Saturday, August 30, 2008

John Williams, Redux

This summer of 2008 will be most memorable to me because once again I spent a night at a definitive Los Angeles landmark - the symbolic Hollywood Bowl - and with the single greatest force in film music - the incomparable John Williams!

To see him perform live is an experience like no other. His singular ability to capture the beauty, drama, excitement, humor, and even terror in film through music is mind-blowing.

It's nothing short of masterful how his numerous film scores have stood the test of time being distinctively iconic and universally recognizable. This year's concert title aptly puts it in perspective - "John Williams: A Hollywood Legend".

I thoroughly enjoyed "John Williams: Maestro of the Movies" last year that I made a pact to go on a pilgrimage to see John Williams make magical movie music every summer at the Bowl.

With the country freshly relishing its victory in the recent Beijing Olympics, John Williams opened the night with a tribute to the Olympic Games. And he started with a most fitting piece - the jubilant "Olympic Fanfare and Theme" which he himself composed and conducted for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

A reflective interlude followed with "Song for World Peace," a most lyrical and symbolic piece that focused on flute and violin - instruments that reflected notions of tranquility. The three-piece opening salvo was concluded with "The Olympic Spirit" that featured film clips of past and most recent Olympic victories.

Williams perhaps never fails to mention his 35 years of collaboration with film director Steven Spielberg at each concert that he likens their relationship to a good marriage of movie and music that had always been harmonious in artistic expression.

So, he summed up the first half of the concert with music from their countless collaboration: Excerpts from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977); "Flight to Neverland" from "Hook" (1991); "The Adventures of Mutt" and "Irina's Theme" from "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (2008); and "Raiders March" from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981).

The second half of the concert dubbed "Hooray for Hollywood" started with a tribute to American film director and choreographer Stanley Donen whose body of work includes "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" (1954), "Always Fair Weather" (1955) and "Singin' In The Rain" (1952). As Williams' special guest, he provided lively banter and interesting insights into his featured films.

Most notable technological insights were how Fred Astaire was made to appear seamlessly dancing on walls and the ceiling singing "You're All The World To Me" in the 1950 film "Royal Wedding," and the challenges met by Donen in fusing live action with animation in "The Worry Song" from the 1945 musical "Anchors Aweigh". These are amazing feats of technical triumph considering they were made during Hollywood's golden age.

Williams next conducted his score for the 1995 remake of the Audrey Hepburn 1954 classic "Sabrina". The orchestra featured critically-acclaimed violin soloist Bing Wang.

The last part of the second half was a fitting tribute to George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Williams started with the eerie theme from "Jaws" (1975) which seamlessly segued to the victorious theme from "Star Wars" (1977).

This summer, I came prepared with a toy lightsaber and joined other fanatics light up the dark ampitheater with our neon "weapons". He capped the tribute with his soaring and Academy award-winning score for "E.T. - the Extra-Terrestrial" (1982).

What's a concert without an encore? After bowing out of the stage, the spotlight found him front and center again. The orchestra blasted away with the main theme from "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980) which found the faux lightsabers and hollers of adulation back in the air!

"Marion's Theme" followed as a tribute to the character popularized by Karen Allen which made a comeback in the fourth installment of the Indiana Jones movies. The encore was fittingly concluded by the triumphant march from "Superman" (1978).

Another great summer night with the most important composer of our time.

I can't wait for next summer.

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