'Indy' flair at 'Film Night'

Monday, July 28
LENOX — John Williams loves to surprise his audience and to keep his annual Boston Pops "Film Night at Tanglewood" extravaganza fresh and exciting. No phoning-it-home for this prolific composer of 100-plus movie and TV scores and many concert works.

So, for his 10th annual, widely imitated "Hollywood on the Housatonic" expedition into the history of film music, Williams opened with a six-minute "Tribute to the Film Composer," a canny arrangement of recognizable themes linked together from some 25 scores with velvet-smooth transitions.

A Saturday-evening crowd that may have been close to 15,000 gave Williams the usual hero's welcome. Offering his customary running commentary, Williams tipped his baton to two Nazi-refugee composers who found considerable success in Hollywood. Erich Korngold — whom he described as the "grandfather of film music" — was represented by the March from the Errol Flynn classic, "The Adventures of Robin Hood." Franz Waxman's suite from his early '50s score for "A Place in the Sun" summoned up memories of the great film derived from Theodore Dreiser's "An American Tragedy." Guest artist Kenneth Radnovsky contributed a suitably moody and proficient alto-sax solo.

In his typically soaring fantasyland style, Williams's "Flight to Neverland" from "Hook" recalls his score for "ET" a decade earlier. And his theme from the 1995 "Sabrina" remake is notable for a haunting, extended violin solo, played here by Pops concertmaster Tamara Smirnova with heartfelt passion and spot-on virtuosity.

Montages of film clips accompanied by live music is the hallmark of Williams's innovation. Introducing a cleverly-crafted 7-minute CliffsNotes version of Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," Williams was unstinting in his praise for the iconic 1977 film, calling it "one of Spielberg's greatest... infused with magic and warmth." He noted that this was the first major movie to depict aliens as charming, smart, non-threatening, nurturing creatures — a theme to be picked up by Spielberg just a few years later in "ET," where many of the human beings are frighteningly insensitive as seen through children's eyes. The suite was accorded perhaps the most evocative performance of the evening.

In a last-minute program change, and with an eye toward Beijing, Williams added "Olympic Spirit," his celebratory ode composed for NBC's coverage of the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, accompanied by a montage of video clips showcasing the prowess of the young athletes.

"A Tribute to Indiana Jones" formed the evening's centerpiece, showcasing highlights from Williams's scores for the four epic adventures and offering a perfect occasion to bring out Kate Capshaw, who met Spielberg when he cast her as "Willie" Scott in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" in 1984; the two subsequently married in 1991. Also making a cameo appearance near the end of the evening was Karen Allen, whose career went into high-flying orbit in 1981 when Spielberg chose her as Harrison Ford's love interest in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and in recent years having put down deep roots in Great Barrington.

But it was Spielberg, making a return appearance on "Film Night," who served as narrator; in an especially fascinating sequence, he introduced a screening of the circus-train chase from "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," first without music (making it look like an art film, Spielberg quipped) and then adding Williams's dramatic score. "To that man, I owe my career," Spielberg declared, and there was no hyperbole in the statement.

With a generous sampling of other "Indiana Jones" musical highlights — including the Boston University Tanglewood Institute Young Artists Chorus enthusiastically backing up the "Anything Goes" scene from "Temple of Doom" — Williams demonstrated what we've all known for years. The Spielberg-Williams soundtracks (he has scored all but one of the director's 25 big-screen films, with three more in the pipeline) will endure as one of Hollywood's legendary collaborations.

In his customary brisk, efficient, graceful podium manner, Williams drew heartfelt, proficient performances from the mostly BSO players throughout the evening — another example of a Tanglewood tradition that one hopes will endure for years to come.


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