On Monday evening, at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, John Williams conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a special one-time performance. The program for the evening was broken into two parts: A Tribute to Bernard Herrmann, and The Spielberg-Williams Collaboration. It was only fitting, then, that the hosts for the evening were recent Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg.
Opening with Herrmann's "Prelude" from On Dangerous Ground, the audience was hit full force with the ferocity and power of the orchestra. Williams then introduced Scorsese, who talked respectfully and lovingly about the man who he only worked with one time. Three pieces from Herrmann's early years in Hollywood were then performed: the playful "The Inquirer" from Citizen Kane, the tender "The Ballad of Springfield Mountain" from The Devil and Daniel Webster, and "Gallop - The Whip" from Currier and Ives Suite.
When it comes to Herrmann's collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock, Scorsese counts The Birds on the list. But as bird squawking would be inappropriate for a symphonic orchestra, the beautiful "Scene d'Amour" from Vertigo was performed instead. The next piece was performed live to edited picture that was projected above the orchestra on a large screen: "Music from Psycho" included "Prelude (Driving Scene)" and "The Murder (Shower Scene)". The first half of the concert ended with the "Overture" from North by Northwest, and these two segments were the same arrangements (and videos) that William played back at the Hollywood Bowl concert in September 2006, so it wasn't anything new, but it was still a very good performance.
But it was "A Night Piece for Orchestra", a suite of music from Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, that was the highlight of the first half. Scorsese introduced the piece by talking about his experiences convincing Herrmann to work on the film, as well as his spotting and scoring experience. Herrmann died the night he finished recording the score, and Scorsese truly respects the genius and talent that he had. The suite was excellent, with an amazing saxophone solo by Dan Higgins that had the audience on their feet when it came to an end.
After the intermission, Williams slyly led the orchestra in the "Main Title" from Jaws, which wasn't listed on the program. At that point, Steven Spielberg came out to address the audience, to thunderous applause. He talked about the power of music and moving imagery, and how it can help communicate ideas even with a language barrier. Of course that led nicely into "Excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind". Spielberg then discussed how, due to technical issues, the shark wasn't ready for the big screen, and so it was Williams' score who saved Jaws - taking us right into "Out to Sea / Shark Cage Fugue" from that film.
The highlight of the evening was the live-spotting session. The entire opening chase sequence from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (the "third - but not final - Indiana Jones film") was shown, without music, as Spielberg described where he would want music, and what stings and beats Williams would be writing to. He had warned us in advance that this part of the show would "put you to sleep", but while it was interesting, it is more evident from this "live spotting" segment why Spielberg does not do running commentary tracks on DVD. After describing what he wanted musically, the scene was played back with live orchestral accompaniment. This was the first time I had seen this sequence performed with a live orchestra (Williams has added it to his pool of concert goodies only recently), and it was very well done.
Guest violin solist Bing Wang then came on stage to emotionally perform the "Theme from Schindler's List". It was a soulful, moving performance, with Wang playing from memory, with her eyes closed and emotion on her face. Spielberg then came back for the "Finale" from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, performed live to picture. It was a longer segment than I had thought they would play - they started with the van being stolen, and went all the way through the bike chase to the emotional finale in the forest when E.T. leaves. Interestingly, the video source for the first half was from the original theatrical release of the film (guns are clearly visible when the government agents find the abandoned van), but then some editing takes place, and the "Special Edition" is used for the sequence when the bikes take flight (the shotgun is missing, and everyone is holding CGI walkie-talkies).
After numerous standing ovations, everyone returned to the stage (including Scorsese), and then the first of three Spielberg-related encores began. They started with the never-performed "Main Theme" from Sugarland Express - the first film Spielberg and Williams collaborated on - with an amazing flute solo replacing the harmonica solo from the original. Next was "Flight to Neverland" from Hook, which Spielberg jokingly said he didn't remember. It was the same concert arrangement that Williams has performed before, and he ended the concert encores with the traditional concert performance of "The Raiders March" from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The informative program notes were written by film music historian Jon Burlingame, and proceeds from the concert - which sold out in 15 minutes - benefited the Los Angeles Philharmonic Musicians Pension Fund. The LA Philharmonic did an excellent job overall, playing some rather difficult pieces of music, and the presentation - along with the high caliber of the special guests - made it truly a night to remember.