I was watching the 1940 classic The Sea Hawk not too long ago. Oh my goodness! What a great movie! From the moment the beginning credits roll to Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s dramatic score, the audience is swept away to the high seas. Korngold’s orchestrations can do that, and he was never better (in my opinion) than when he teamed with Director Michael Curtiz. They collaborated on six films [The Sea Hawk being one of them, as well as Korngold’s Academy Award-winning score for The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)], proving to be one of the strongest director/composer teams in film history. I can think of another incredible pairing [I bet you can, too! 😉 ] — that of director George Lucas and composer John Williams! There are so many aspects of the entire Star Wars Saga at which to marvel, but can anyone question what John Williams’ scores do for the six films we love?
When I got word this past spring that the incomparable John Williams would be conducting our own Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra on October 4, I couldn’t wait for tickets to go on sale! This was a lesson in patience, however, because I had to wait until August for the box office to open [for the 2014-’15 season]. I marked my calendar, and at 9 a.m. on the appointed day, I took my telephone receiver in hand, dialed the box office, and within moments was connected to a sales rep. 🙂 A short discussion later, I had purchased four tickets, and now all I had to do was wait the two months to experience what I was sure would be one of the most incredible nights of my life! 🙂
I must admit this was not the first time Tom and I would experience the pleasure of watching John Williams conduct a symphony orchestra. On two previous occasions, we trekked down to Chicago to see the composer in action as he led one of the world’s most wonderful symphony orchestras through his moving, exciting music. Both experiences are etched in my memory — and were well worth the two-hour drive down to the Windy City — yet I knew this time around was going to be different! A fan most definitely, Tom questioned: “Are you sure you want to see John Williams again? We’ve seen him twice already.” I couldn’t help but chuckle. “This is John Williams we’re talking about!” I responded. “And he’s finally conducting our symphony orchestra!” The MSO is a world-class symphony orchestra in its own right that is, sadly, overshadowed by Chicago’s. I was ecstatic when I heard that — on this tour — the 82-year-old Williams would be stopping here rather than Chicago!
We invited two dear friends — John and Kathy B — to join us for dinner and the concert. As we walked down the street to the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, you could feel the energy palpitating through the air! I heard snippets of conversations: “This is so exciting!” “Can you believe we’re going to see John Williams?” “I can’t wait!” I was as giddy as everyone else! 🙂 A few minutes before “show time”, we took our seats. There is not a bad seat in the house [I’ve sat up in the “nosebleed” seats plenty of times so I can attest to this fact. lol], but this time around I was treating Tom, our guests and myself to seats where we could get “up close and personal” with the orchestra — and the maestro himself. The usher showed us to our places — in the fourth row, just to the right of the director’s podium. I was in heaven!
MSO President Mark Niehaus took the stage to welcome us all to this historic night in Milwaukee, and to inform the audience that the 2,200-plus seat concert hall had sold out in just four short hours. “You’re in for a treat,” he said before departing. What an understatement! The stage right door opened, and through it walked the man we all had come to see. 🙂 Clad in a dark tuxedo, the bearded, be-speckled maestro smiled and waved to the audience giving him a standing ovation, and took to the small dais.
