John Williams Hollywood Bowl Concert Review
August 18-19, 2000, Los Angeles
by Juan-Luis Sanchez
Putting on a good concert of film music seems as hard as making a good
movie based on a comic book. On the one hand, your core audience is going
to consist of die-hard fans who know every nuance, every subtlety, who
want to hear all their favorites played flawlessly yet who also hope that
the concert setting might reveal something in the music they were not previously
aware of. These fans might also be hoping to convert their partner/friends
to "the cause," to introduce them to the diversity, artistry,
and gosh-darn-it plain wonderfulness of film music. In short, they have
On the other hand, many in the audience, doubtless the majority, simply
want an entertaining concert when they'll hear some music they know, be
introduced to some they don't, and enjoy a lovely summer evening.
The compromise is one which favours the general audience and inevitably
disappoints the die-hard fan to some degree. Concert orchestras, even one
such as the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra (which consists of the studio musicians
who play in the recording sessions), are not flawless, and the outdoor
setting dissipates the sound. More importantly, scores tend to be reduced
to concert "suites," a medley of the main themes, and varied
orchestrations in the original scores end up homogenized for the available
instruments. The overall result is the intangible sense of the music "all
sounding the same."
To his credit, John Williams did shy away from the "concert suite"
presentation in three significant pieces, Jaws (a combination of
the cues "Out To Sea" and "The Shark Cage Fugue"),
E.T. and Close Encounters (the final reels in both cases).
I say "final reels" although they were necessarily edited down
for length, and I couldn't escape the sense that the edits were jarring,
and distracted from the flow of the music.
One final criticism of the program was that it was impossible to ignore
the lack of proper representation of the Williams "Big Three,"
namely Star Wars, Superman and Indiana Jones, for which I
would have happily traded any number of Patriot or Sabrina renditions.
When he gracefully gave a final encore (after an already generous two)
of The Raiders March, it went a long way towards making up for this, and
I heard that on Saturday he gave one more encore after Raiders;
the much-missed Star Wars.
Although it is clear by now that I fall into the "die-hard fan"
group, I tried hard to sit back and enjoy the music within the context
that it was being presented, and as such there is no denying that it was
a successful concert. I found myself responding emotionally to the music,
the familiar tingles at the oh-so-perfect musical moments, and during E.T.
it was impossible not to picture the final departure of the spaceship and
not feel the tears well up.
It was also fun to look around at the strangers around me and watch
their reactions to the music. The two fans in front of me who were conducting
by proxy, for instance. I kept imagining an official coming out at intermission
to say "Mr Williams cannot complete the concert, is there anyone here
who can conduct the orchestra?" and watch them scramble over themselves
to get to the stage. Or during the last bars of "Anakin's Theme"
I saw several people craning towards their partners clearly saying, "Hear
that? Dom-dum-DUM-dum, that's the IMPERIAL march, geddit? No? Oh, I'll
play it when we get home, you'll see," and their partners wondering
who in the world they had suddenly found themselves sat next to. Suddenly,
I felt right at home.