by Dan Goldwasser
This past Labor Day weekend, John Williams held his annual concert at the Hollywood Bowl - and did a knock-out job. Wearing a snazzy white tuxedo along with the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra, Williams looked calm and collected as he came out on stage. Per tradition, he began with the "Star Spangled Banner", before moving into his "Liberty Fanfare", which was written for the 1986 centennial of the Statue of Liberty. He then dove immediately into a very nice suite of music from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This suite has always bothered me because it doesn't feel like it has a "middle" section, using the great chase music. The finale was still moving and powerful, though. Appropriately enough, this was followed by two pieces from this year's War of the Worlds ("Escape from the City", "Epilogue").
Williams finally then spoke to the audience, and talked about sending our "good will" and feelings to those in the Gulf, which was certainly on everyone's mind. He then spoke about how last year we lost three great composers: David Raksin, Jerry Goldsmith, and Elmer Bernstein. In tribute to these three film music giants, Williams conducted music from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Laura, and The Magnificent Seven. Just to end the first half on a big note, he played "Parade of the Charioteers" from Ben-Hur by Miklos Rozsa.
After the intermission, Williams played a new suite of music that he arranged called, "Monsters, Beauties, Heroes". Beginning with Steiner's King Kong, images were projected on screen showing classic movie monsters, from Dracula to The Creature from the Black Lagoon, to Freddy Kruger, to - appropriately enough - the shark from Jaws. At which point, appropriately, the music shifted to William's score from that film. For the "Beauties" segment of the suite, the music shifted to Steiner's Casablanca, and starlets of the silver screen both past and present were flashed on screen. The music then shifted to Friedhofer's An Affair to Remember as the images kept coming. Finally, the "Heroes" segment began with Korngold's Robin Hood, as images of movie heroes (from Indiana Jones to James Bond and more) were shown on screen. Of course the audience went wild when any Star Wars characters were shown, and when the music shifted to Williams' score to Superman, they went nuts.
The lights in the Bowl went green, and Williams then gave us a very nicely rendered suite of music from his score to Ron Howard's Far and Away. Things took a serious tone then, with the Cal State Fullerton University Singers joining the orchestra for "Dry Your Tears, Afrika" from Amistad. Concertmaster Bing Wang then came up front and center to perform the heart-wrenching emotional violin solo from Schindler's List. There is a time and a place to shout musical requests to the stage, but there is no excuse for the bozo who shouted "Star Wars!!" just as Wang was about to start playing. How rude! Of course, if that yahoo had been just a little more patient, they would have been placated: for the big finale, Williams hit us with a triple-punch of music from the Star Wars films.
Two years ago, Williams played "Duel of the Fates" without a choir. Last year, he had a choir and didn't play "Duel of the Fates". This year, though, he would finally put two-and-two together. Starting with this year's " Battle of the Heroes" from Episode III, he then went into "Luke and Leia" from Return of the Jedi (the French horn player was a tad sloppy, but gave an otherwise acceptable performance), and finally, "Duel of the Fates" with full choir and orchestra. Now that is how you end a concert!<#GOOGLEAD#>
But of course, that's not the end. Williams is known for his encores, and he had quite a few on hand! Placating the crowd, he continued his Star Wars streak, and gave us the "Main Title", and "Yoda's Theme". He then returned for two additional encores: "The Raiders March" from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and "Over the Moon" from E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. This was a great concert - certainly one of Williams' strongest in years. But he barely spoke to the audience, and when he left the stage, he didn't even do his trademarked "sleepy-time" motion! Also, when you break down the music pieces in terms of the pieces he wrote (not counting the "Monsters, Beauties, Heroes" suite), 12 of the 14 pieces were either from Star Wars or Spielberg films.
Obviously at this point he is simply giving the audience what they want - but Williams has written some amazing work that deserves to be heard. He could easily do a few "classic" pieces to placate the die-hard fans, but it would be great to showcase some of his earlier works - perhaps an Irwin Allen suite, or an Oliver Stone suite. Next year's concert will hopefully be more of an "educational" experience to those who only know him for Star Wars and Spielberg.
Special thanks to Matt Velasco at the Hollywood Bowl Press Office