Monday, May 22, 2017

concert review - THE MUSIC OF JOHN WILLIAMS - Phoenix Symphony Orchestra - May 14, 2017

by Gil Benbrook

I don't believe there is another film composer that has written as many instantly recognizable themes as John Williams. The recipient of a vast number of awards, including five Oscars and four Golden Globes, with 50 Academy Award nominations Williams is the second most nominated person in Oscar history with only Walt Disney with 59 nominations ahead of him. Williams won Oscars for his soundtracks to JawsStar WarsSchindler's List and ET and he also composed the scores for SupermanRaiders of the Lost Ark and the first three Harry Potter films. With the four recent concert performances of John Williams' music by the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra and another series of concerts already scheduled for next season, the popularity of John Williams is clearly not diminishing in the Phoenix area.

Under Robert Franz's fun, personable and passionate conduction, the Phoenix Symphony performed both many beloved and recognizable themes as well as some slightly lesser known selections from Williams' oeuvre. The playing by the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra throughout the entire concert was superb.

The audience was thoroughly entertained by a trio of Star Wars selections, including one of Williams' most recent compositions, "Scherzo for X-Wing" from The Force Awakens along with "Across the Stars" from Attack of the Clones and The Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back, which ended the first half of the concert and featured Franz dueling with Darth Vader on stage. But the full crowd was equally as moved by some of Williams' non-film compositions. These included the rousing "Summon the Heroes," which was written for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, and the sweeping and beautiful "Liberty Fanfare" which Williams wrote for the Centennial of the Statue of Liberty.

Steven Moeckel's expert violin solos brought a brightness and clarity to the romance filled Tango ("Por una Cabeza")  by Carlos Gardel as well as delivered a seriousness in the simplicity of "The Theme from Schindler's List." Moeckel's dedication and expert playing was matched by every other musician on stage at the Orpheum Theatre.

Other selections included a quartet of film flying numbers that soared to the ceiling of the Orpheum and which featured a beautiful woodwinds only arrangement of "Nimbus 2000" from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, along with that film's "Hedwig's Theme," Hook's "Flight to Neverland" and "Adventures on Earth" from ET: the Extraterrestrial. While "The Raiders March" from Raiders of the Lost Ark is instantly recognizable, Franz and the PSO proved that some of Williams' other film selections are just as iconic. These included the stunning "The Devil's Dance from The Witches of Eastwick and the moving, brave and courageous "Hymn to the Fallen" from Saving Private Ryan. The Cowboys Overture, with its old West style is a prime example in how Williams is able to adapt his compositions to any type of film to help an audience instantly connect with the movie's time and place.

Williams is also a master in ensuring his arrangements draw upon the vast capabilities of the orchestra. He elicits heroic notes from the brass section while continually drawing upon the strings to evoke a sense of flight that send us soaring into space. He also instills a sense of longing or desire from his succinct ability to draw stunning notes from instruments such as the French horn, flute and oboe. It is his ability to know exactly which instrument will deliver the feeling that each moment needs to deliver the feeling of the screen character or action moment that has truly made Williams into the

The popularity of Williams will continue as next season includes another set of concerts solely dedicated to his compositions in May, another concert with music from both the Star Wars and Star Trek universes that will feature some Williams selections, as well as weekends in October and January where the first two Harry Potter films that Williams scored will be shown with full orchestra accompaniment.

”The Music of John Williams” with the Phoenix Symphony played four performances on May 12th, 13th and 14th, 2017 at the Opeheum Theatre in Phoenix. Information for upcoming performances with the Phoenix Symphony can be found at

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