Movie scores fill a Tanglewood night

LENOX — John Williams' Film Night, an iconic event high on the list of long-enduring Tanglewood traditions, also offers a first this season — Boston Symphony Music Director Andris Nelsons as a conductor of cinema scores for half of the program.

In fact, according to the orchestra's archives, no BSO music director has conducted on Film Night previously. Nelsons tested the waters during Tanglewood on Parade two summers ago, when he led music from "Star Wars." And former Music Director Seiji Ozawa conducted excerpts from "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" during a "Salute to Symphony" in Boston many years ago.

Saturday evening at 8, Nelsons shares the podium with Williams, who inaugurated the crowd-pleasing, box-office smash in the year 2000.

"It's a great honor to conduct his music," Nelsons said during an interview earlier this summer. "I'm so looking forward to it."

With one exception for his 80th birthday celebration in 2012, Film Night has been presented annually since 2002, with Williams conducting all or part of the program on nearly all those occasions.

As a forerunner of what would become the Film Night event, Williams had presented two film montages during his Boston Pops concert in July 1997.

For Saturday's performance, the Shed is sold out, but lawn tickets remain available.

Williams, the Boston Pops Laureate Conductor, is beloved by audiences not only here but nationally and worldwide. Following his lead, major orchestras began offering their own film nights, some with Williams on the podium, as his scores and those of many other cinema composers were taken seriously as concert hall favorites, not just as big-screen cues and soundtracks.

Along with Williams, Bernard Herrmann, James Horner, Erich Korngold and many others who specialized in film scores, classical music luminaries such as Copland, Bernstein, Prokofiev and Shostakovich had delved into film music — in Bernstein's case, only once for "On the Waterfront."

Prokofiev's score for the 1938 film "Alexander Nevsky," adapted by the composer into a cantata, has been performed frequently by BSO music directors and appears from time to time on concert programs of many other orchestras.

But only a handful major orchestra conductors have programmed film scores regularly.

On Saturday, Nelsons will take the first half of the program, leading classic cinema scores by Korngold ("The Adventures of Robin Hood"), Alex North ("Spartacus"), Herrmann ("Vertigo") and Williams ("The Adventures of Tintin," "Dracula" and "E.T.").

Growing up in Latvia, then part of the Soviet Union, he recalled that he didn't have access to the numerous films scored by Williams, but later on television and in cinemas after his native land regained its independence in 1991, he was able to see some of the movies and hear the music, especially the "Star Wars" soundtrack.

"That music spoke so strongly then, as it does now, all the melodies, `Indiana Jones,' `Jaws,' `Star Wars,' `E.T.,' this is in everybody's minds," Nelsons commented.

"I always realized that when we watch these great movies, if there would not be music, it's clear that it wouldn't work," he pointed out.

"Of course, there's the work of great actors and directors, but the music fulfills what happens in these movies," Nelsons stressed. "I always realized that when we watch these great movies, if there would not be music, it's clear that it wouldn't work," he pointed out.

"When you hear that music, even before the movie has started, during the opening titles, I start to cry, I'm very emotional. Then, during the closing titles, you're weeping, depending on the movie."

He described Williams as "the giant genius" but he also listens to scores by other composers — "sometimes it's strong, sometimes it's not."

Noting that he'll be synchronizing the music with two film clips ("Tintin" and "Dracula"), Nelsons acknowledged "that's an absolutely new experience for me." He credited Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart for "being so kind, giving a lesson, teaching me how it works, how to do it. He's also a master of doing this for such a long time. It's not easy, but it's great. It's a special night."

After intermission, Williams will lead sequences from his own music for "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," the Harry Potter series and "Far and Away."

Of particular interest during Williams' half of the program will be "With Malice Toward None" from Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," with a special guest trumpet soloist. Although it's been reported that Nelsons might perform the solo — he took up the instrument recently after a 16-year hiatus as he pursued his blossoming conducting career — the BSO declined to confirm the surprise guest performer.

Last month, Nelsons explained that he was coaxed into taking the trumpet up again by his friend, the Swedish trumpeter H kan Hardenberger and by Thomas Rolfs, the principal trumpeter of the BSO and the Boston Pops.

"I could hardly do a note at that time," he recalled, "but it was so sweet and such a surprise to get this present, a trumpet, from them. I immediately started to practice. Now, for me, it's like a hobby or yoga, relaxation."

Whether he takes out the instrument on Saturday night, Nelsons has found the renewed experience of playing it illuminating and enjoyable.

"It's great to remember how it was to be in an orchestra and produce sound yourself," he said, "because it's so important not to forget the fact, it's obvious, that a conductor is part of a whole team, you can encourage and support, but they're the ones playing. It's very healthy. It's a dream, I feel like a 15-year-old student now. It's fun for me."

Contact contributor Clarence Fanto at


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