The Music of Star Wars: Ottawa Pops Orchestra Interview

The Music of Star Wars: Ottawa Pops Orchestra Interview

If you could use a bit of a break from all the standard holiday tunes but still want something grand and magical, the Ottawa Pops Orchestra have created an incredible aural experience for all ages with their upcoming concert, “The Music of Star Wars”. Even if you’ve never seen the movies, you’ve likely heard a theme or two, given how large the films loom in pop culture; indeed, the beauty of a concert showcasing this music is that the films and music are adored by all generations. This is the perfect opportunity to familiarize yourself with the films with a family Star Wars movie marathon over the holidays, followed by one of these concerts.. These shows run from Friday, December 21 to Sunday, December 23, and best of all, the tickets start at only $25.75, a reasonable cost for an extraordinary event.

The Ottawa Pops Orchestra (OPO) is the newest orchestral ensemble in Ottawa’s classical music scene. Founded in 2017, OPO is trying to shift the experience of the concert hall from something inaccessible and stuffy to a fresh and exciting option for a night out. Their programs feature music that you’ve probably heard of before, often including scores from beloved films and classical favourites. Earlier this year, the OPO sold out their concert series featuring the music of the Harry Potter films, and it looks like they might do it again with their upcoming concert dates for “The Music of Star Wars.”

The OPO is focused on appealing to younger audiences and fostering a sense of community around classical music. Led by their principal conductor Jonathan Dagenais, the community orchestra has been working tirelessly to reach out and appeal to a younger audience/generation by combining classical orchestra with popular music, and encouraging Ottawans to bring the whole family to enjoy orchestral music.

In addition to providing a family friendly concert hall environment and programming, the orchestra also engages in educational initiatives. They’ve opened up their dress rehearsals, performing a condensed version of upcoming concerts, to students from grade 5 to grade 12. The OPO will also be expanding their educational initiatives in 2019, the organization is passionate about getting young people excited about orchestral music.

We were fortunate enough to interview some of the board members and the conductor for the Ottawa Pops Orchestra. Each interviewee conveyed their dedication to making their concerts as inviting as possible. Their love for the orchestral genre and sharing that passion with newcomers to the concert hall, both old and young, is an incredibly welcome addition to Ottawa’s music community. Vive l’orchestre!


Why did you choose to feature the music of Star Wars this season? Why do you think this music resonates with audiences?
Mathieu Roy, Artistic and Executive Director

For me, John Williams is film music and part of the reason why I am so passionate about orchestral pops repertoire. And after the success that was Harry’s Musical World in the spring, we thought it would be a good idea to create another concert with such a huge following. It was also important for us to program music that could connect with a wide audience even if they have never heard of Star Wars. Williams’ themes are so ingrained in today’s pop culture that you would be hard pressed to find someone that could not at least hum the Imperial march or Hedwig’s theme. The majority of our audience will be experiencing a live symphony orchestra for the first time and so it is important to present material that they can identify with and have been previously exposed to.

Many believe that the symphony is boring and for old people, when in reality it is anything but! Back in the day, in the time of Mozart and Beethoven, there weren’t any movie theatres to go to on a Friday night! The common form of entertainment was the opera house, which was their primary source of entertainment and for social gatherings. Fast forward 200-odd years, and we find that the symphonies of today exist in the realm of the cinema. Sure, the way they are presented is different, but the reason for their existence is essentially the same. In a film, it’s easy to forget that there was a full symphony orchestra recording the music in real time while the conductor is watching the movie! But wouldn’t the experience be different if there wasn’t such a lush score accompanying the images? We want to bring this music to the forefront and have audiences feel the emotions being conveyed by the score. Those that have seen the films will have the added bonus of seeing it in their minds as the soaring melodies bring back fond memories.


