Movie Buffs Celebrate The Unsurpassed Repertoire of John Williams At The Hollywood Bowl John Williams: Maestro of the Movies: 40th Anniversary Celebration!
HOLLYWOOD, CA- In honor of the 40th anniversary of John Williams’ debut at the Hollywood Bowl, the Los Angeles Philharmonic presented a series of performances of his music this summer. After four live-to-film evenings of Star Wars series movies, the concerts culminated with a night featuring Williams himself.
John Williams: Maestro of the Movies: 40th Anniversary Celebration! attracted legions of movie buffs in themed outfits. Hogwarts residents rubbed shoulders with jedi while passing fans in dino-themed Jurassic Park t-shirts and the occasional Indiana Jones, complete with bullwhip. The Hollywood Bowl also produced some pretty fabulous posters for this concert, with both R2-D2 and Bruce the shark’s gaping maw taking the place of the concert shell. In addition to the Jaws-themed poster, I snagged a fabulous light-up shark fin headband at the Bowl store. I happily installed my dorsal fin and swam my way through the crowds, much to my pleasure and my companion’s embarrassment.
The concert opened with the dramatic arrival of the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets and a stirring rendition of the “Olympic Fanfare and Theme.” A montage of Olympic highlights from the last four decades flashed on the screens, evincing an almost Pavlovian response from the crowd in the form of a mix of cheers and tears. Everyone around me whispered, “Wait, John Williams wrote this?” I’m not sure how it’s possible that no one in the vicinity (including me) realized that the most recognizable composer of our lifetimes wrote such a recognizable piece, but there you have it. It felt like Commander Obvious had marched in with the trumpets.
The first act also included a live-to-film performance of a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, followed by music from Minority Report and Hook. As a tribute to Leonard Bernstein for the 100th anniversary of his birth, which was just a few days before the show, there was also a selection from West Side Story along with a video montage. Throughout the night, the brass section in particular provided a deep, rich, and powerful sound — and not only when accompanied by the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets.
Dynamic conductor David Newman took the helm for this first half of the concert. He both conducted and paid tribute to the maestro, covering much of the same ground we discussed in our interview earlier this summer. He praised Williams’ work with the Boston Pops and his success in bringing about greater acceptance of film music in the classical world. As Newman explained to Blurred Culture, “I think it’s directly attributable to John Williams… and his tireless effort to bring this music to the public so they could actually hear it and make a judgement instead of just out-of-hand dismissing it.”
While Newman’s participation was clearly indicated on the marquee and program, and though he does an incredible job of conducting live to film, people around me seemed confused. Where was Williams? Would he be there? There was also palpable disappointment with some of the programmatic choices for the first half — keeping later in the evening when it became clear exactly which beloved music was left out while Minority Report and other lesser-known scores were included.
As last, Williams took the stage for the second half of the performance. His arrival was met with a wild standing ovation. An intense joy suffused the rest of the night as the audience soaked in the glory of their hero. In addition to performing crowd-pleasing favorites like the Raiders of the Lost Ark theme, he spoke about his experiences at the Bowl. He described his apprehension at the initial invitation from the late LA Phil mastermind Ernest Fleischmann 40 years ago and his pleasure at returning to the Bowl stage once again.
He was soon joined by another special guest: Steven Spielberg, who described their long collaboration in glowing terms. According to Spielberg, “movies are like lightning, so film music is thunder.” The director then introduced a number of pieces from their collaborations, including a long scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (featuring River Phoenix) that they played both with and without the music to underscore the importance of Williams’ contributions. Additional selections included music from Schindler’s List, Tintin — accompanied by a variety of scenes of swordplay — and some of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Then, the concert finally reached its apex: the finale of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (with film) and classic Star Wars music. The E.T. finale produced both smiles and tears, and the crowd went absolutely nuts for old-school Star Wars. I had my lightsaber at the ready (of course). One key fact I’ve learned at the Hollywood Bowl this summer is that one does not simply bring a lightsaber to a John Williams concert. It requires fierce gesticulating and periodic dueling. The sight of all the illuminated lightsabers was in fact so nerdily beautiful that the screens began to show shots of Williams with the lights waving behind him in the crowd.
The U.S. Army Herald Trumpets returned to the stage for the encore with a powerful performance of “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme),” after which even some of the members of the Philharmonic waved their own lightsabers. The crowd roared through the bows, calling Williams, Newman, and Spielberg back to the stage over and over and over again.
Overall, the Los Angeles Philharmonic performed beautifully, bringing depth and richness to the various scores. They brought each clip to life with a power greater than I can fully describe in words. As always, the lighting of the concert shell was also gorgeous and colorful. The evening was, quite simply, joyful. No one was taking it too seriously, and the audience left happy.
Still, there were some questions left unanswered. Why were there so many video clips throughout the evening, such as in the swordplay montage, that were not from Williams’ films? And most importantly, why forsake such beloved films as Harry Potter, Jaws, and Jurassic Park in favor of music from Lincoln and duds like Tintin? I understand wanting to show range and perhaps add a little variety with the lesser-known music, but it was disappointing to fans who wanted to hear their favorites.
Yes, I spent the evening sporting a flashing dorsal fin on my head and toting a Jaws-themed poster, and there was no shark music. You have to wonder why the Bowl went all-in on the Jaws marketing when that soundtrack was completely unrepresented in the performance. And yes, I am slightly bitter. It turns out, though, that my fin made both a handy nightlight for taking notes and quite a conversation starter. So I guess it worked out in the end. Next time, though, they’re going to need a bigger Bowl — to fit in all the greatest hits.