By Don Heckman
The high point of the John Williams: Maestro of the Movies concert at the Hollywood Bowl Saturday night didn’t actually arrive until the encore, when the “Maestro” conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in his stirring music for Star Wars. And that was no surprise to many members of the capacity – more than 17,000 – crowd. They had either come prepared, or had made a stop in the Hollywood Bowl store to pick up exactly what they needed for that final piece.
When the familiar brass fanfare began, the Bowl suddenly erupted into a panorama of flashing lights. Flashing light sabres, that is, because the audience was filled with reproductions of the famous light sabres from the film, colorfully swinging in time to the memorable music from the film. (Bought for $10.88 from the Bowl store.)
Here’s what a small section of the Bowl looked like when Williams kicked off the Star Wars encore.
But there was much more on the program than Star Wars. Williams has been criticized in the past for including too many of, so to speak, his “Greatest Hits” in his yearly Hollywood Bowl appearances. That would mean all the Star Wars flicks, so too for the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman. Harry Potter and E.T., to name only a few. And he may, as a result, have decided with this show to also emphasize some less well-known works, and include mostly brief selections from the scores of his high visibility films.
And it was fascinating to hear the far-ranging extent of his creative imagination. It was a great pleasure, for example, to hear the emotionally stirring music Williams composed for the Olympic games. For the highlight selection, The Olympic Spirit, NBC provided a powerful montage of extraordinary athletic scenes from the games to combine with the brilliantly atmospheric music.
Equally entertaining in a completely different way, Williams conducted his high spirited music for “The Duel,” from The Adventures of TinTin. Once again, a montage of film clips, this time from generations of duel sequences in Hollywood feature films, provided utterly engaging video. Among the highlights, clips from Scaramouche, Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers, The Mark of Zorrow, Black Swan and others, with prominent appearances from such film icons as Tyrone Power and Stewart Granger.
The guest artist performer, violinist Gil Shaham, also added some compelling musical moments to the mix in a trio of works. The first, Carlos Gardel’s “Por Una Cabeza,” from Scent of a Woman, arranged by Williams, triggered Shaham’s dramatic way with a melody. The poignant “Rememberances” from Williams’ score for Schindler’s List followed. And Shaham and the Philharmonic wrapped it up with William’s arrangement of lively excerpts from Fiddler on the Roof.
The second half of the program was all Williams, with selections from his scores for Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Amistad and “Ðuel of the Fates” from Star Wars Episode i.
Then, before the Star Wars encore, Williams conducted the Philharmonic in the complete music for the last reel of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial”as the synchronized video was shown on large screens.
It was an impressive evening of music, as has been the case with Williams’ past Bowl performances. Listening to his ever appropriate and well-crafted contributions to such very different films raised the question of why so many producers and directors (including Stephen Spielberg) have turned to him over the course of his decades long career. And the answer seemed clear to me. Williams, like all the finest film composers, is a master of mood and atmosphere, as well as a brilliant composer of memorable melodies.
No wonder he’s been awarded five Academy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards and 21 Grammys. When the history of 20th century music is written, it may well be the works of film composers that will surge to the foreground, transforming our definitions of “classical music.” Expect the music of John Williams to be in the vanguard of that surge.