July 23, 1996
I just want to share with you some of my impressions of the film music concert given by John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra on Sunday, June 30, which commenced at 3:30 in the afternoon:
It was a very exciting experience right from the beginning. As I paced through the halls of Barbican Centre with my girlfriend, I spotted people with Star Wars T-shirts and the tension was already there. Then we entered the concert hall, finding out that almost every seat was occupied. I don’t know how many people fit in that hall, but it must have been at least a thousand.
The concert opened with Summon the Heroes, played with extra players and somewhat different in sound from the recording with the Boston Pops Orchestra. Played live, it made a big impression on me and was the perfect opener, although in earlier versions of the program the Olympic Fanfare and Theme from 1984 was chosen to be performed at the beginning.
Then came the Cowboys Overture, which left the audience delighted because of the jolly air and somewhat ironic ending. The real emotional impact followed with a suite from JFK. I must say that my girlfriend and I were deeply moved by the intense and beautiful string segment at the end, which virtually died away. It was fascinating to observe how Williams conducted the concert with very precise movements, the orchestra obeying his every move.
Then Williams turned around for the first time to talk to the audience, making no statements whatsoever before that. He only waited for the audience to calm down and the orchestra to get ready. But now he talked about the pleasure of being here in front of a live audience with one of the best orchestras in the world. He also pointed out that it is very fulfilling to play his music without the distraction of car horns, dinosaurs or, even worse, dialogue! (laughter) After that he announced that the next three pieces would be from the Star Wars trilogy, resulting in spontaneous applause. He described Princess Leia’s theme as a kind of “1001 Nights’ princess theme” and recalled the time when they recorded the Star Wars theme with Maurice Murphy, the principal trumpet player of the LSO—and how Murphy’s first job with the LSO that morning became heard by millions of people through the phenomenal success of the Star Wars soundtrack album.
Nothing needs to be said about the classic Star Wars music. After the performance ended, the first standing ovations led us off into the interval.
The second part of the concert began with the rousing march from Superman, which almost urged one to jump from the seat, full of excitement. Following that came excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a favorite of mine (and not only me I suppose), the emotional impact being comparable to the JFK suite an hour ago. But more was to come…
The next pieces were the themes from Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List. Between these Williams talked for the second time and offered to tell a little anecdote to the audience: When the composer first saw the movie Schindler’s List at the screening with Steven Spielberg, he turned to Spielberg, deeply moved, saying: “For this film you need a much better composer than I am.” Spielberg replied: “I know, but they’re all dead.”
The violin solo was very interesting, being completely different in tone than the performance of Itzhak Perlman on the recording. At first I was shocked by the gypsy-like style, but when the performance went on, one realized the emotion that was put into the playing. Very nice indeed.
Another piece of music, needless to describe, served as the ending of the programme: “Adventures on Earth” from E.T.
After several curtains and standing ovations, Williams returned to the podium, being moved, and declared that he was going to conduct a re-orchestrated version of the theme to Sugarland Express, originally written for harmonica and small orchestra. This was the only piece on the concert I wish I had a recording of (apart from the live experience, which never ever can be duplicated by a recording, and seeing the man conduct) because of the very extended virtuoso flute solo, in part played in harmonica style. This was a real payoff at the end.
After this encore even more applause led to the ultimate piece, or, as Williams put it, the trademark tune for him and the LSO: the Raiders March. After this, I seemed to be able to fly out of the concert hall, but I instead joined the queue to meet this gentleman.
It was a wonderful, somewhat exhausting experience, and I had to thank Mr. Williams for the music he has written, which so wonderfully affects the mood of everyone who is willing to listen to it open-heartedly.
Martin Schemitsch is a student at Technical University in Graz, Austria.