluded with "Storming New Caprica," which moved through the range of melodies and tones, beginning with a sweet introduction and building to an intense climax that had audience members on their feet.

During the intermission, Grace Park returned to the stage to give out some prizes and joke with fans. She asked playfully which of the two Cylons she portrayed the audience would rather date, Boomer or Athena? The audience seemed to favor the more aggressive and sensual Boomer. Among the prizes raffled off were a duty uniform from the show, a Cylon toaster, and a complete set of “Battlestar Galactica” soundtracks.

Bear and Brendan McCreary's mother was on the scene, and CBR asked if she had any parental advice on how to nurture musical talent in children. She mentioned the importance of having a piano in their home and encouraging her sons to stick with band activities in school. She also mentioned that Raya Yarbrough would soon be joining the McCreary family. She and Bear became engaged earlier in the month.

The crew returned to the stage and built upon the energy of the first half of the show. The music in the second set provided a great spotlight for the talents of the ensemble. Standouts were definitely Paul Cartwright on violin and cellist Tina Guo. Cartwright's violin solo during one number was nothing short of amazing. Sweat poured from his brow as he launched himself into the song with a sheer joy that was a sight to behold. Tina Guo was equally impressive on the cello and electric cello.

Bear McCreary returned to the piano to play "Elegy," the completely haunting song played by Kara Thrace during the fan favorite episode "Someone to Watch Over Me." Raya Yarbrough's distinctive vocals were back for "Lords of Kobol." The set concluded with "Prelude to War," which brought the house to its feet.

"Battlestar Galactica" star Edward James Olmos, composer Bear McCreary, musicians Raya Yarbrough and Brendan McCreary

Chants of "So Say We All" led to the entire band returning to the stage. McCreary introduced their next song, a tribute to the recently departed Michael Jackson. McCreary admitted the influence Jackson's music had had on the score for "Battlestar Galactica" and pointed out that you can hear a touch of this influence in the song "The Temple of Five." They launched into a cover of Jackson's "Earth Song," whose lyrics fit right in with the tone and themes of “Galactica.” The song highlighted the vocal energy and range of Brendan McCreary, who has a powerhouse voice. His talent is an interesting contrast with his older brother's. Bear has immense talent as a composer and conductor but seems confidently content leading the procession from behind his keyboards and allowing his energetic younger brother to shine as the orchestra's frontman.

Following "Earth Song," the band launched into one of the best known songs from the series, "All Along the Watchtower." At this point, the crowd was in a frenzied state of excitement and Mrs. McCreary was on her feet, pumping her fists in tandem to the music and mouthing the lyrics. The show had fully evolved past the beautiful orchestral movements into a full-bore rock concert and the fans were eating it up.

The Battlestar Galactica Orchestra concluded their encores with the dramatically powerful "Black Market," laced with a riff from the "Colonial Anthem" based on the title music from the original television series. The band bowed to raucous cheers from the crowd and a final round of "So Say We All."

It's safe to say that everyone present had a frakkin' amazing night.

Complete Set List for Saturday's Performance:

  • A DISTANT SADNESS
  • PRECIPICE
  • WAYWARD SOLDIER
  • CULT OF BALTAR
  • PEGASUS
  • PASSACAGLIA
  • ROSLIN AND ADAMA
  • WANDER MY FRIENDS
  • THE DANCE
  • FIGHT NIGHT
  • DREILIDE THRACE SONATA #1 (PIANO SOLO)
  • STORMING NEW CAPRICA
"Battlestar Galactica" star Edward James Olmos and composer Bear McCreary

-INTERMISSION-

  • APOCALYPSE
  • BALTAR’S DREAM
  • SOMETHING DARK IS COMING
  • ELEGY (SOLO PIANO)
  • CAPRICA
  • GAETA’S LAMENT
  • GINA ESCAPES
  • DIRTY HANDS
  • LORDS OF KOBOL
  • PRELUDE TO WAR

- ENCORE-

  • EARTH SONG (MICHAEL JACKSON TRIBUTE)
  • HEEDING THE CALL / ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER

- SECOND ENCORE -

  • COLONIAL ANTHEM / BLACK MARKET

Special Thanks to Beth Krakower, Bear McCreary’s publicist, for the photos and set list.

For more information about Bear McCreary and the Battlestar Galactica Orchestra, visit their websites: http://www.bearmccreary.com/, http://bsgorchestra.com/, http://www.myspace.com/brendansband

TAGS:  cci2009, battlestar galactica, bear mccreary, edward james olmos, grace park

 
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