John Williams conducts the MSO
It was thrilling to sit so close to the orchestra! I was swept away to the Old West as the violinists’ bows rose and fell in unison to the sweeping melody of The Cowboys overture [John Williams worked on 12 of the short-lived television series’ episodes based on the 1972 western]. I went on a high-sea adventure to Neverland. I was brought to tears as the MSO’s principal flutist Sonora Slocum’s fingers danced along her instrument during the opening and closing measures of “Dartmoor, 1912” from War Horse. Yet nothing moved me more than when MSO’s Concertmaster Frank Almond stood to lead his fellow symphony members through the haunting theme of Williams’ Schindler’s List. You may have heard earlier this year of the theft of Almond’s 300-year-old Lapinski Stradivarius [actually, the famous violin is on loan to the incredibly talented Almond]. En route to his car after a February concert, Almond was attacked, the violin was stolen. An intense investigation ensued, and 11 days later, the instrument and musician were reunited! 🙂 The chance to listen to the gifted Almond make the priceless instrument sing to one of the most beautiful pieces of music was a treat all unto itself! 🙂
Only one piece of music on the night’s music list was not written by Williams — although he arranged it. That would be “Hooray for Hollywood”, which opened the second half of the show. Here is a rundown of the night’s listening pleasure:
“The Cowboys Overture” // Excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind // Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Suite for Orchestra — “Hedwig’s Theme”, “Nimbus 2000”, “Harry’s Wondrous World” // “Marion’s Theme” from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark // “Adventures on Earth” from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial // Intermission // “Hooray for Hollywood” // Theme from Jurassic Park // “Dartmoor, 1912” from War Horse // “The Flight to Neverland” from Hook // Theme from Schindler’s List // “Throne Room” and “Finale” from Star Wars Suite for Orchestra.
Yes, we Star Wars fans had to wait until the end to hear any music from our beloved saga, but that wasn’t really so bad. First, John Williams has been incredibly prolific over the course of his career, and it was wonderful listening to a myriad of what he has bestowed upon us over the course of the past 50+ years [and let’s face it — I was familiar with much of what the MSO played that evening so I was just as happy to listen to non-Star Wars music! 😉 ]. Second, it seemed fitting the concert built to that piece of music. 🙂 It was a good note on which to end.
Only it wasn’t the ending! John Williams and the MSO treated us to a couple of encores — first: “With Malice Toward None” from Lincoln and “Darth Vader’s Theme” from Star Wars, and second: the bouncing, inspiring main theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark. John Williams returned after a third standing ovation. However, this time around he smiled and waved good-night to the audience, and strode off stage. Always leave them wanting more. 😉
Particularly meaningful to me was the fact that I could see John Williams’ face whenever he turned to the right as he directed the musicians. He smiled often, and it was wonderful to see him enjoying his music — even though he has led countless performances of these pieces over the years. 🙂 And I loved the stories he shared during the moments after the last note of one piece was played and before the first note of the next was struck. Before the violinists put bow to string and the brass section raised their instruments to their lips for “Adventures on Earth”, John Williams quipped that it is “so good for a composer to hear his music without the competition of dialog.” Before Frank Almond took us away to a time not all that long ago, John Williams shared the process of working on a Steven Spielberg film: “We’ll watch the film at Steven’s house…With Schindler’s List, I couldn’t speak at the end (of watching the un-scored film).” Williams shared — somberly — that he needed to take a walk for a few minutes before talking to the director about his incredibly moving film. When Williams returned to Spielberg’s home, the composer informed his friend: “You need a better composer than me for this.” To which Spielberg quipped, “I know, but they’re all dead.” Williams said to us, “I don’t know [to whom] Steven Spielberg [may have been] referring, even in jest.” 😉 I wonder, too! lol
If the anecdotes weren’t engaging enough, imagine the cheers Williams received when he informed the audience that in two week’s time he would begin working on scoring a new little film — Star Wars Episode VII!!! 😀 That would put the timing at right about now! 😀
It really was a magical night! You know, one really doesn’t have to experience John Williams in person to be enthralled by his talent. Whether in a concert hall, movie theater or listening at home, John Williams’ music lifts the spirit — and takes you on an incredible journey — on the high seas … across the stars … to another place and time. The Magical Maestro. I think that’s what I’ll call him from now on. 🙂
Thank you for letting me relive this Magical Night! 🙂
It isn’t too late to enter the Raffle to celebrate my one-year anniversary writing for CWK! Indicate in a comment box that you’d like to “throw your name into the hat“, and send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and email address. I will accept entries through October 29. The winner will be announced in my October 30 blog! Good luck to all who enter! [Sorry — CWK contributors are ineligible to enter.]
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