Tanglewood: Crowd braves the tempest, John Williams brings the thunder


LENOX — No composer-conductor who has graced the Tanglewood stage since Leonard Bernstein's death in 1990 is as universally revered as John Williams, the brother-in-music of our era's most celebrated film director, Steven Spielberg. Their collaboration goes back 44 years to "Jaws" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

These days, the annual Film Night that Williams created here in 1997 as Boston Pops Conductor Laureate typically draws the season's largest crowd for an orchestral concert. A reasonable estimate would be 15,000-plus for Saturday night — a three-hour marathon, no thanks to a severe thunderstorm that conveniently awaited the conclusion of the first half, conducted by Richard Kaufman, a Hollywood-based film score conductor, violinist and Tanglewood Music Center alumnus.

He led a cleverly assembled "up, up and away" concept featuring scores by Williams ("Flight to Neverland" from "Hook," the Flying Theme from "E.T.," the Love Theme and March from "Superman"), Franz Waxman ("The Spirit of St. Louis"), the great British film composer John Barry ("Out of Africa"), Henry Mancini ("The Great Waldo Pepper") and, for good measure, Williams' "Flight and Technology" from "An American Journey," first performed at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on New Year's Eve 1999 to herald the arrival of the millennium.

It was a whirlwind cinematic flight of fancy, with quick-cut screen montages launching a supersonic flight into nostalgia.

But then came nature's tempest, with its nearby lightning bolts, fierce wind and monsoon-like downpour, preceded by an announcement from the stage by Chris Ruigomez, director of concert operations and assistant director of Tanglewood, that the elbow-to-elbow crowd had to "evacuate the lawn" and hasten to one of the designated storm shelters, including the Shed. Thankfully, it fell short of Tropical Storm Irene, which forced the exceedingly rare cancellation of a Tanglewood BSO concert at the end of the season five years ago.

As the normal 20-minute intermission stretched into a prolonged time-out, a party-like atmosphere prevailed, with many inside the packed Shed oohing, ahing and cheering the most vivid lightning strikes — though some, unaccustomed to the thrills of Berkshire weather, may have been a bit frightened.

"John Williams is warming up in the bullpen," Ruigomez announced to a greatly relieved audience at the one-hour intermission mark. Tanglewood's well-practiced severe storm protocol worked well.

If anything, Williams' emergence on stage was greeted with even greater, Olympic-sized cheers than usual, especially since he had missed last summer's event because of a back ailment. Appropriately, he began with the Olympic Fanfare and Theme composed in 1984 for the Los Angeles summer games, accompanied by a film montage of victorious athletes from many nations.

His rarely heard 1994 "Song for World Peace" followed as an elegiac ode to an ever-elusive goal.

But on this occasion, Williams' calling card was an extended immersion into his score for last year's J.J. Abrams-directed "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," beginning with nine-minute film montage compressing the storyline. Addressing the audience, he reminisced about his earlier "Star Wars" days as he introduced the lush, romantic "Princess Leia's Theme" first heard in "Episode V: A New Hope" and in all three subsequent films, and as an encore, the "Luke and Leia" theme from "Episode VI: Return of the Jedi."

Despite the night's tropical sauna, Williams soldiered on with his usual aplomb as the Boston Pops (BSO) musicians played their hearts out for him. He rewarded the appreciative audience with a final encore, "Hedwig's Theme" from the Harry Potter film series.

Minutes before 11, the concert adjourned, bringing to mind the old show-biz adage, "Always leave them wanting more," variously attributed to P.T. Barnum and Walt Disney.

Despite a rush to the exits by some weary listeners, some could have stayed all night. At 84, the indefatigable Williams, a steadfast Tanglewood enthusiast since 1980, deserves the cascade of accolades as he prepares to score "Indiana Jones 5" and "Star Wars: Episode VIII."

Contact Clarence Fanto at cfanto@yahoo.com


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