Interview with NJSO Principal Horn Chris Komer
Posted on 01/08/2020
All Access had the opportunity to speak with New Jersey Symphony Orchestra's principal horn player, Chris Komer. Komer chats about how much John Williams' music has inspired him, the work he has done with NJSO, and how the musicians play an iconic movie score so perfectly over the film! Catch Chris Komer and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra perform the works of John Williams from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi on February 9 at 3pm.
Read the transcribed interview below
with Kelly from All Access and special guest Chris Komer from New Jersey Symphony Orchestra
Kelly: And were back on All Access with State Theatre New Jersey I’m your host Kelly Blithe. Coming up at the State Theatre Sunday, February 9th is Star Wars: Return of the Jedi in concert. Yes, folks the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra is back screening this classic film and they are playing the classic or should I say the legendary John Williams score, live to the movie. With us today is the NJSO’s principal horn player Chris Komer. Welcome Chris.
Chris: Hi, thanks for having me.
Kelly: So, Chris word on the street is that you are a big Star Wars fan, and these performances including The Force Awakens on Sunday, April 19th* are your go to performances.
Chris: Oh, yeah. I mean Star Wars broke right when I was starting to play the horn when I was a kid. I’ll tell you those John Williams scores is the reason why I went on to become a professional musician and a professional hornist. This is super exciting for me to go on and play these film scores.
Kelly: So, take us back, you’re watching Star Wars and the music starts, and everyone is looking at the effects and what is happening on the screen and you are just loving the music. Take us back to when you first experienced that.
Chris: I was in 7th grade when the very first Star Wars movie hit and I had been playing the horn for about one year and all I could remember was there were these unbelievable horn solos played by the principal horn of the London Symphony at the time. I just wanted to go see the movie again and again. Of course, I couldn’t because I couldn’t afford to and you couldn’t stream in or anything. I was finally able to see it a second time and bought the soundtrack and everything else I could get my hands on. The music was so inspiring and fit with the film so well that, it kind of blew my mind. As a hornist growing up part of me wanted to move to Los Angeles, because I love Tchaikovsky and Brahms. What really got me going was those John Williams movies, all those great scores coming out of Los Angeles. It crossed my mind to move there and become a studio musician. But as I think about it now, I get the best of both worlds I get to play the whole thing without stopping whereas in the studio it’s a very tedious process, you record 10, 15, 20, 30 seconds of the music at a time, then you stop and agonize over it and you do it again, again, and again, and you don’t get the full effect of playing it all at once. It’s fun for us to get to do that.
Kelly: When New Jersey Symphony started playing Star Wars films for the last couple of years. How did you feel when you realized that this is actually happening, how excited were you?
Chris: We had been doing films for a little while. We had done some of the other John Williams soundtracks like Raiders of the Lost Ark and some of the other classic films like Psycho, we did Mary Poppins last year. But, it, just wasn’t available, they didn’t have it set up to do Star Wars movies with film live. But I had started hearing rumors from orchestras that started doing it, then it was only a matter of time before it came around to the New Jersey Symphony. When I heard that that was happening and that we were going to do the very first Star Wars movie I was super excited, I couldn’t wait to get to do it.
Kelly: I can tell you that audiences love it whether it’s Mary Poppins or other films. I love that you put Mary Poppins and Psycho in the same line.
Chris: It’s a little different.
Kelly: Very different. But these Star Wars films and I know that you guys have done some Harry Potter films, but the Star Wars films, people love these movies and to hear you guys perform the score live, there is nothing like it. It’s kind of a surreal moment, you have two hours or so of really, I don’t know it just kind of heightens that experience and I love seeing new folks come to see you guys. It’s not Tchaikovsky and people don’t dabble in that because they are scared and don’t know if they like classical music. This is kind of an entry into that and I have found that people come back to see you guys after they see a pops performance, I think that that is great work that you guys are doing.