How did you select which Star Wars pieces to perform, considering there are so many scores that span the series of films?
Jonathan Dagenais, Principal Pops Conductor

(translated from French by Alexandre Bigeau)

Of course, my main objective was to explore the most impressive and magnificent themes of this great saga, all while covering as many films as possible. Therefore, the concert will showcase the amazing classics and create an unwavering sense of nostalgia that the fans will adore, but we will also explore some of the lesser-known themes (e.g. Rogue One by Michael Giacchino).


Were there any songs selected that presented some interesting challenges or opportunities?
Jonathan Dagenais, Principal Pops Conductor

(translated from French by Alexandre Bigeau)

Yes, many pieces that support intense action scenes (battles in space or on land, galactic chases, etc.) are more difficult to execute (Here They Come or Asteroid Field come to mind) and uncover several performance challenges for the ensemble when it comes to precision and timing. The OPO is facing these challenges brilliantly and with enthusiasm by listening to each other collectively and embracing teamwork.


Are the same selections played for each of the three concerts? Is there an overall story or plot progression to the concert?
Mathieu Roy, Artistic and Executive Director

The same selections will be played for all three concerts.

Over the course of the films, over 18 hours of musical material was composed, which posed quite a challenge in the selection of the music that is to be performed. I essentially had to choose just 70 minutes out of all the music available. This could have been presented in many ways: following the film release date, chronological order etc. Ultimately, the choice was made to not necessarily follow the correct film order (whatever that might be!), but to use some of the most iconic and unforgettable musical moments to build a narrative. Every concert should have a flow with proper ups and downs, and since there are no images to accompany this performance, I was able to stitch together selections from every film, completely ignoring the order and connecting themes that fit well together and made sense — essentially creating an overview of the Star Wars franchise. This concert will take you on an emotional journey and leave you utterly satisfied, no matter your age or planet of origin.


What can audiences expect from Ottawa Pop Orchestra’s Star Wars concerts?
Jonathan Dagenais, Principal Pops Conductor

(translated from French by Alexandre Bigeau)

An emotional evening with colourful sounds mixed with the joy and nostalgia of experiencing these magnificent musical frescoes in concert. We wish to create a tremendous musical voyage and relive the impacts of this ground-breaking science fiction epic. It will all take place in a friendly, accessible and dynamic environment fostered by the Ottawa Pops Orchestra!


Can you tell us about the musical direction of the orchestra and its mission or goal?
Mathieu Roy

The Ottawa Pops Orchestra aims to foster the next generation of musicians, redefine the orchestral experience, and create a sense of community in the Ottawa-Gatineau Region. This means that we are reaching out to the under-35 demographic and are trying to show them how great orchestral music can be, that it is still relevant, and a very important source of entertainment. We want to change the stigma of the ‘’classical orchestra hall’’ where you are dressed to the nines, and phones are turned off, and that orchestral music is for the elite and privileged. You want to come to the show in a comfortable onesie, or dressed up in a stormtrooper outfit? Go ahead! We want you to enjoy your experience however you want. The music that we program is designed to be accessible to the general public and a gateway to the wider orchestral music world. We will continue to program lighter classical favorites, with some tunes that almost anyone can recognize and eventually venture into some more advanced selections, but we want anyone to be able to come to the show no matter their previous knowledge, and leave having enjoyed themselves and possibly learned something new.


What is the composition of the orchestra: how many members, community-based or professional? Can you tell us a little bit about your conductor?
Mathieu Roy

The orchestra for this concert is made up of 65 musicians. Depending on the program, this number might range from 55-75. The orchestra’s core is composed of young professionals, university graduates that have or are currently studying musical performance, many of which might very well continue on to become well respected musicians. The rest is made up of very talented community players that range in age and walks of life.

Jonathan Dagenais, our Principal Pops Conductor, is an established Montreal conductor and composer. His love of the franchise is second to none, and I could not think of a more perfect match for this ensemble.

