Film Night at Tanglewood: Close encounters of a special kind

LENOX — No surprise that a capacity crowd of 18,000 turned out for John Williams' Film Night, creating a massive incoming traffic backup that caused "the curtain" to be held for an extra 10 minutes — even several BSO musicians were among the late arrivals.

At 85, a Williams appearance is a mega-event and he gets a James Taylor-sized welcome. For an hour, he led a generous sampling of his own cinema scores with his customary vigor and adept podium technique, along with charming running commentary.

This year's performance was notable for the debut of Boston Symphony music director Andris Nelsons as a Film Night partner and also as trumpet soloist on "With Malice Toward None," from Williams' memorable score for "Lincoln," a Steven Spielberg masterpiece.

Having taken up the instrument again after a 16-year hiatus, Nelsons — appearing nervous at the outset but greatly relieved at the conclusion — performed with firm tone and pitch. It was a thoroughly professional presentation that yielded an ovation and earned a hug of approval from Williams on the podium, who had introduced the music director with an appreciative "it's a special honor to have the BSO maestro with us."

During the first half, Nelsons accorded his selected film music tracks the same dedication and devotion he displays when leading the classical repertoire.

As a swashbuckling opener, the march from Austrian-born emigre Erich Korngold's score for the 1938 Errol Flynn classic, "The Adventures of Robin Hood" is far from his most impressive work as the first classical composer to write for the Hollywood cinema. But Korngold did much to legitimize film music as a respected genre, helping pave the way for many who followed. including Williams.

While Alex North's "Forest Meeting and March" from "Spartacus" (1960) includes a memorable love theme, especially as crafted by Nelsons, the highlight of his half of the concert was an evocative performance the "Salut d'Amour" from Bernard Herrmann's haunting, mystical score for Alfred Hitchcock's most enduring film, "Vertigo."

As the big screen unfurled from the rafters of the Shed, Nelsons synced up "The Duel" from Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin" to one of producer Susan Dangel's quick-cut montages — a dizzying lineup of classic duels (of course) that even a dedicated film buff would have trouble trying to decipher.

Likewise, the end-titles sequence from Williams' score for the 1979 "Dracula" remake starring Frank Langella and Laurence Olivier was closely matched to a film montage by Nelsons, who had received much-appreciated lessons from Keith Lockhart on how it's done.

Leading the Boston Pops through an especially scintillating romp through "Adventures on Earth" from "E.T," capped by the emotionally riveting farewell music as the lovable extra-terrestrial boards the spaceship for home, the BSO's music director left us eager for a return to share future Film Nights.

With his customary lan undimmed by the passage of time, Williams offered greatest hits from the "Indiana Jones" series, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (outstanding music for a much-loved film), "Far and Away," and three of the eight "Harry Potter" films (two accompanied by big-screen montages). Williams accurately described the J.K. Rowlings franchise as "Britain's greatest export since the Beatles."

A trio of encores included the march from Spielberg's 1978 caper film "1941," and the main theme from Spielberg's "Schindler's List," with Boston Pops concertmaster Tamara Smirnova performing the tear-inducing solo to the hilt. A last-minute addition to the program, this seemed especially relevant to end a week of dismay on a hopeful note.

It seemed a bit jarring to segue into the "Imperial March" from "Star Wars," but it served as Williams' farewell for the night — not before he passed a bouquet from the cheering audience to Smirnova, consummate gentleman that he is.

Earlier, Williams had mentioned that "partners in crime" Spielberg and George Lucas are working on a fifth, untitled "Indiana Jones" film to hit the screen in July 2020, with Harrison Ford, now 75.

It was a poignant moment as the revered composer-conductor said of the pushed-back release date, "Whether or not I can promise to be there, we'll see."

We can only hope.

Contact contributor Clarence Fanto at


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