Chris: I think that it is important, and I have noticed a difference in the houses too. I think first of all the movies nearly sell out every time we do at least the Star Wars movies. The Harry Potter draws very well too, but it’s mostly the Star Wars movies seems to nearly sell out every time we do it. The orchestra sounds better and better. I think once they hear us play those kinds of scores, they go oh my god I didn’t know they sounded like that and then they say what else do they play, who is Mahler who is this guy Brahms? What does that sound like? Then they do come back, I have seen a lot of younger fresh faces in the audience recently.
Kelly: Very exciting. Tell us about the rehearsal process for this kind of performance. Is it a longer rehearsal process for you guys leading up to these performances?
Chris: Believe it or not we have less rehearsals believe it or not for the movies than a regular week of classical subscriptions concert. We usually only have two sometimes three rehearsals for these movies. The reason why we don’t need quite as much rehearsal time as you might think is, almost always we have a click track, a little tiny earpiece that we wear so that we can hear the click in our ear. So not only are we following the conductor, but we are really tuned into the click. The click is just basically keeping time, when the music speeds up the click will speed up, when the music slows down the click will slow down. We have two things to cue into, the conductor and the click and he’s trying to keep everything with the click which absolutely synced up to the movie, it's all electronically synced. That makes it a little bit easier although the music is very difficult with lots of notes flying by really fast. If we have all that ready to go before the first rehearsal, then it’s not as complicated to put together as people might think.
Kelly: We are talking with Chris Komer, Principal Horn with New Jersey Symphony Orchestra talking about Star Wars: Return of the Jedi in concert on Sunday, February 9th at 3pm and The Force Awakens in concert on Sunday, April 19th.* Now Chris I have to ask you two things. What are your thoughts on the latest movie and then you’ve got to tell me if you like The Madalorian?
Chris: I have not seen the last one yet, I can’t wait to see it, I have been asking everybody, the reviews have been very good, I can’t wait to see it. The Mandalorian I’ve only seen a little bit of it, I’m very curious about it. I don’t have Disney+ yet so I guess that’s were people see that. I’m a little behind on the latest Star Wars things but I will catch up soon. From what I saw of The Mandalorian, it looked very, very good, very intriguing. It’s kind of a different story but kind of the same characters. You have the little Yoda coming into play, I’m excited to see it I really haven’t had time to sit down and start watching it.
Kelly: Sure, you’re a busy guy I totally understand. Well, I can tell you for me, The Mandalorian, it’s delightful.
Chris: Delightful, so you’re not quite as enamored with it as the Star Wars movies.
Kelly: I enjoy it, we'll have to talk off air after you see everything. Nice. For folks who have never seen the NJSO performing a pops program especially again with a classic film like a Star Wars film what would you say to get them here? What would be your hey folks this is why you should come see this show?
Chris: I think that when you see the movie in the theater, especially a theater with a really good sound system, you're going to get a great experience. But the best part about our performance is you are hearing the music absolutely acoustically and live and it’s not amplified. I think they do a little bit of amplifying certain instruments here and there but in general the sound you are hearing off the stage is live. That is completely different than seeing it at the movies and adds an extra bit of excitement to the film. There is no way to reproduce that except for being in the hall, it’s a huge screen the hall is packed everyone gets into the movie and we encourage everyone to really get into the movie, scream and yell. It’s not like a normal concert where we ask everyone to be quiet. We really want everyone to get into it, everyone does they scream and yell, it’s exciting. That’s why I would say come check it out, it’s probably a little more expensive than going to the movie theater but I think that extra money is worth to hear a 90-piece orchestra playing the music live.
Kelly: I agree, we are talking with Chris Komer Principal Horn with NJSO. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi see it on Sunday, February 9th in concert with NJSO at 3pm. Also, Star Wars: The Force Awakens in concert with NJSO Sunday, April 19th both 3pm* performances you can get your tickets at STNJ.org. Thank you, Chris, so much for being on the show, you got to check that new Star Wars stuff out and then we can chat alright?
Chris: Alright, thanks for having me.
* = this performance has since been rescheduled to Sunday, March 21, 2021 at 3pm.