Download Program Notes - New York Philharmonic

Download Program Notes - New York Philharmonic

05-24 John Williams.qxp_Layout 1 5/12/16 3:33 PM Page 32 NOTES ON THE PROGRAM By James M. Keller, Program Annotator The Leni and Peter May Chair A J...

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05-24 John Williams.qxp_Layout 1 5/12/16 3:33 PM Page 32

NOTES ON THE PROGRAM By James M. Keller, Program Annotator The Leni and Peter May Chair

A John Williams Celebration


ohn Williams is the pre-eminent composer of Hollywood film music and has been for more than four decades. The son of a film studio musician, he grew up studying first piano and then trombone, trumpet, and clarinet. When his family moved to Los Angeles, in 1948, Williams began working with the jazz pianist and arranger Bobby Van Eps. During the early 1950s he did a stint in the Air Force (conducting and orchestrating for bands) and studied piano at Juilliard for a year with Rosina Lhévinne. Later that decade, he studied composition with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Arthur Olaf Andersen. Williams orchestrated numerous feature films in the 1960s and by the 1970s emerged as an important film-score composer in his own right. Ronald Neame’s The Poseidon Adventure (1973) marked one of his first incontrovertible successes as a film composer, but his great breakthrough came two years later with Steven Spielberg’s aquatic thriller, Jaws. Spielberg went on to deliver Hollywood classics of widely diverse character, and Williams became the composer of choice for music that would mirror, support, and advance their action and their emotional states. A selective list of Williams’s scores for more than 20 ensuing Spielberg films includes many “must hear” entries, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Empire of the Sun (1987), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Jurassic Park (1993), Schindler’s List (1993), Amistad (1997), The Lost World (1997), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Catch Me If You Can (2002), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), War of the Worlds (2005), Munich (2005), and Lincoln (2012). 32 | NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC

But Williams’s scores were not limited to Spielberg hits. He concurrently maintained close working relationships with other leading Hollywood directors. For George Lucas he provided the memorable musical underpinnings for Star Wars (1977); Star Wars: Episode I — the Phantom Menace (1999); and Episode II — Attack of the Clones (2002). For Oliver Stone he supplied scores for Born on the Fourth of July (1989), JFK (1991), and Nixon (1995). He composed music for Alfred Hitchcock’s A Family Plot (1976), for Irvin

IN SHORT Born: February 8, 1932, in Flushing, Queens, New York City Resides: Los Angeles, California Works composed and premiered: For New York, composed in 1988; premiered August 28, 1988, at the Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts, with the composer conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Jane Eyre, composed in 1970; the made-for-TV movie first aired in December 1970 in Great Britain. Schindler’s List, composed in 1993; the film opened on February 4, 1994. Music for additional films composed in the year of their premieres: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, opened on December 25, 1977; Memoirs of a Geisha, on December 23, 2005; Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, on November 16, 2001; Jaws, on June 20, 1975; Born on the Fourth of July, on January 5, 1990; Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, on May 24, 1989; Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, on December 16, 2015; Star Wars (later renamed Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope), on May 25, 1977

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Kershner’s The Empire Strikes Back (1980), for Richard Marquand’s Return of the Jedi (1983), for Chris Columbus’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), for Rob Marshall’s Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), and for J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens (2015). Often working at a pace of about two film scores per year, he has now completed almost 80, and in the course of doing so he has been recognized with an impressive succession of honors, among them five Academy Awards (including for Jaws, Star Wars, and Schindler’s List), four Golden Globes (including for Jaws, Star Wars, and Memoirs of a Geisha), three Emmys (including one for Jane Eyre), and 22 Grammys, in addition to induction into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame (in 2000) and a Kennedy Center Honor (in 2004). Williams has arranged selections from many of his film scores into stand-alone concert suites, which he has conducted not only with the Boston Pops Orchestra (which he served as music director from 1980 to 1993, after which he became its laureate conductor) but also with many of the leading symphony orchestras that he visits regularly as a guest conductor. He also remains active as a composer of orchestral concert pieces not connected to films, including a full-fledged symphony and a series of concertos, for flute, violin, clarinet, cello, bassoon

Angels and Muses For New York, the three-minute curtain-raiser that opens this program, was first heard under a different title: To Lenny! To Lenny! John Williams composed it for the 70th-birthday celebration for Leonard Bernstein that the Boston Symphony Orchestra mounted in August 1988 at the Tanglewood Music Center, where Bernstein taught conducting students, hobnobbed with budding composers, and coached the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra. At the final event of the four-day celebration, Seiji Ozawa conducted A Bernstein Birthday Bouquet, Eight Variations on a Theme by Leonard Bernstein. The theme was “New York, New York,” from Bernstein’s 1944 musical On the Town, and the variations were composed by (in the order presented) Luciano Berio, Leon Kirchner, Jacob Druckman, Lukas Foss, John Corigliano, Williams, Toru Takemitsu, and William Schuman. At the time Williams served as music director of the BSO’s sibling orchestra, the Boston Pops. Covering the event for The New York Times, critic John Rockwell wrote: The variations … tended to quote other works by Mr. Bernstein or notable symphonic works he has conducted. A goodly number also managed to work in “Happy Birthday.” Williams’s variation, which Rockwell described as “feathery and flashy,” meets up with “New York, New York,” but it also incorporates allusions to “America” from West Side Story, “Lonely Town” from On the Town, and — yes — just a dollop of “Happy Birthday.”

In the Composer’s Words For most of us, the ominous, two-note shark theme is synonymous with the film score of Jaws. And while its composer has described the line as “grinding away at you, just as a shark would do, instinctual, relentless, unstoppable,” John Williams has also cited his own preference for the swashbuckling moments of “The Barrel Chase”: My own favorite cue in the film has always been the barrel chase sequence, where the shark approaches the boat and the three heroes think they have captured it. The music accelerates and becomes very exciting and heroic. Suddenly, as the shark overpowers them and eventually escapes, the music deflates with a little sea-chant called “Spanish Lady.” The score musically illustrates and punctuates all of this dramatic outline. — The Editors Encounter at sea, in a scene from Jaws

MAY 2016 | 33

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(commissioned by the New York Philharmonic), trumpet, horn, viola, harp, and oboe. Philharmonic Principal Tuba Alan Baer will make his solo debut with the Orchestra in performances of Williams’s Tuba Concerto this week. The listening public has grown to appreciate John Williams as an indispensable voice of our time. Although his scores cover a broad

emotional range — the tragic, the comedic, the epic, the intimate — music lovers probably cherish him most for the heroic optimism that often pervades his music. It seems perfectly natural that he should have been tapped to provide fanfares and theme music for the most festive and hopeful of occasions, right up to several of the Olympic Games.

Sources and Inspirations Throughout his collaborations with various directors, including his decades-long association with Steven Spielberg, John Williams has made it his practice to not read film scripts, but to begin working out score ideas to the film footage, which helps give him a sense of the setting and mood. At a 2009 concert at Boston’s Symphony Hall (at which Spielberg was also in attendance), Williams told the audience that he was flabbergasted when he saw a rough cut of Schindler’s List: I had to walk around the room for four or five minutes to catch my breath. I said to Steven, “I really think you need a better composer than I am for this film.” And he very sweetly said, “I know, but they’re all dead.”

A scene from Schindler’s List