OVERNIGHT REVIEW: John Williams at Hollywood Bowl: the force continues to be with us

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

John-WilliamsIn the 55 years that I have attended Los Angeles Philharmonic concerts I cannot count the number of composers who have conducted the orchestra. However, only a few have carved major careers in both disciplines. Two of those were LAPO Music Directors: André Previn and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Two others in that multiple-category were Leonard Bernstein and Pierre Boulez.

Over the weekend more than 50,000 people jammed Hollywood Bowl for three concerts conducted (in part) by another of those multiple-category icons: John Williams pictured above). He’s never held an official position, either conducting or composing, with the Phil but he long ago might as well have been named Principal Conductor of Movie Music Programs at the venerable Cahuenga Pass amphitheatre since, as he told the capacity crowd last night, this is his 38th year of conducting at the Bowl. David Newman — who is himself both a composer and conductor — told the audience early on that he believes Williams introduced the concept of leading an orchestra accompanying movie clips, and so he did last night.

At age 84, Williams was more than willing to share the podium with Newman, who — Williams told us — he met when Newman was a toddler and Williams was playing in the 20th Century Fox orchestra for the 1957 movie version of South Pacific (Newman’s father, Alfred, was the studio’s music director and a formidable composer in his own right).

Newman and the orchestra opened last night with a suite from Alan Silvestri’s score to Forest Gump, which accompanied a montage of clips saluting Paramount Pictures’ 114-year history.

Some of the remaining numbers — a suite from Franz Waxman’s score for Sunset Boulevard and Nino Rota’s score to The Godfather and Godfather II — were accompanied by montage clips from their respective films. Others — Williams’ theme from Sabrina and “The Wild Ride” from Bernard Hermann’s score for North by Northwest — were performed simply as music.

Newman’s commentary was intelligent but sounded somewhat frantic in delivery, especially considering that this was the third show of the weekend. It made me appreciate anew how good conductors such as Rachael Worby, John Mauceri and Bramwell Tovey are at this skill.

The formal first half (Newman and the orchestra encored with the Mission Impossible theme music) ended with the opening sequence from Star Trek: Into Darkness, with Newman leading the orchestra as it accompanied the action on screen.

During the intermission, I heard one teenager sum things up when he said, “The Star Trek was dorky but I thought North by Northwest was cool.” The kid’s got the makings of a critic!

Williams led his own music the second half of the concert. I was struck by how much more at ease and fluid he seems as a conductor from when I first remember seeing him on the podium. He still uses a score for everything but he was relaxed and seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself, even adopting a few of Gustavo Dudamel’s sly mannerisms to keep things moving forward smartly.

About a quarter of the exuberant 17,000+ attendees came armed with light sabers, a phenomenon that Williams remarked is unique to the Bowl (my box mate brought a bottle of “Lord Vader” beer, instead).

After Williams and the orchestra teased the audience by playing “Flight to Neverland” from Williams’ score for Hook and a suite from The BFG, it was time for music from the Star Wars movies, starting with the latest incarnation, The Force Awakens, and continuing with music from the original trio of George Lucas-created films.

Film montages accompanied some — but not all — of the music, all of which the orchestra played with its customary panache. As he introduced various segments, Williams told the story of how, in 1977 while seeing rough cuts of the original Star Wars movie, he assumed that Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia would eventually become lovers and so wrote the “Princess Leia” theme as sensuous love music, not realizing until later that they were, in fact, brother and sister. “Not exactly appropriate music,” he noted wryly.

The “Throne Room & Finale” from Star Wars: A New Hope had light sabers waving everywhere in time to the music, a truly amazing visual. Williams and the orchestra encored with the themes from Harry Potter and Superman and the “Flying Music” from E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (heading home, many of us longed for those flying machines to leave the parking lots).

Although I saw and heard Bernstein conduct many times, rarely did he lead his own music. Ditto for Previn. With Salonen I’ve gotten to experience him conduct several of his own pieces. For 38 years John Williams conducting his movie music has been a part of our lives in Southern California and it never gets old.

