It is probably not hyperbole to state that John Williams is likely one of the best known composers alive today. People might not know the name, but they know his work whether they realise it or not. Three generations have grown up with his music infusing popular culture, from Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark to Harry Potter and Schindler’s List, Williams has created more iconic movie themes than any other composer. Superman, Jurassic Park, Jaws, the list goes on and on.
“A Celebration of John Williams in Concert” at the Royal Albert Hall, London, featured the London Symphony Orchestra who have worked with Williams on so many of his iconic soundtracks. Initially it had been intended that Williams himself would conduct the orchestra but due to ill health he was forced to pull out and instead Maestro Dirk Brossé took over the reins. Brossé is no stranger to Williams’ music, having conducted over 150 shows during the “Star Wars: In Concert” tour, so there was no better replacement to take over and he did Williams proud with his passion and enthusiasm coming through loud and clear.
Being broadcast live on Classic FM, the night was filled with not only music but thoughts and anecdotes from Brossé and members of the orchestra, talking about how they had grown up with Williams’ music, how it inspired them, and what it was like to work with him. Apparently Williams was listening along live on the radio so we can only hope that the repeated rounds of applause helped in some way to help him get over the disappointment of not being there in person. The Royal Albert Hall was near full to capacity with eager fans and all through the night the atmosphere was light and cheerful, helped by the LSO’s masterful performance and Brossé’s exuberant conducting.
The setlist from the night:
Star Wars Main Title
Excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Hedwig’s Theme (From Harry Potter)
Fawkes the Phoenix (From Harry Potter)
Harry’s Wondrous World (From Harry Potter)
End Titles from Dracula
Adventures on Earth (From E.T.)
A Child’s Tale: Suite from The BFG
Theme from Jurassic Park / Welcome to Jurassic Park
Theme from Schindler’s List
The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)
Han Solo & the Princess
Throne Room & Finale
Jaws – Main Titles
The Raiders March
It was interesting to hear so many themes back-to-back. It allowed the audience to start to pick up the themes and motifs that Williams is fond of using; little musical turns of phrase that mark out his work. Every piece was beautifully played by the LSO, but there were some definite standout moments. “Excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind” was genuinely chilling in places, incorporating parts of “The Visitors/Bye” which start with shrill, lingering strings and ominous, skittering plucked notes that could make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
“Theme from Schindler’s List” featured lead violinist Roman Simovic in a spellbinding performance of that sad, tragic theme that had the audience silent and resulted in the first standing ovation of the night when he finished. A simply sublime performance of a piece thick with emotion and history.
When looking at the original setlist, there were some notable entries from Williams’ career conspicuous by their absence, but luckily the encores took care of that with the opening note of Jaws being greeted by applause and laughter from the audience. It must be said that watching an entire orchestra perform that iconic theme further emphasises the menace of the piece, the movements on their instruments sharp and precise, bows chopping frantically back and forth across the strings to hammer out that legendary theme.
The Raiders March ended the evening, signing off the event in high style. Brossé and the LSO were treated to three standing ovations with people distinctly unwilling to let them go until their hands ached from clapping. While the absence of John Williams himself was noted, the event was in no way diminished by his absence; and knowing he was listening live may have helped lift the orchestra’s effort just that little bit more.
It was certainly a night to be remembered and a beautiful tribute to a man who has influenced the lives of so many of us over the decades.
There’s still time to catch the concert on Classic FM. Were you there? Did you have a similar experience to Shaun? Let us know in the comments.