'Raiders' scores mixes high art, nostalgia at Tanglewood's Film Night


LENOX — For its third film-concert extravaganza at Tanglewood, the BSO management made an inspired choice — an action-adventure classic by the Steven Spielberg-George Lucas team that deserves the accolade of iconic, and a John Williams score that ranks among his most symphonic, complex and innovative soundtracks.

Under the sure-footed leadership of Keith Lockhart, the Boston Pops — including many of the Boston Symphony's outstanding first-desk players — performed "Raiders of the Lost Ark" on Friday night before an appreciative, multi-generational crowd that enjoyed a rollicking good time, which was the point, of course.

The "film with orchestra" concept, with roots going back to Williams's "Film Night" outings first presented at Tanglewood in 1997 during his 13-year tenure as Boston Pops conductor, now has been embraced by orchestras large and small, notably the New York Philharmonic. It's an opportunity for a wider, more diverse crowd to experience orchestral music.

"Raiders," released 35 years ago, stands up well as an old-fashioned, family-friendly romp with hero Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) partnered with his romantic interest Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) combating evil Nazi villains in 1936 for the Ark of the Covenant, containing the two stone tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments. It was sought by Adolf Hitler because he believed it would make his armies invincible, so the story goes.

In a program note, Williams expressed hope that the audience "will experience some measure of the joy and fun we did when making this film."

That was certainly the case. Even before the house lights darkened, cheers greeted Ms. Allen, Monterey resident and proprietor of her fiber arts business in Great Barrington, as host for the event.

Chronicling the many on-location scenes during the 1980 shooting of the film — including Tunisia, Hawaii, France, Washington, D.C., to name a few — Allen, 64, extolled the "wonderful. memorable score" as she recalled how it was "a great joy of my life" and "a great privilege" to portray Marion.

For these screenings — beginning with the BSO's "West Side Story" film-concert in 2013 and "The Wizard of Oz" in 2014 — the primary technical challenge has been the audio mix. At times, the "Raiders" dialogue was hard to decipher, as heard near the front of the Shed. But the movie is so well-known and beloved by filmgoers and critics alike that this was only a minor blemish.

The opportunity to hear the entire Williams score, all 77 minutes of music for the 115-minute film as adapted for live concert presentations, was paramount. Beyond the familiar "Raiders March" and "Marion's Theme," there is admirable craftsmanship and creativity in the composer's singular gift of not only matching the music to the screen action, but enhancing it.

Spielberg has saluted Williams as "the most important collaborator I've ever had in my career. He makes me look good, he makes my films look better. I get a lot of credit that should be going to John."

Indeed, it's impossible to imagine a Spielberg movie without the soaring yet often contemplative music that Williams has created during 44 years of collaboration and 29 feature films, with two more in the works.

On Friday night, the Pops-Lockhart performance was the star of the show, a sound to behold. Film concerts are so well-suited to Tanglewood that one can only hope for annual return engagements. Such as, to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein's birth in 2018, a screening of the great "On the Waterfront" with his inspired, sole venture into film scoring.


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