Hemidemisemiquavers:
• Former LAPO Associate Conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya returns to the bowl to lead the Phil Tuesday night in a program of music by waltzes by Johann Strauss II, Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben and violin bon-bons by Fritz Kreisler, with the orchestra’s Principal Concertmaster, Martin Chalifour, as soloist. INFO
• Thursday night, Seattle Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot returns to the Bowl to lead a dance-themed program, with three L.A. dance companies accompanying the music. Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring will conclude the evening. INFO
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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Five-Spot: What caught my eye on January 12, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

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Each Thursday morning, I list five events (six this week)
that pique my interest, including (ideally) at least one with free admission
(or, at a minimum, inexpensive tickets). Here’s today’s grouping:

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Tonight at 8 p.m.
at Royce Hall (UCLA)

Paul Jacobs, organist

Despite being just 34, Paul Jacobs is one of America’s
extraordinary organ talents, who came to international renown 11 years ago when
he performed the complete organ works of J.S. Bach in an 18-hour non-stop
marathon performance. Later he performed the complete organ works of Olivier
Messiaen in nine-hour marathon concerts around the country. At age 26, he was
named chairman of the organ department at The Juilliard School in New York
City, one of the youngest faculty appointments in that school’s history.

 

There’s no Bach on this Royce Hall program, but the
selections include music by Messiaen, Elgar, John Weaver and others.

 

Royce Hall’s E.M. Skinner organ was built in 1930. It was
restored and rebuilt after being damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
With 104 ranks and 6,600 pipes, it’s one of the larger instruments in Southern
California.

 

Concert information: www.uclalive.org

 

Tomorrow and
Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic: “The Mahler Project” begins

The Los Angeles Philharmonic begins its massive survey of
all of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies as Gustavo Dudamel leads the orchestra in
Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, with soprano Miah Persson as soloist, and Songs of a Wayfarer, featuring baritone
Thomas Hampson. Links to my articles on the cycle are HERE and HERE. The Phil’s
“Mahler Project” information site is HERE. Concert
information:
www.laphil.com

 

Saturday at 2 p.m.
and 8 p.m. in Ambassador Auditorium (Pasadena)

Pasadena Symphony;
David Lockington, conductor

The PSO resumes its 2011-12 season as David Lockington,
music director of the Modesto and Grand Rapids Symphonies, become the latest in
a string of PSO guest conductors. He leads a program with a British theme: The Gale of Life by British composer
Philip Sawyers, Elgar’s Cello Concerto, with Andrew Shulman as soloist, and
Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 (Scottish). In
addition to the compositional British tone, Lockington and Shulman are English.
A link to my preview story on this concert and next weekend’s L.A. Chamber
Orchestra concerts (Shulman is conducting the LACO programs) is HERE. Concert information: www.pasadenasymphony-org

 

Looking for a marketing edge, the PSO has joined forces with
Breakthru Fitness to sponsor a Yoga class tomorrow at 6 p.m. (As the late,
great British comedienne Anna Russell once famously said of Wagner’s Ring, “I’m not making this up, you
know!”) Lockington, an avid practitioner of yoga, will offer a brief
explanation on the influence yoga has made on his life and career as a
symphonic conductor. He will also play the cello during the class. Space is
extremely limited; contact Breakthru Fitness at 626/396-1700 to reserve a spot.

 

Sunday at 5 p.m. at
the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (Los Angeles)

Young Musician
Foundation’s 57th annual Gala Concert

Usually a YMF concert would be in the “free admission”
category, but this one is held yearly to raise funds for this important
training program. Legendary film composer John Williams will lead the YMF Debut
Orchestra in selections from The
Adventures of Tintin
and War Horse, the
first concert performance of this music. Williams will conclude the program by
conducting music from E.T. The
Extra-Terrestrial.

 

Michael Tilson Thomas, who was the YMF’s music director from
1963-67 while he was a student at USC, will return to conduct Ravel’s La Valse. Other pieces will be conducted
by David Kaufman, Joey Newman and Teddy Abrams. Information: www.ymf.org

 

Tuesday at 8 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Steve Reich;
Bang-on-a-Can All Stars; ref fish blue fish; percussionist David Cossin

Steve Reich, one of the greatest composers working today,
brings a program to the Phil’s Green
Umbrella
series that includes the West Coast premiere of the double-rock
quintet, 2 x 5,  and concludes with one of Reich’s
seminal works, Music for 18 Musicians.
Information: www.laphil.com

 

And the weekend’s
“free admission” program …

 

Saturday at 8 p.m.
at La Mirada Theater for the Performing Arts (La Mirada)

La Mirada Symphony;
Robert Frelly, conductor

For the second concert of its 48th season, this
community orchestra presents a Spanish-themed program with music by Fannin,
Chabrier, Bizet, Turnia, and Rimsky-Korsakov. Guitarist Jeff Cogan will be the
soloist in Rodrigo’s Fantasia para un
Gentilhombre.
Information: www.lamiradasymphony.com

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(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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