In Review: John Williams at the Hollywood Bowl

His name is associated with more modern genre movies than Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Why? Because he created their soundtracks, and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the August 31st concert at the Hollywood Bowl, conducted by the man himself, John Williams.

John Williams has won 5 Academy Awards, 4 Golden Globe Awards, 7 British Academy Film Awards, and 21 Grammy Awards. He has been nominated for 48 Academy Awards, making him the second most-nominated person in history after Walt Disney. His scores have become culture: Peter Gunn’s theme, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, The Adventures of Tintin, and every movie featuring Indiana Jones and the scores to all six Star Wars films (and has been recently signed to do the next three films!). One has only to hum a few opening notes to any of his Hollywood blockbuster scores, and a stranger could finish it without effort. His work will stand the test of time.

The warm evening at the Hollywood Bowl cooled quickly to a sell out crowd as the sun set. California has recently had unusually humid weather, but this night fans were granted a reprieve. After taking the stage to applause, the orchestra and Mr. Williams began with “Hooray for Hollywood,” accompanied on the five big screens with scenes from every classic film from the silent screen through the westerns of the late 1960′s. Then Williams and the orchestra led a tribute to Henri Mancini, whose work was shown on the screen and introduced/narrated by Julie Andrews who looked magnificent. A montage of Peter Gunn, Hatari, and Charade, soon segued into a long version of the Pink Panther theme, complete with several classic scenes of Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom and Burt Kwouk. Then Henri Mancini’s daughter Monica took the stage to sing “Moon River.” This was followed with several themes from Victor Victoria, which culminated with candid photos of Mancini and director Blake Edwards. It was a very moving, entertaining way to begin the evening, and interesting to see Williams conduct another film composer’s work.

A brief intermission had the orchestra return with music from several movie aerial scenes, as old as Wings and as modern as the minion in space from Despicable Me. The audience roared to life at seeing Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder fly for a brief moment to “If You Could Read My Mind”, as well as when a grinning Superman soared over the Earth and looked into the camera. Harry Potter also got the audience’s approval as the soared on Buckbeak over a lake. After this winning selection of films and music, Williams addressed the crowd, asking if it would alright if he began the evening “playing with six minutes, or so, from Indiana Jones.” The masses couldn’t have been more pleased. As Williams went on to praise working with Lucas and Spielberg, he said, “There have been four Indiana Jones films, so far.” This elicited some gasps from the Bowl. “So far”–?!? The uberfans began to gush at what that statement was missing, but Williams didn’t pause to elaborate. He then went on to say how much he enjoyed Harrison Ford’s performance in the series, and how he couldn’t believe how much was thrown at him in the opening sequence to Raiders of the Lost Ark. He turned to the orchestra and the screens showed the complete opening sequence from Raiders, from Indiana and Satipo entering the idol chamber to Jones expressing his hate for Reggie the snake. It was an incredible experience to hear this music from the man who scored it. “Marion’s Theme” followed and then went into something I, and my friends, as well as those around us, could not identify. It was not from an Indy film, but sounded like something from Saving Private Ryan or Schindler’s List. It was very slow and focused on the string section.

Again, Williams addressed the audience, stating that he and other composers always get asked where they get their ideas for themes. He said since we were all friends, he had a video to show the secret: a Lego animated clip of Darth Vader instructing a Lego-Williams on a piano what his theme, the “Imperial March,” should sound like. After a few misses, Williams gets it and Vader is pleased, until Lego-Yoda barges in belting what he wants his theme to sound like. The video stopped, the lights on stage came up, and the Star Wars opening theme blasted across Hollywood. The audience of the Bowl then exploded into a cornucopia of light as lightsabers ignited and waved in the crowd. The person I went with stood with his lightsaber above his head in both hands, reenacting the classic pose of Luke Skywalker from the Brothers Hildebrandt movie poster. He turned to me and said, “I’m never going to get this chance again!” The people around us laughed and cheered for him. He did sit after a few seconds, and waved his lightsaber proudly, as we all did. Waving the lightsaber I had was one of the nerdliest and coolest moments of my life! The music then went to “Luke’s Theme” and then the lights on the stage went red as the “Imperial March” was played. When done, Williams turned to bow to the audience, only to see all the lightsabers behind him and he applauded the audience and then swung his hands back and forth, to which we wielders of the Jedi and Sith blades followed. What else would we do before the Master? Of particular delight to Mr. Williams and the crowd was one musician pulled his own blue lightsaber from his feet and waved it as applause was given.

Williams had an encore, which was the closing music from E.T., and the bowl itself had rainbow light effects to cap the piece off.

In all, it was a wonderful night. If I could have changed anything it would have been to have clips from Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back to accompany the music, but this was a very slight omission on an amazing performance. I would recommend that if anyone gets the chance to see John Williams conduct his music, they should do so. It was an experience I will never forget.

 

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for a few years with “It’s Bound to Happen!” He had to give that up to teach 8th graders English for 19 years. He’s since moved to a high school where he taught 9th grade and currently teaches 10th graders English. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars or Indiana Jones items online.

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