Sunday, September 4, 2016

John Williams at the Hollywood Bowl


   Two blogs in the same week? What is this madness?

   It was me getting to fulfill a childhood dream and see the best damn film composer of our lifetime conduct some of his very famous works at the Hollywood Bowl, that's what.
   I had been holding these tickets for MONTHS, ever since they went on sale. Williams has been coming to the Bowl for concerts every fall for a while, and I've never been able to make it until this year. The sad fact of the matter is, at 84, the cinema maestro is no spring chicken. I knew that if I missed seeing him, and then he was gone, I would regret it forever.
   The man is responsible for basically the soundtrack of my entire youth. He was absolutely ubiquitous in the 1970's and 1980's, composing the scores for Jaws, Star Wars, Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Those are some of the best known themes ever put to film.
   Needless to say, I was VERY excited when the time finally came last night, and I was interested to see the Bowl, too. I've been living in sunny LA for five years, and never been.
   We got there plenty early, and I'm glad we did. The Bowl seats 17,500, and by the start of the concert, I think there were just a handful of seats left. People brought in all kinds of food and drink, and just about every other person you saw was carrying a lightsaber. I thought to myself "He HAS done other things besides Star Wars."
   It was when we finally got a program, and I looked at the night's selections, that I understood. The first half of the night was to be a tribute to Paramount Pictures, and would be selections conducted by David Newman, son of famed film composer Alfred Newman. After intermission, John Williams would come on and conduct a piece from Hook, a suite from The BFG, and a few selections from the Star Wars films. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. No Indiana Jones, No E.T., no Superman. Not even a Jurassic Park or Harry Potter. I didn't let it get me down too much, though. I was still getting to put eyes on John Williams and see him conduct one of his most famous themes.

   The first half of the concert with Newman was really excellent. They had film clips and montages running on the big screens for some of the selections, and they even live-scored the first ten minutes of Star Trek Into Darkness. It sounded so perfect, you were convinced you were just hearing the film, until you looked at the stage and saw the orchestra playing furiously. Amazing.
   After intermission, the lights dimmed again, and there he was. In walked John Williams. The gigantic crowd roared. He waved, went directly to his rostrum, and began conducting the first piece, "Flight to Neverland" from Hook. I wasn't as familiar with this film, but the music absolutely soared.
   With no interruption, he carried on with a suite of music from the recent film The BFG. This music I didn't really care for too much. I saw the film, and it was just okay. The music was well written, but not memorable for me.


   Finally, he took the mic and said a few words. He was really charming and funny, just as you'd expect. He talked about his career composing the music for the Star Wars films, including his recent collaboration with J.J. Abrams on The Force Awakens. He revealed that he was quite smitten with the character of Rey, and then conducted the orchestra to play her theme.



   Again, there were montages- scenes from ALL the Star Wars movies. People cheered and whooped loudly at some famous moments and beloved characters. It was amazing.
   Next, he spoke at length about composing Princess Leia's theme for the original Star Wars, and then the orchestra played that. It was stunningly beautiful. Really, really amazing. It starts off so quiet and tentative, and then builds to this amazing climax.



   Then came one of my favorite moments of the whole night. With no warning or word, the orchestra moved right into the infamous "Imperial March," otherwise known as Darth Vader's theme.  17,500 people went out of their minds. Every single lightsaber in the crowd lit up and started swinging in time to the music. It was a sight to behold. My lovely wife captured it on her cell phone:

video

  There were a couple more fantastic selections from Star Wars, and one final film montage, and then John Williams stepped down, waved to the crowd, and walked off the stage to thunderous cheers. A couple moments later, he walked back on for an encore:



   I love the Harry Potter movies. There's something absolutely magical about them. John Williams was the perfect guy to set that world up with his score. Hearing it live, you absolutely FELT the magic. He had actually been here a few months ago with the orchestra when Universal Studios opened "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter," and he had conducted this at that event as well. I bet people were just as affected then, if not more so.
   When that song ended, the orchestra rolled right into one of my very favorite movie themes of all time:



   We screamed and jumped up, and again the place went crazy. I have so much affection for the 1978 Superman and this huge, bombastic, heroic theme. It's something that the current, ridiculously morose and dark version of the character is sorely lacking. Stunningly good live.
   Once more, the maestro waved to the crowd and walked off. Again, the crowd roared for more. Again, he obliged. I thought for sure Raiders was coming. Instead, we were pleasantly surprised with the theme from E.T.



   This was absolutely beautiful. The music again soared, and made you feel like that young boy sailing across the face of the moon on his bike. Heartbreakingly beautiful.
   We wanted another encore, but the man was tired. As he made his final exit from the stage, he leaned his head over against his hands to mime "sleep" to the crowd, and we all laughed and cheered him off. National treasure John Williams. Truly one of a kind.
   I plan to see him every fall as long as he comes back. If you ever get the chance to see him in concert, DO IT. You will be absolutely transported.



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