Interview: John Williams

(Here’s an interview with composer John Williams that I wrote for England’s Gramophone magazine back in 2005. Richard Kaufman conducts Pacific Symphony in Williams’s Oscar-winning score to “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” for a screening of the film Saturday night. Tickets here.)

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

It must have been a proud moment for the young John Williams – the red carpet premiere of William Wyler’s How to Steal a Million at the Egyptian Theater in 1966. It was one of the composer’s first major film scores. Walking out afterwards, there stood Mr and Mrs Igor Stravinsky two couples ahead, and Williams’s wife, Barbara, encouraged him to introduce himself. But Williams was terrified, he recalled recently. ‘I was convinced that he probably would have said to me, “So you’re responsible for the rubbish I just heard for these two hours.”’

Things are different now, but Williams is still a modest person. Sitting down to an interview in a faux-rustic (this is Hollywood, after all) meeting room at DreamWorks’ offices on the Universal Studios back lot, the man who never met Stravinsky had just received his 44th and 45th Academy Award nominations, for the film scores to Munich and Memoirs of a Geisha. He pronounces himself delighted, a sliver of a smile lightening his features.

‘It’s not something that you get used to, or that has happened so much that it’s not a kick or a thrill.’ Williams (though he didn’t win this year) is now tied in second place, behind Walt Disney, for the most Oscar nominations with composer Alfred Newman, who, as it happens, first hired young ‘Johnny’ Williams as an orchestrator in the 1950s at 20th Century Fox.

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Scoring ‘E.T.’

Here’s an interesting short documentary (10 minutes) on the making of the film score (by John Williams) to Steven Spielberg’s “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.” Williams and Spielberg have made 23 films together by my count, with at least one more in the works. In the video you can see how well and easily the two of them get along, and also how Spielberg gives Williams space to do his best work.

In a 2005 interview that I did for Gramophone magazine, Williams told me even more about the art of film scoring.

Richard Kaufman conducts Pacific Symphony in the score to “E.T.” live and synchronized to the picture this Saturday at the Pacific Amphitheater. Tickets here

Pacific Symphony: August concerts

Pops conductor Richard Kaufman returns to the podium this month to conduct the orchestra in a live-to-picture performance of John Williams’ score to Steven Spielberg’s “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” on Aug. 18 at the Pacific Amphitheater. Williams won the Oscar for “Best Original Score” for his music to the Spielberg classic, which will be projected in high definition on a giant screen above the orchestra. Tickets here

On Aug. 12, artistic partner Pacific Chorale holds its annual choral festival concert in Segerstrom Concert Hall. Artistic director Robert Istad leads community singers, the Chorale and guest artists in performances of music by Mozart: the “Vesperae solennes de confessor,” K.339; the  “Alleluia” from “Exsultate, jubilate,” K.165; “Ave verum corpus,” K.618; and an excerpt from the Organ Fantasia in F minor, K.608. Tickets are free but reservations are required 

photo: ™ & © Universal Studios.

Pacific Symphony: April concerts

For Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony, April is the coolest month. It’s all about Carnegie Hall. As in the conductor and orchestra will make their debut there. Yes, it’s a big deal.

The 80th birthday tribute to Philip Glass presented this season by Carnegie is the occasion for the visit from our local musicians. They’ll give the New York premiere of Glass’ oratorio “The Passion of Ramakrishna” as a climax to that tribute, on April 21. The program delves deeply into the influence of Indian music on Glass and also includes “Meetings Along the Edge,” a collaboration with Ravi Shankar, and Shankar’s Sitar Concerto No. 3, with Shankar’s daughter Anoushka Shankar as soloist.

Luckily, if you can’t make it to Carnegie Hall for the performance, the program is performed here in Orange County three times, April 12-14. Tickets here

The month opens with the return of Cirque de la Symphonie, the popular acrobatic troupe.   Fliers, contortionists, dancers, jugglers, strongmen, gymnasts and what have you perform amazing feats accompanied by live symphony orchestra. Roger Kalia conducts the orchestra in this new show with music by John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Randy Newman and others. April 6-7. Tickets here

A slightly shorter version of the same, called “Cirque for Kids!,” is performed as part of the Family Musical Mornings series on April 7. Tickets here

If you haven’t yet taken the opportunity to visit the acoustically vibrant Soka Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo, April 15 might be the perfect time to do so. St.Clair conducts the Symphony, the USC Thornton Choral Artists and soloists in a single work, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, “Choral.” Tickets here

Silent movie musical scholar and organist Dennis James is back to climb aboard the Gillespie pipe organ on April 29, this time to accompany the classic German Expressionist film “Nosferatu,” a still creepy 1922 re-telling of the Dracula tale. Tickets here

Also on April 29, the Cafe Ludwig chamber music series closes its season with a mostly French program that includes Francis Poulenc’s Flute Sonata, Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata and Gabriel Faure’s glorious Piano Quintet No. 1. Pianist Orli Shaham with Symphony principals. Tickets here

‘Harry Potter’ comes to O.C. courtesy of home-grown conductor

Justin Freer conducts “Harry Potter” in Royal Albert Hall

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

Only a handful of people will know the answer to the following bit of extreme trivia: Who is the only musician born and raised in Orange County to have conducted the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony, the London Philharmonic and the Philharmonia Orchestra, just to name a few? The answer is — Justin Freer. Never heard of him? Get in line.

Freer, 37, a native of Huntington Beach, is co-founder of a company called CineConcerts, which, as the name implies, produces live concert performances of film scores synchronized with screenings of the films. He conducts these performances in darkened concert halls around the globe as audiences watch beloved movies, not him. These screenings with live music are something of a rage these days in the world of symphonic orchestras. CineConcerts currently offers such titles as “It’s a Wonderful Life” (music by Dimitri Tiomkin), “The Godfather” (music by Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola) and the “Harry Potter” series (music by John Williams and others).

We wondered about the rage, about why someone would spend $50 and up on such presentations when they could just as well stream the movie at home on a giant flatscreen with good sound.

“I think the first thing is that it’s not the same as viewing it at home, or listening to it at home, or even in a movie theater,” Freer says, seated in his glassed-walled office at company headquarters in Burbank. “It’s so radically different. People are coming to a concert. Ultimately, that’s what separates this from seeing it at home or from another concert.”

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Great moments in film music: ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ (The Duel)

Music by Ennio Morricone. Notice the play of major and minor harmonies, worthy of Schubert. Also notice that Morricone knows when to be silent. The harmonica music is a leitmotif, brimming with meaning, as the sequence makes clear. The clip ends, appropriately, in pure dissonance.

Chopin meets Liszt

A scene from “A Song to Remember” (1944), with Cornel Wilde as Chopin, Stephen Bekassy as Liszt, and Paul Muni as Chopin’s teacher, Prof. Joseph Elsner. I laughed out loud the first time I saw this, many years ago. When Hollywood gets classical music wrong, it’s usually very wrong.

Halliwell’s capsule review of the film:

“Hilarious classical music biopic which was unexpectedly popular and provoked a flood of similar pieces. As a production, not at all bad, but the script …”

Jose Iturbi dubbed the piano playing.