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

Pops season announced

Pacific Symphony unveiled programming today for its 2018-2019 pops season, seven programs each repeated twice, running October to June. Richard Kaufman returns for his 28th season as principal pops conductor. All performances are held in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.

The season opens Oct. 12-13 with actress and singer Vanessa Williams joining the orchestra to perform songs from throughout her career.

Several vocalists will appear in “The Wonderful World of Oz” (Nov. 9-10), a show featuring songs from “Wicked,” “The Wiz” and “The Wizard of Oz.”

The Christmas show (Dec. 14-15) is highlighted by teenage singer Jackie Evancho, who will perform songs from her holiday album and more.

Valentine’s Day comes around and so does Kenny G (Feb. 15-16). The popular saxophonist will offer his cool jazz sound in symphonic arrangements.

Leslie Odom, Jr., star of “Hamilton,” arrives March 15-16. The Tony and Grammy winning singer will offer Broadway and jazz hits, including from Jerome Kern and Nat King Cole.

The tribute band Windborne delves into the symphonic rock of Queen (April 26-27), promising revivals of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “We Are the Champions,” “Another One Bites the Dust” and others.

The season ends (May 31-June 1) with semi-staged performances of Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical “My Fair Lady.”

Subscriptions are available now in packages of seven and four concerts. Call (714) 755-5799. Renewing subscribers can also go to pacificsymphony.org/renew. New subscribers should visit pacificsymphony.org/pops.

Pacific Symphony: December concerts

Here’s your quick, mobile-friendly guide to December concerts at Pacific Symphony, with links to buy tickets online.

Estonian conductor Anu Tali, recently picked by The Washington Post as one of the top “Female conductors to watch,” makes her debut with the orchestra in a program of Czech and American music (Nov. 30; Dec. 1-2). Smetana’s cherished tone poem “The Moldau” opens the proceedings, and Dvorák’s powerful and undervalued Symphony No. 7 caps them. In between, Gershwin’s Concerto in F gets a ride with noted Chinese pianist Xiayin Wang in the solo seat. Tickets here

Then the holiday programming gets underway. First, there’s “Nutcracker for Kids!” on Dec. 2, a condensed version of the classic ballet featuring Festival Ballet Theatre, Pacific Symphony, conductor Roger Kalia and a visit from Santa Claus. Tickets here

The annual performance of Handel’s “Messiah” (Dec. 3) is this year led by a very special guest, conductor John Alexander, recently retired from Pacific Chorale after 45 years as its artistic director. He leads the Symphony, Chorale and soloists in a complete performance. Tickets here

Pacific Symphony will be in the pit at Segerstrom Hall for 13 performances of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” with American Ballet Theatre between Dec. 7 and Dec. 17. That’s a lot of sugar plums. Tickets here

The “Holiday Organ Spectacular” rumbles in Dec. 19. Todd Wilson, head of the Organ Department at The Cleveland Institute of Music, takes charge of the mammoth Gillespie Concert Organ and Symphony musicians Ben Smolen (flute), Elliott Moreau (bassoon and saxophone), Barry Perkins (trumpet), Mindy Ball (harp), Robert Slack (percussion) and Timothy Landauer (cello) make guest appearances. Tickets here

Finally, the multi-talented Seth MacFarlane arrives (Dec. 22-23) to sing holiday tunes and selections from the American Songbook, all in the cool style of the Rat Pack. Actor Gavin McLeod is also on hand for “The Night Before Christmas.” Richard Kaufman conducts. Tickets here

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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