Cat Taylor's Mewsings

Balancing left and right brain madness…

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A Spectacular Evening at SF Symphony With John Williams and Steven Spielberg

I am still coming back to earth after last evening’s concert, it was stunning. Peter and I had seen that John Williams was going to be here when looking through Mom’s San Francisco Symphony pamphlet a few months ago, and have both been VERY excited to attend. We knew he would be including a lot of the music for the films he has worked on with Steven Spielberg, but had been too busy to look up more information on the concert. We sat down in our seats, opened our programs and were thrilled to see that we were going to see not one legendary master of the cinema, but two.

When John Williams walked onto the stage to open the program, he was greeted by a standing ovation. It was just the first of many that evening. Maestro Williams is 81 now and walks a bit more slowly, but like other great conductors before him, is removed from any infirmities of age when conducting a great orchestra like the San Francisco Symphony. The first half of the program was dedicated to non-Spielberg music, including a suite from “Far and Away”, “Three Pieces from Harry Potter” (with Robin Sutherland playing the lovely celeste opening), Dartmoor, 1912 from “War Horse” and (of course) concluding with Star Wars. Having played that suite many years ago, made it just that more enjoyable for me, but the whole audience was having a ball.

Maestro Williams surprised us with an extra musical treat after the intermission and made the audience laugh and applaud with a short suite based on the movie “Jaws”. Steven Spielberg then joined him and during the next hour we were treated to a glimpse into a 40 year friendship and masterful working relationship. We saw Michael Tilson Thomas sneak in a sit a few rows ahead of us (he had introduced the evening) and George Lucas joined him.

Close Encounters was next, with a specially edited film suite to show how the music supported the film. Then the Circus Train sequence from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, first without music and then with. It was fun watching Mssrs. Williams and Spielberg chat about the film while the orchestra wasn’t playing. The music to “The Duel from The Adventures of Tintin” was accompanied by a film of great swashbuckling moments in cinema, which probably introduced younger audience members to some of those great actors for the first time: Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks, Gene Kelly and more.

One can tell from Mr. Spielberg’s introduction to “Schindler’s List” how very personal and meaningful this film is to him. The concert master Alexander Barantschik gave a beautiful rendition of the violin solo that Itzhak Perlman played for the film, only a few feet from where Mr. Spielberg was sitting. Mr. Spielberg sat with his head bowed and his hands folded, his fingers forming a triangle, looking as if he were praying. The audience was as quiet as I’ve heard in that hall, reverently respecting both the performers on stage and the private moment that we were privileged to share, but there were tears and ovations at the end of the piece.

The official portion of the program concluded with E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: grand music and grand fun. The ovation was immediate and thunderous, prompting a very pleased Mr. Spielberg to say that they should *come back* to San Francisco. We were treated to two encores: one from their newest release “Lincoln” and then, of course “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. The final ovations were loud and long and I think it was only Maestro Williams imitating sleep with a cute hand gesture that forced the audience to allow them to depart. I can only hope that they enjoyed the evening half as much as we did.

photo courtesy Oscar Benjamin

photo courtesy Oscar Benjamin