Five “standing O’s” is a lot, but that’s what John Williams and Yo Yo Ma, backed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, earned for their efforts at Symphony Hall in Chicago on Thursday, August 21st. Orchestra Hall was packed for the prolific composer of themes from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Star Wars,” “E.T.”, and the “Indiana Jones” series. And Williams delivered all of them, including the Superman theme, in performing encore after encore for the packed and delighted house.
Unlike many other Symphony Hall concerts I have attended, the patrons did not start streaming for the exits as soon as the final number (“Flying Theme from E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial”) concluded. The crowd is generally more mature (read old), but not this night, and there are often empty seats, but, again, not this night.
The opening sequence featured the theme that John Williams wrote for the Olympics, which most of us have heard multiple times since 8/08/08. A sequence of Olympic scenes, including Michael Phelps in action, were synchronized to go with the “Bugler’s Dream/Olympic Fanfare and Theme.” When Williams—who looked a bit like Colonel Sanders with his white goatee, white hair, white jacket and black tie—directed the Symphony in the Spielberg themes he has composed over the past 35 years of working with the renowned director, clips from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Indiana Jones” (new and old) and other films for which Williams has composed the music were shown on a large screen above the Orchestra.
Yo Yo Ma, the world’s greatest living cellist (and Pablo Casals succssor for that title) was a joy playing Suite for Cello and Orchestra, the music from “Memoirs of a Geisha.” He seemed to be genuinely enjoying himself and he and Williams hugged repeatedly following the performances, with the audience refusing to let the symphony, which Williams pronounced “Arguably the greatest Symphony Orchestra in the world,” leave the stage without encore after encore. The program, which began at 7:30 p.m., ran on until nearly 10:00 p.m., as applause and “bravos” from the audience kept the performers onstage long after they usually exit. Truly a memorable night with Yo Yo Ma and John Williams, who has been nominated for 45 Oscars and won seven.
Williams has composed the music for over 100 movies, including “War of the Worlds,” “Catch Me If You Can,” “The Patriot,” “Angela’s Ashes,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Amistad,” “Seven Years in Tibet,” “Sabrina,” “Schindler’s List,” “Jurassic Park,” “Presumed Innocent,” the “Indiana Jones” trilogy, the “Star Wars” trilogy, “The Witches of Eastwick” and “Jaws.” A student at Julliard, Williams was a jazz pianist in New York City after he studied privately with Rosina Levhinne.
In Los Angeles, his career included working with Bernard Herrmann, Alfred Newman, and Franz Waxman. During the sixties, Williams won four Emmys for his music for television. In addition to his multiple Academy Awards, he has received 7 BAFTAs (British Academy Awards), 20 Grammys, 4 Golden Globes, and numerous gold and platinum records. After 14 seasons as conductor of the Boston Pops, Williams retired to become Boston Pops Laureate Conductor and artist-in-residence at Tanglewood and has continued to score nearly all of Steven Spielberg’s films, which saw him write over 350 different versions of the 5-note musical “greeting” used in “Close Encounters” before he and Spielberg settled on the final sequence.
Truly a memorable night with two musical geniuses.