Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Symphony Preview, December 11-13, 2015: Dear John

John Williams receiving the
2009 National Medal of Arts
This weekend the St. Louis Symphony is repeating what is starting to look like a holiday tradition with a celebration of the film music of John Williams, conducted by maestro David Robertson. If it's anything like previous programs of Williams' music, it will certainly make a joyful noise — and isn't that largely what the season is all about?

John Williams, who will turn 84 in February, is probably the best known and most frequently recorded film music composer of the last 100 years. He's certainly one of the most honored, with five Oscars, four Golden Globes, 22 Grammys, seven BAFTA awards, and, for all I know, a partridge in a pear tree. With 49 Oscar nominations, he is the second most-nominated individual in that award's history. His most visible work has been for blockbusters like "Jurassic Park", the first Harry Potter film, the "Indiana Jones" films, and the "Star Wars" series, but Mr. Williams's involvement with the film music business extends all the way back to his days as a jazz keyboardist and film and TV studio pianist. Remember piano riff for "Peter Gunn"? That's him.

When you go, expect an evening of Williams's Monster Hits, including music from "Jurassic Park," "Superman," and "Home Alone". And if a program this close to Christmas doesn't include the popular "Christmas Memory" song from that last movie, I'll eat my mistletoe.

There will be new music as well. The SLSO web site promises selections from the score of the latest "Star Wars" installment "The Force Awakens". Judging from past programs, you can probably also expect music from "Empire of the Sun," "Saving Private Ryan," "Amistad," and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". That last one has a wonderful microtonal opening that has to be heard live to be fully appreciated.

I'm promising nothing, though. Unlike other SLSO concerts, this one does not have any downloadable program notes, so the program itself will be a bit of a surprise.

The SLSO has had quite a public affair for some time now with movies and movie music. Previous seasons have included showings of classic silent films such as "Phantom of the Opera" and "City Lights" with the scores performed live, as well as more recent blockbusters like "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" and "The Matrix." This season we've already had a screening of "Back to the Future" with the Alan Silvestri score played live. In January we'll have the charming animated comedy "Ratatouille" with Michael Giacchino conducting his own score and in April the music of John Williams returns as the SLSO presents a screening of "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial".

Granted, it's a match born out of financial necessity more than love, as these programs nearly always sell out and are probably quite profitable. But if they attract audiences who have never experienced the heady cocktail of a live orchestral performance then I, for one, am all for it.

The Essentials: David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in The Music of John Williams on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., December 11-13. The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

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