This weekend, film music legend John Williams made his annual pilgrimage to the Hollywood Bowl, to conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a live concert celebrating "John Williams: Maestro of the Movies". But while the title indicates that Williams is the focus of the concert (and he certainly was, for the thousands of fans in attendance), the first half of the concert was dedicated to the Golden Age of film scoring, with many of Williams' favorite pieces performed live.
Beginning with "The Star-Spangled Banner", the concert immediately went into Miklos Rozsa's "March of the Charioteers" from Ben-Hur and then Erich Wolfgang Korngold's The Adventures of Robin Hood. The performance of the Rozsa piece was a little slower than it should have been performed, giving it a more laid-back, passive pace when it should have been tight and engaging. The Robin Hood piece, though, was a real pleasure to hear performed live. Williams then introduced the love scene from Vertigo, composed by Bernard Herrmann - whom Williams had played piano for on "The Twilight Zone" back in the late 1950s. The piece was quite good, and always lovely to hear - even though it seems to make an appearance at most of Williams' concerts in the past few years.
Another piece that is a staple of Williams' concert repertoire is Now, Voyager, by Max Steiner. The violin solo was performed effortlessly and exquisitely by Bing Wang, who has made frequent appearances with Williams at his concerts in Los Angeles. The last segment before the intermission was a tribute to the films of David Lean - particularly, suites from Dr. Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia, both composed by Maurice Jarre. They were performed to video montages that were made possible by Williams' agent Mike Gorfaine working out a deal with Warner Bros. and Columbia Pictures, and edited together by Susie Dangle of WGBH/Boston. Musically the suites were well compiled, and flowed relatively nicely, with only a few awkward transitions. They matched the imagery relatively well, but spoilers beware - the ending of Dr. Zhivago was shown! Yikes!
After intermission, it was an all-Williams concert, with almost no surprises. After playing the "March" and "Love Theme" from Superman, Williams brought three exceptionally talented soloists on stage: Alan Estes (vibes), Mike Valerio (bass) and Dan Higgins (sax) to perform music from Catch Me If You Can. All three had performed on the original soundtrack, and watching them perform music from this jazzy score was truly the highlight of the evening.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is now in theaters, and that means that it's time for Williams to play the same pieces he's been playing for the past few years: "Chamber of Secrets" is a mélange of dark cues from the second Harry Potter film, "Aunt Marge's Waltz" is the playful piece from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and "Harry's Wondrous World" is the big suite that he plays from the first film. All three pieces were played to picture (which included footage from Goblet of Fire, which Williams didn't score), once again compiled by Susie Dangle.
The concert ended with the concert version of "The Throne Room and End Titles" from Star Wars, much to the delight of the fans - a number of whom whipped out their toy lightsabers to conduct along with Williams. For encores, Williams graced the crowd with four pieces: "The Imperial March" from The Empire Strikes Back, "Sayuri's Theme" from Memoirs of a Geisha, "Flying" from E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and of course, "The Raiders March" from Raiders of the Lost Ark. It's a fittingly appropriate way to end the evening, since Williams' next film will be the fourth film in the Indiana Jones series, and next summer he will undoubtedly grace us with a new suite of music from that score.
In all, it was a fun and enjoyable evening, but nothing new was performed that hadn't really been performed before. Williams was a total professional on stage, and while his age might be slowing the performances down a smidge, they're hardly slowing down his enthusiasm and love of sharing music with the masses. I'm still holding out hope for a live performance of "The Asteroid Chase" from The Empire Strikes Back or "The Map Room" from Raiders of the Lost Ark, but I will have to wait yet another year to see.