A sea of lightsabers illuminated the Hollywood Bowl for John Williams: Maestro of the Movies. (Evan Solano/LOL-LA)
A sea of lightsabers as far as the eye can see – not a bad way for Star Wars fans and film enthusiasts to spend a Sunday evening. Forget the beach and forget the barbecue, this Labor Day weekend the best place to be was in a galaxy far, far away (by way of the Hollywood Bowl) where renowned film composer John Williams captivated a sold-out crowd of film fans of every generation.
With dazzling special effects, star-studded ensembles and memorable moments, film score has often been an overlooked and underappreciated element in movies. If there was one man responsible for the commercial shift and mainstream attention to movie scores, it would be Williams.
The evening began with composer David Newman (son of legendary Hollywood composer and longtime friend of Williams’, Alfred Newman), who led the Los Angeles Philharmonic through a series of iconic scores from films from the golden age of Hollywood all the way to the modern blockbusters of today. As the lights dimmed, the monitors immediately transported the audience to 1975 with the Paramount Pictures opening credits being shown and the L.A. Phil playing the opening theme of the landmark Hollywood studio’s music that we have all grown up with hearing over the years.
Newman and the orchestra began with Alan Silvestri’s “Forrest Gump Suite” from 1994’s film Forrest Gump, as the screen began showing a montage of famous clips from countless films from throughout history. The piece was moving and melancholic, and the orchestra played in perfect harmony as scenes from Pretty in Pink, Ghost, Top Gun and actors like John Wayne, Tom Hanks and Robert Redford came alive on the big screen.
In between songs Newman took a moment to address the crowd and give special thanks to Williams himself for being such an inspiration and a pioneer for himself and many other composers. His voice trembled and broke as he paid acknowledgement to a man he has known all his life and who has had such an immeasurable impact on him.
He also took time between songs to explain the intricacies and subtle nuances of pieces from films like Franz Waxman’s score from Sunset Boulevard and Bernard Herrmann’s fandango-style piece from the Alfred Hitchcock classic North By Northwest.
As the lone trumpet from Nino Rota’s iconic theme from The Godfather rang out, the crowd roared in excitement as scenes from Francis Ford Coppola’s legendary mob epic flashed over the big screens. Hearing the score played live really gave the audience the full effect and power of the music. Every note and little movement could be felt and resonated with such subtle depth.
Newman finished his set with a scene from Star Trek Into Darkness set to live accompaniment from the orchestra. Michael Giacchino’s epic score perfectly captured the drama and action of the film’s opening scene which finds Spock trapped in an active volcano as the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise swoops into rescue him in the nick of time. The clip was a fitting ending to the first set and prelude to the night that still laid ahead for sci-fi fans.
After the brief intermission, the lights grew dim and countless lightsabers began illuminating the night sky, children of all ages and adults waving them in anticipation as John Williams took to the stage. The minute he appeared, the crowd gave a rousing roar of approval, and he immediately began transporting the audience into the magic and beauty of their favorite films.
Starting with music from the film Hook, he immediately delighted everyone old enough to remember seeing the 1991 Steven Spielberg blockbuster starring Robin Williams and Julia Roberts. He also played a piece from his recent work on the film The BFG before finally giving the audience what they were so eagerly waiting to hear.
He mentioned a bit of the backstory on how he came to work on the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, describing how smitten and intrigued he was by the character Rey played by Daisy Ridley, and led the orchestra through “Rey’s Theme” as the screens showed scenes featuring Ridley alongside iconic characters like Han Solo and BB-8.
He continued on with another piece from the Star Wars franchise, going back to 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back during the scene when the Millennium Falcon is trying to outrun TIE fighters through an asteroid field. Although the scenes were not playing overhead you could easily imagine them in your head as Han Solo ducks and dodges asteroids and races against the Empire trying to wipe them out.
Before going into “Leia’s Theme” from the original 1977 film A New Hope, Williams recounted a humorous story about how he never knew (much like many Star Wars fans at the time) that Luke and Leia were in fact brother and sister, instead of would-be lovers (spoiler alert?) when he first wrote the song. It was an interesting, albeit hilarious, back story behind one of the film’s most memorable pieces.
Williams’ Star Wars-a-palooza continued with Darth Vader’s famous “Imperial March,” easily one of the most widely recognizable songs in film history. It was basically the “Stairway to Heaven” for sci-fi nerds that were waving their lightsabers, conducting the orchestra along with Williams who commanded the stage as imposing as Lord Vader himself.
Taking us out of the Star Wars universe but still in the realm of fantasy and sci-fi, Williams rounded out his performance with pieces from 1978’s Superman as well as 1982’s touching sci-fi film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and the theme song from the Harry Potter films, which was a nice little bonus for those of us who missed the live screening of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone last month at the Hollywood Bowl.
As Williams took his final bow of the night, he took the opportunity to humbly thank the audience for making tonight truly magical for him. The sea of lightsabers and endless smiles on everyone’s faces was only a small thank you for the many years William’s own magic and music has touched our lives.