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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 unreasonable expectations.

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.

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