Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Force is with John Williams

None in my new immediate circle of friends knew who John Williams is, so I set myself up for a "solitary" night of movies music with Hollywood's most accomplished and acclaimed film scorer. Having no car, I took the red line and alighted at Hollywood & Highland where a shuttle to Hollywood Bowl was waiting - plus a complimentary beverage of your choice from Starbucks.

It was my first time at the Bowl and no one better to raise the curtains for me but a film artist whose work I have tremendously admired and religiously followed since childhood, being oriented to his masterful works through his soaring and award-winning score for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). His many collaborations with filmmaker Steven Spielberg, an artist I hold in equal esteem, provided nourishment to my soul growing up in an environment where access to and expression through art was limited.

The mood was festive as the bus pulled up near the box office. Clusters of people camped on the lawns enjoying a little pre-concert picnic; some laid out blankets, others folded out collapsible chairs, and there were those who chose to commune with nature by ensconcing themselves on the gentle, green grass. Wine sampling booths added boost, or should I say booze, to the occassion.

The humungous ampitheatre was abuzz with activity as I entered. I was amazed at the sheer volume of people in attendance. I couldn't help but say to myself, "So this many people know who John Williams is? I must be hanging out with the wrong crowd."

Activity and its accompanying noise gradually dissipated as the lights faded out, the crowd waiting in anticipation for the appearance of the man of the show. The great John Williams received warm applause as he entered the stage. He started the show as soon as he stood on the pedestal.

Act One was an homage to film composers of Hollywood's Golden Age. He offered his own rendition to some of the finest compositions during the era which served as inspiration for his works: Miklos Rozsa's "Parade of the Charioteers" from Ben-Hur (1959), Erich Wolfgang Korngold's "March" from The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Bernard Herman's "Scene d'Amour" from Vertigo (1958), themes from Gone With the Wind (1939) and Now, Voyager (1942) by Max Steiner, and Maurice Jarre's scores for director David Lean's Dr. Zhivago (1965) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962); the last two with excerpts from the movie.

Watching John Williams perform live was a dream within reach when I came to America, and I could not believe I was fulfilling that dream that night as the concert unfolded. I was wide-eyed amazed at the man whose work I have loved from such a long distance, relishing his work from a creaky audio cassette player and expressing admiration by telling people about his work as I listen to his music or while walking out of a theater after watching a movie he scored.

Act Two was dedicated to the man of the show, and his opening salvo was the iconic heroic "March" from director Richard Donner's Superman (1978). The crowd went wild as the orchestra blasted the first five notes of the piece. Goosebumps crawled up from my ankles to my nape. He followed it up with the accompanying "Love Theme", an instrumental version of the song "Can You Read My Mind?" which he also composed.

His underappreciated score for Catch Me If You Can (2002) is most distinctive and surprising for a Steven Spielberg film. I honestly did not retain the tune after watching it unlike most of his collaborations with Steven Spielberg. But listening to "Closing In," "Reflections," and "Joyride" with live alto saxophone, vibraphone and bass accompaniment provided me new opportunity for appraisal.

Three pieces from the Harry Potter movies followed, evidence of his successful reinvention that has allowed him to connect with the millennium generation. He began with the atmospherically eerie "Chamber of Secrets" from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002); segued to "Aunt Marge's Waltz" from Harry Portter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) that brimmed with mischievous bouyancy; and concluded with a sumptous summation of fantasy and wonderment through "Harry's Wondrous World" from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) .

As the orchestra began to blast with the triumpaht "Throne Room and Finale" from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) the dark ampitheatre lit up with faux lightsabers. Fans of the man and the movie brandished the trademark weapon in the air throughout the whole piece. It was an exercise of unbridled fanaticism.

An encore was definitely in the offing as he waved the audience goodbye. The spotlight followed his exit and stayed right at the door. As he reentered the stage, the crowd gave a loud applause and took a while to sette. He delivered his encore with a bang starting off with the spellbinding main theme from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980). He followed it up with "Sayuri's Theme" from Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), a movie I have yet to see. The piece unfolded like a romantic rhapsody of melancholy and joy.

Everyone was up on their feet as he exited the stage again - only to come back to appease the people's clamor for his immediate return. To my delight his third encore piece was the main theme from "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial". I roared out adulation in a heartbeat, and was a tad embarassed realizing it was the only cry of admiration heard throughout the huge ampitheatre. It seemed I was the only one who recognized the first few playful notes of the piece.

The audience's thirst for his music was unquenable that cheers crescendoed again as he walked off the pedestal and out of the stage for the third time. And the shouts of approval and encouragement persisted. The fans just wouldn't let him go. And to return his audience's appreciation, the artist returned to the stage. A fourth encore piece! Now that's a concert! He capped the night of musical adventure with a most befitting piece - the main theme from the Indiana Jones trilogy.

As the music faded out, applause was again fading in. John Williams, beaming with gratitude at the appraisal endowed him, stood still for a moment smiling at the populace before him. It has been almost three hours since the concert started. He put his palms together and rested his right cheek on them as he tilted his head to the side gesturing sleep. The crowd broke into laughter and clapped their hands firmly as if letting him go. And he exited. Stagelights dimmed and floodlights filled the ampitheatre.

Excitement brewed anew as the crowd marvelled about the concert while walking out - from the ramps, to the parking lot, and even to the train station. John Williams, along with the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra, may have bowed out for the night, but the little evening of wonderful music will remain in the minds and hearts of the audience for a long time.

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