John Williams Concert review

Note: This is a lightly edited post that I wrote 12 years ago and posted to my old blog, which, mercifully, is no more. Since John Williams will be conducting the Indianapolis Symphony this coming February, I thought it’d be fun to re-post this now and then write up some thoughts after the Indianapolis concert.  I’ve seen John Williams conduct live three times – all with the Chicago Symphony – with the last concert of his I attended probably 10 years ago, so I’m looking forward to February 11th!

[Original post from November 30, 2005]

As my 4 faithful readers know, I traveled to Chicago to see the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in concert last weekend. Seeing the CSO live is truly a memorable event. Their musicianship is unmatched; the atmosphere inside Symphony Hall is unlike any orchestral venue I’ve visited.

Of course, the other highlight of seeing the Chicago Symphony last week was the guest conductor, John Williams. This may come as a bit of surprise to my loyal readers, but I’m a small fan of Mr. Williams’ music. As I’ve mentioned before, it was the score for Star Wars that sparked my interest in orchestral music. The musical world I’ve discovered since (and am still discovering) has enriched my life in ways that I can’t articulate on my small blog and with my limited writing talents.

The Concert

The evening started with the Overture from The Cowboys, a 1972 John Wayne movie. I can’t comment on the movie; I’ve never seen it. But the music has a certain American West feel, akin to some of Copland’s work.

The next piece performed was a suite from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. From what I’ve read, this is Mr. Williams’ favorite personal composition. It’s a dark piece until the five note alien theme is heard and the piece pushes to grand conclusion.

Having featured music from a movie about friendly aliens visiting Earth, we were treated next to a suite from a movie about hostile aliens coming to Earth. “Escape from the City” and ‘Epilogue” from the recent War of the Worlds were both quite modern in their rhythmic and tonal qualities.

Mr. Williams also took time honor three film composers who passed on last year. Jerry Goldsmith’s Main Theme from Star Trek was played brilliantly. David Raskin’s love theme from Laura was stirring. The tribute ended with Elmer Bernstein’s The Magnificent Seven played faster and more energetic than on any recording I’ve heard.

The first half the concert ended with Alfred Newman’s The Captain of Castile.

The second half began with this piece, and it was an absolute delight to hear live. The audience cheered during some themes (Star Wars, E.T.) and laughed during others (Pink Panther, Jaws).

For the next selection, Williams departed from the printed program (which called for Eric Korngold’s The Sea Hawk) and inserted his own “jazzy little piece” from a movie that “not many people saw” – Spielberg’s 1941. The movie is a comedy about WWII starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, I think. Williams’ march is fitting, almost a satirical look at military marches with some swing mixed in to remind us we’re in the jazz age.

Next up were two selections from Jaws. Neither featured the famous two-note motif but, for me, that made them more enjoyable. It was nice to hear selections from Williams’ second Oscar winning score not normally performed. The “Shark Cage Fugue” was especially enjoyable; the way he worked several motifs into a macabre fugue that underscores a shark attack was thrilling.

While I came to know and love the music of John Williams because of the Star Wars scores, many people younger than I were first introduced to the maestro though his scores for the Harry Potter movies (the most recent one excepted). Williams and the CSO played three selections from Potter series starting with “Hedwig’s Theme” which features the magical sounding celeste. “Aunt Marge’s Waltz” is a fun piece from the third Potter film. “Harry’s Wonderous World” is a collection of several themes from the movies, a kind of suite on its own.

Mr. Williams didn’t bother to introduce the final three pieces as he had for all the earlier works. He didn’t need to, though. The Star Wars suite began with the wickedly fun and completely terrorizing “Imperial March.” Next up was “Anakin’s Theme” a surprising choice, considering that this theme is not nearly as well known as others from the saga. It was a good choice musically to follow Vader’s theme, though, because Williams wrote Anakin’s Theme as a deconstruction of the Imperial March. The militaristic brass of the “Imperial March” are replaced by soft woodwinds and strings in “Anakin’s Theme”, The final piece of the night was, appropriately, “Throne Room and End Credits” from the original 1977 film.

Williams and the CSO were quickly given a standing ovation; they rewarded the audience with three encores. Continuing with the Star Wars themes, the orchestra played “Luke and Leia” from Return of the Jedi. Next, Williams announced a piece that is rarely heard in its full form unless “there’s a slow news day” – The Mission Theme from NBC Nightly News. (I think the Maesto writes his own jokes, by the way.) To cap off the evening, we were treated to a spirited version of “The Raiders March” from Indiana Jones. For a moment it appeared there might be a fourth encore, which I was loudly yelling for, but alas, it was not to be.

The concert was spectacular, well played, well programed, and well conducted. After the concert, totally by chance, I ran into a fellow IU alum and Marching Hundred member. We exchanged stories about John Williams pieces we played while in the Hundred, band geeks all the way.

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A year in books 2017

This is not a comprehensive list of what I’ve read in 2017 but it’s close I think. Here are some further thoughts on what I’ve been reading.

Book you pushed the most people to read?

I still really like The Expanse series from S.A. Corey, which is now on its 7th novel plus that many more short stories and novellas exploring all the wonder and horror of the human colonization of the Solar System.

Also, Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren Much of life is dull, repetitive – washing dishes, brushing teeth, feeding the kids, cleaning the house, etc. Nevertheless, God meets us in this – our ordinary life – and Warren write beautifully about that.

Book that didn’t quite live up to the hype?

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey – Really fun premise – MAN EATING HIPPOS OF LOUISIANA! – but didn’t deliver like I wanted it to. It was a quick read, and fairly entertaining, but each chapter felt like so much more could have been said about the world-building, the villains, the backstories of our team of heroes, etc. Just a lot left unwritten, which is unfortunate because MAN EATING HIPPOS!!!

Best series you started in 2017?

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman – can’t wait to finish this series in 2018.

Book that had the most impact on you?

Silence by Shusaku Endo. Read this with a friend, which is the best way to read, well, anything, but especially books that provoke so much thought around religious freedom, syncretism, missionary work, Catholic & Protestant ecclesiology, devotion and more.

Best World-building/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

Probably, again the Expanse series but honorable mention also to
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden which takes place in a medieval Russia so cold, you need blanket just to pick up this book.