Williams hosts film night at Tanglewood
LENOX — When John Williams appears onstage as host and narrator for Tanglewood's annual Film Night Saturday, he's sure to receive the usual hero's welcome from a near-capacity crowd.
The program — conducted by film composer David Newman with introductions and comments by Williams — features the Boston Pops, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, an array of film clips and montages, and a bountiful selection of classic tracks from the "Star Wars" series, "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "E.T.," "Jurassic Park," "Saving Private Ryan" and "Amistad."
"John has been increasingly cautious and judicious about how much he's conducting, he's 87 and has had some health issues in recent times," said Boston Symphony artistic administrator and director of Tanglewood Tony Fogg in an interview at the new Linde Center. "John designed the program in conversation with David, and John's instincts are always right, I've come to learn. Even if it's a tiny tweak of changing the order of pieces within the programs, he's spot-on, able to imagine what the energy and the dynamic at that point will be."
Fogg noted that when Williams conducted part of the July 7 "Across the Stars" concert with the first public performances of arrangements he wrote for celebrated violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, "he had the energy of a 30-year-old. That struck me as a truly historic occasion, not only because of the incredible quality of her playing but also for those amazing arrangements, really re-imaginings and re-mining of all the material, that she managed to get John to create."
"I thought the energy he had on that day was incredible, and if that's an indication of him finding a wellspring of creative performing juices again, we keep our fingers crossed and hope to see more of it," Fogg commented.
"He sheds a lot of years conducting, he really enjoys it," Newman agreed in a separate phone interview from his Los Angeles home.
Also included on "John Williams' Film Night": "The Cowboys" Overture from the 1972 John Wayne western and a seldom-encountered selection from his haunting music for the 1970 TV remake of "Jane Eyre," starring George C. Scott and Susannah York. Williams told The Eagle in a 2012 interview that this was among his most personally-cherished scores, along with "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."
Newman, a Williams protege who has shared the podium or subbed for him in recent years at Tanglewood and elsewhere, will introduce a segment saluting his father Alfred Newman, among Hollywood's most celebrated film composers from 1930 to 1970.
"Certainly, David is someone that we hope will have an ongoing association with us in whatever form, and in some role however `Film Night' evolves in the future," said Fogg. "When we created the title of `John Williams Film Night,' it was with John's complete blessing, and he said to us that for as long as he possibly can, he will always be involved in it, whether it be conducting, hosting or sitting in the audience and watching."
Music for film, once looked down upon in the classical concert world, now has a prominent place on most orchestras' schedules.
"I can't over-emphasize how much JW is responsible for this," Newman declared. "He's had an utterly unique career, the volume of what he has created is unthinkable now."
With prominent orchestras offering multiple live music screenings of movie classics, "everyone in the film music industry is deliriously happy with what's going on, since 15 years ago no one ever would have believed this," he said.
Fogg, the BSO's artistic administrator for 25 years, agrees, citing "a clearly demonstrated interest in that genre, a worldwide phenomenon." Just as important, "from a technical point of view, it's much easier than it used to be, far less complicated."
As a forerunner of what would become Tanglewood's "Film Night" tradition, Williams presented two screened montages with the Boston Pops in 1997, two years after he stepped aside after 15 years as the orchestra's conductor. Except for his 80th birthday tribute celebration in 2012, "Film Night" has been presented every year, starting in 2002, with Williams conducting all or part of the program on most of those occasions.
As Newman pointed out, "without his work with the Boston Pops, what's happening now with films and live orchestra would be unthinkable. He kept plugging away against the idea of looking down on film music, that it's not artistic or worth performing. Eventually, people started listening instead of just criticizing it."
Newman and Williams play prominent roles in the Tanglewood Learning Institute's three-day immersion focused on film music that begins today and continues through Sunday.
"We're interesting in exploring different dimensions of film and sound, not only music," TLI director Sue Elliott said, referring to the weekend programming. She will host a session "looking at film, without music and with, good examples and not-so-good examples." Brief excerpts will be screened without sound, and then "replayed to really feel the difference that music makes." "With & Without: Music Makes the Film" is slated for Saturday morning at 11:30.
Newman, mindful of his father's legacy of 200-plus films going back to 1930, believes cinema scores are "difficult to study. Until you take the music away from the film, you can't understand the art of it."'
Acknowledging that many orchestras use film concerts to gain capacity audiences, he hopes more of the scores from the 1940s to the 1960s can be screened, even if they're not sure-fire hits.
"A lot of classical concerts don't have to sell out," Newman remarked. "Not every film is going to instantly sell out. You'd have to be willing to maybe not sell as many tickets but schedule films that are artistically worth exploring and doing."
Topping his wish list: The 1960 film "Spartacus," with music by Alex North. "It's a film I would love to do," said Newman. "It's very long and needs a 120-piece orchestra with a gigantic brass section. But the score is absolutely one of the greatest in 20th century film music."
Clarence Fanto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551
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