Jonathan’s Bio:

Jonathan Dagenais holds a master’s degree in Conducting from McGill University and a bachelor’s degree in Composition from the Université de Montréal. Formerly conducting the McGill Wind Orchestra and the Montreal Pop Symphony Orchestra, he currently conducts for Cercle Philharmonique de Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Orchestre à Vents Non Identifié (OVNI), and Orchestre de jeux vidéo – OJV (Montreal Video Game Orchestra – an ensemble dedicated to video game soundtracks). Being a long-time fan of video games and their music, this was a natural marriage of his two passions.

Finally, for the year 2018-2019, he was appointed guest conductor for the Ottawa Pops Orchestra. Additionally, he has been the artistic director of Quebec MusicFest since 2017 and was appointed the conductor of the National Youth Band of Canada (NYB) for the 2013 edition. He is also the appointed conductor/clinician /educator for the company Twigg Musique in Quebec and a Yamaha Canada Master Educational Artist.


What can you tell us about your educational initiatives?
Lindsay Allen, Artistic Administrator

We believe that gaining performance experience should be widely available, regardless of financial background. In 2018, we initiated the Orchestral Development Bursary, which is a monetary award presented to outstanding musicians in the orchestra under the age of 30 as they gain the orchestral experience to help them in their musical careers.

We also began opening our dress rehearsals to students between grade 5 to grade 12 in the Ottawa-Gatineau area. The Student Matinees are a 1 hour condensed program that is performed to local schools during the orchestra’s dress rehearsal, and is an opportunity to showcase the musical arts in the community to students who are just beginning to fully explore the arts in school. We also believe in fostering the next generation of musicians and music appreciators and that this starts early on in the classroom! As of 2019, we hope to expand our educational endeavors directly into the classroom offering concerts and workshops for students of all ages. The majority of our musicians are fairly young and from experience, we see that youth identify well with people closer to their age group. If a high school student who is considering a career in music — be it as a performer, music management, music therapist, writer etc. — but are afraid to pursue it, seeing others succeeding could help them make a decision.


What should we expect from the Ottawa Pops Orchestra in 2019 and beyond?
Mathieu Roy, Artistic and Executive Director

As far as the program goes, I can’t say too much because we have yet to confirm anything, but I can definitely say that you can expect more movie soundtracks. We also don’t want to limit ourselves to one genre while also continuing to push what it means to be a pops orchestra. This might mean combining Star Trek with Gustav Holst’s The Planets; merging film music and 20th century classical music in an outer space musical expedition; or taking a trip to the Big White Way with guest vocalists for some Broadway blockbuster. I am also very interested in combining more than one artform, as it would be really neat to integrate visual art, dance and theatre into the orchestral performance.

We are still a very new organization and in the process of truly establishing ourselves in the Ottawa-Gatineau community. We are currently applying to obtain registered charity status which will allow us to establish the Ottawa Pops Foundation, and in turn permit us to achieve our goal much faster and secure other sources of funding. We want to collaborate with local artists and organizations and start a conversation surrounding music and art in general. We are appealing to a market that is looking for new experiences, and that is what we hope to achieve.

Felicia Persaud, President of the Board of Directors and Librarian

You can expect a lot from us in 2019 and beyond. We concentrate on three main ideas: the audience, the musician, and the future musician. You can expect the organization’s continued commitment to redefining the orchestral experience through unique programming and concert experience. We will help support the upcoming generation of orchestral musicians in various engagements that will help them grow and mature as an artist. Finally, we hope to increase our presence in education and continue student matinees and open dress rehearsals to keep arts in schools alive; without new musicians, where will we be in 20 years?


The Ottawa Pops Orchestra will be playing three shows of “The Music of Star Wars” at Meridian Theatres at Centrepointe: on Friday, December 21 at 7:30 p.m., the following night on December 22 at 7:30 p.m., and the final show on Sunday, December 23 at 2:30 p.m. Secure your tickets here

You can find more information about the show, as well as the concert program here:

A special thank you to the Ottawa Pops Orchestra, and especially to Manager of Marketing and External Affairs Alana Fediurek for facilitating this interview.


  1. Reply

    That is the coolest picture I have ever seen.

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