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.

Meet Michael Clive, Pacific Symphony’s program annotator

By Erica Sharp

“Sometimes as a joke I refer to myself as ‘your intrepid annotator,’” said Michael Clive, longtime program note writer for Pacific Symphony, in an interview last week. He had just arrived back at his Connecticut home and grabbed a cup of coffee, ready now for a chat on the phone.

Clive was referring to a Symphony Magazine piece written about his style of program note writing during his early years with Pacific Symphony. “The premise of that article is that program notes were taking a new direction. They were becoming less formal and more interesting.”

Though he had done some program book writing for regional orchestras as a volunteer when he was 23, Pacific Symphony was officially the first orchestra he wrote program notes for. After Clive’s fellowship at the National Endowment for the Arts for classical music writers, Joseph Horowitz, former artistic advisor of the orchestra, recommended that he contact the Symphony.

From the very start, he was encouraged to take chances in his writing.

“Every time I have written something and thought it was risky, they put it in,” he said. “I said you can take it out if you want, but they have left it.”

Clive obtained his masters of arts degree in music criticism at the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University in 1987. At the time he was enrolled at the university he had a job with an advertising agency in New York and was living what he described as “a very corporate” lifestyle.

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Miscellany

An inside look at James Levine’s lawsuit against the Metropolitan Opera….

The musicians of the Atlanta Symphony have a new contract, negotiated without rancor….

John Williams’ next “Star Wars” film will be his last….

Here’s a fresh idea for a classical concert — Poems While You Wait….

Several classical titles have been named to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress, including Artur Schnabel’s complete recording of the Beethoven piano sonatas….

Zack Ferriday makes a strong case for ditching the term “Maestro”….

José Abreu, founder of Venezuela’s El SIstema, has died….

‘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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Monster of a movie: Kaufman and Pacific take on ‘Jurassic Park’

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

Richard Kaufman, Principal Pops Conductor of Pacific Symphony, answered the door of his classic Encino ranch house the other day in his bare feet and khaki shorts. When he’s not conducting symphony orchestras around the world in live performances of film scores with the movie screened synchronously, Kaufman, 69, works in a home office equipped with a large desk, on which sits a giant computer monitor to watch the film he’s working on and the score to same.

The room is filled with papers and scores and mementos, including a framed photograph of Kaufman, a veteran of the Hollywood studios, coaching Jack Nicholson on the violin for his starring role in “The Witches of Eastwick.” (Those are Kaufman’s hands you see playing the piano in the scene in which Susan Sarandon’s cello bursts into flames.)

His current project is “Jurassic Park,” which he’ll conduct for the first time Saturday (Aug. 19) with Pacific Symphony at Pacific Amphitheatre. To demonstrate his duties, he flips on the movie to the scene where a T-Rex is chasing a jeep — pure mayhem — and conducts the score, which he has marked up with brightly colored highlighters. Meters and tempos change suddenly. A click track sets the pace. Both he and the orchestra will listen to it on headphones during the performance.

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Program for a John Williams concert

Pacific Symphony and conductor Richard Kaufman pay tribute to the great film composer in celebration of his 85th birthday tonight and tomorrow at Segerstrom Concert Hall. The program hasn’t been widely disseminated so I post it in its entirely below.

Liberty Fanfare
Hymn to the Fallen from Saving Private Ryan
Midway March
Jim’s New Life from Empire of the Sun
Harry’s Wondrous World from Harry Potter
Sayuri’s Theme from Memoirs of a Geisha (Wakahisakai, Japanese Classical Dancers)
Selections from Star Wars:
Forest Battle from Return of the Jedi
March of the Resistance and Rey’s Theme from The Force Awakens
Main Theme from Star Wars
Jurassic Park
Sugarland Express
(Bernie Fields, harmonica)
Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra from
Indiana Jones
Marion’s Theme and Raiders March from
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Devil’s Dance from The Witches of Eastwick
Flying Theme from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Tickets here.