Concert Review – The Movie Music of John Williams

I’m not a huge fan of live music, but I AM a movie lover. The best, most iconic movies are usually supported by an amazing soundtrack. Think of some of the top films of our time…now imagine them without a stirring score. Imagine the 1977 Star Wars without The Imperial March, or Luke Skywalker’s Theme.  Would it even be Star Wars? A great composition carries the viewer into new worlds, offering rousing emotional cues and magical movie moments.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that many of our A+ film lists are heavily weighted by one beloved composer: John Williams.

So when I heard San Diego would host a special summer concert of the music of John Williams, I was all over it, and off I went to the Jacobs Music Center in downtown San Diego. Was it great? Well…it should have been. Part of it was wonderful. The program was in two halves, starting with a sampler variety of films. And the second part? It was all Star Wars. I guess that shouldn’t come as a surprise.  😉

I think was did surprise me was the first half:  for some reason, the chosen themes weren’t the most well-known in their franchises. Yes, absolutely play the music from Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, Superman, and Harry Potter! But how about the songs we best recognize and love? I don’t think The Last Crusade contains the most memorable Indiana score, nor the Lost World from the Jurassic Park series. I find those choices a little mystifying. Why not use the beloved Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter? And I don’t even recognize the movie title “BFG”…surely something from ET might have been a better choice from the child-oriented end of John Williams’ oeuvre.

At least the concert opened with a bang, using the Superman March from the original 1978 Superman. And the entire Star Wars second half of the program was as nostalgically transporting as any geek could hope.

Here’s the performance list from my July 18, 2018 concert (as worded from my program):

  • “Superman March” from Superman
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: “Harry’s Wondrous World”
  • Suite from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: “Bridge to the Past”
  • “A Child’s Tale” suite from The BFG
  • “Scherzo for Motorcycle” from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  • “The Adventures of Indiana Jones” I.Swashbuckler (The Adventures of Mutt)
  • “Theme” from The Lost World

Intermission

  • Selection from Star Wars

The program info could have been written better. For example, I’d like to remember which songs from which Star Wars films were used, although I did recognize them all. A list might have been nice. 🙂

Overall, this was a fine experience, but not a great one. The musicians can’t be faulted — everything sounded like it was performed in the movies themselves. Conductor Sameer Patel was lively and probably superb, although I wouldn’t recognize one conductor’s work from another, to be honest. But from the selections chosen, I don’t think I’d pay $30 to see this again.

What I would do again, in a heartbeat, are those outdoor symphony performances of music played TO THE MOVIES. I’ve now seen several of the Harry Potter films performed that way, and most recently, Star Wars: A New Hope (<—–concert/movie review). If I’m lucky, that will become a habit.

 

Star Wars A New Hope – Symphony & Movie

The Force is with them.

This week I was treated to an outdoor, live symphony in San Diego (at the Embarcadero Marina Park South, August 18, 2018) playing to a large screen-film showing of Star Wars: A New Hope.  To say it was spellbinding would be an understatement.

I haven’t seen A New Hope (just called Star Wars, back in the day) on the large screen since the original trilogy’s Special Editions came out in 1997. With the San Diego Symphony Bayside Nights offering monstrous screen outdoor movies set to a live orchestral soundtrack, people have started  flocking to these events in droves. It was as packed last night as it was to their Harry Potter versions last year. And the Star Wars audience was surprisingly into the spirit of the story.

Where did you dig UP this old fossil?

While the audience wasn’t dressed in costume like the Harry Potter symphony goers were ( I was one of the attendees in Hogwarts robes), it was clear people were more-than-normally excited. People laughed at almost every line C-3P0 said, applauded when Han Solo first appeared, shouted AWWWW when Porkins died,  cheered as the Death Star blew up, and gave a standing ovation after the rousing credit themes finished. Besides all the clapping, hooting, cheering, and laughing around me, one nearby attendee amused audiences during the Intermission by roaring like Chewbacca. He was quite good. I can’t even come close.  🙂

Strike me down and I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine. (From a certain point of view.)

It’s hard to describe how amazing it is to watch a beloved movie set to live music. When I could tear my eyes from the screen, I was impressed to see how many string instruments Williams’ score used. He was also heavy on the brass, and light on percussion…although when drums or other percussive instruments were used, they were to magical effect. Nothing sweeps you right along like the Star Wars theme.

After the orchestra members took a bow, it was a matter of inching through the cattle-like foot gates, and waiting an hour to exit the car from the Downtown Hilton parking garage, during which my enthusiasm waned a bit (I recommend Uber for things like this). But John Williams’ iconic score still resounded in my brain. I considered what other movies could inspire enough audiences take the jump from ignoring a “boring” orchestral event, to packing the outdoor grandstand seats and champagne lawn tables for fine arts versions of pop culture immersion.

The Harry Potter movies are a clear success in this format, with eight movies, plus the new Fantastic Beasts versions to choose from. And I suspect they can give it a go for the lineup of other Star Wars films. Other movie franchises with powerfully memorable scores include Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Superman, ET, and possibly Close Encounters. If I’m leaning heavily on John Williams films, that should be no kind of symphonic surprise. But there are certainly other composers lending themselves to this kind of treatment. Think about The Lord of the Rings saga or Titanic. If there are other movie franchises whose tune you can easily identify offhand, that’s a place to start. And if said movie comes with a fanatical following, well, there you go.

I’m excited for the next time I can hit the symphony for a fabulous science fiction or fantasy film super-experience. It will have to be an annual event!

As a re-watch, of course I give Star Wars an A+, film-wise. Seeing it on the large screen with a superb live orchestra takes the film to new heights. If there was a super-grade above A+ for the live musical option, I’d give it.

Great seats. The Force was clearly with me that night!

 

About the Peetimes:

I didn’t even need to use my Peetimes; the event included an intermission. However, since everyone else in the audience used this intermission as well, clogging up the toilet lines, I should have checked the app anyway. We do have Peetimes for A New Hope listed in the RunPee app, even though RunPee didn’t remotely exist yet, as a sort of retro-cool flashback feature. For fun, you can scroll through the movies on the RunPee app, and peek at what we did.