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Celebrating the Magic of John Williams

John Williams
Stu Rosner
John Williams

Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic offer a loving tribute to the legendary composer, capturing the heartbreak, suspense, and soaring power of the music of an American genius.

John Williams was in his mid-forties when his scores for Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind were thrilling audiences in movie theaters. They went wild when Zubin Mehta conducted the music in concert in Los Angeles. But when Williams was implored by the LA Philharmonic to consider conducting his own music at the Hollywood Bowl, Williams said, “I’ve only conducted in the studios, I don’t conduct in public.”

Fortunately, he thought again. A worldwide conducting career was born, and we in Boston were spoiled with his inspiring presence as conductor of the Boston Pops for thirteen years.

Now Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil have plucked two CDs' worth of thrilling music by Williams as a celebration of his genius. These are live recordings from early in 2019, captured with the powerful, enveloping sound of the orchestra in Disney Hall.

The recording opens with the 1984 Olympic Fanfare and Theme, written for the Los Angeles games. There ought to be a name for the particular kind of goose bumps that kick in automatically with John Williams’s music. But then, right on the Fanfare’s bright and hopeful heels, comes music that ingeniously tracks the mysterious and disorienting disturbances that are unleashed in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (written four years before Dudamel was born). One of the many gifts that John Williams has offered the public over the decades is his irresistible invitation to explore the orchestra with him – and to find the narrative in even the most modern, atonal gestures. He can compose a transition from chaos to serenity with heartfelt sensibility and blinding compositional craft, and the audience stays right there with him.

It’s the mix of craft and heart that comes across in everything recorded here. When Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter arrives on CD 1, it’s as if the whole world shifts. Williams has uncanny insight into the magical world of children.

Violinist Simone Porter plays achingly in the Theme from Schindler’s List, and the orchestra soars on the Flight to Neverland from Hook. Favorites from Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones are here also, along with cellist Robert deMaine’s gorgeous cello playing in Sayuri’s Theme from Memoirs of a Geisha.

There’s something new, too – a string arrangement of music from the 2015 Star Wars film The Force Awakens. Listen to it several times. It’s an adagio that stands perfectly alone, untethered to any film or story – an exquisite blueprint of despair and acceptance written by a truly great composer.

Listen to Williams's "Imperial March" from Star Wars from this album:

For more information and to purchase this album, visit ArkivMusic.