As you’d imagine of a city that remained fiercely supportive of its baseball team during an 86-year World Series win dry spell, Boston is an especially loyal town. So even though Academy Award-winning composer John Williams isn’t a Bostonian by birth, his performance on Thursday (May 12) night with the Boston Pops Orchestra at Symphony Hall sure felt like a homecoming.
Williams was the Boston Pops conductor from 1980-1993, and has served as the orchestra’s laureate conductor ever since Maestro Keith Lockhart took over in ’95. So when the five-time Oscar winner took the stage inside Boston’s lush, intimate Symphony Hall for an event titled John Williams’ Film Night yesterday evening, he was welcomed like a hometown hero.
After Lockhart warmed the crowd with an eclectic sampling of classic and contemporary film scores (everything from Out of Africa to Ben-Hur to Star Trek Into Darkness), Williams began his set to thunderous applause, conducting the Pops in a selection of his most beloved film compositions.
As sci-fi fans were hoping, nearly all of the material he selected for John Williams’ Film Night hailed from Star Wars. Obviously, he opened with the heroic, soaring “Star Wars Main Title,” a thrilling composition so universally appealing it spawned a No. 1 Hot 100 disco hit in the ’70s and helped land Star Wars No. 1 on the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest film scores of all time.
From there, he went on to conduct material from the recent Star Wars: The Force Awakens, fan favorites such as “The Imperial March,” and even an unexpected deep cut (as it were) from the Star Wars canon: “The Asteroid Field,” an anxiety-meets-adventure cascade of strings and horns from The Empire Strikes Back.
Even while performing in front of a rapt crowd (not to mention his staggering 50 Oscar nominations), Williams didn’t treat the experience as a loose victory lap. With the exception of a few moments, the orchestra executed his material (particularly from the original trilogy) with an astonishing exactitude. If you hadn’t been watching him deftly conduct the assortment of brass, strings and everything else in front of your eyes, you could almost be convinced you were listening to the original soundtrack recordings — the performances were that precise.
In between songs, Williams charmed with commentary — he wistfully opined that his “Scherzo for X-Wings” in Force Awakens was mostly drowned out by special effects — or genial grandfatherly jokes (“Who knows if he’ll reappear?” he teased before playing “Yoda’s Theme,” which the crowd politely laughed at).
As for the crowd, standing ovations seemed de rigueur for the night, with every one of his encore selections getting the audience — a diverse, cross-generational mix — on its feet. The worshipful love was understandable. After all, how often do you get to watch an iconic film composer conduct a nationally beloved orchestra, playing some of his best material no less, live in concert?
When the show wrapped, it wasn’t with music from Star Wars but another Oscar-nabbing sci-fi classic instead: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial‘s “Flying Theme From E.T.” During that wondrous composition, special mention goes to the lighting design for a clever, unexpected effect. The orchestra was backlit by a sea of lights for the E.T. selection, giving the impression that they were performing beneath a night sky stuffed with stars. When the orchestra’s cymbals clashed together, every one of the stars on the back wall dropped to the ground, as if shaken from their heavenly perch by the clatter.
The childlike magic of Williams’ contribution to Spielberg’s 1982 film was a pleasant coda to the concert, sending the crowd of Bostonians and visiting Star Wars fanatics off into the night with a lingering excitement, and even hunger — he could have gone for another hour and no one (at least, no one in the audience) would have gotten tired.
John Williams’ Film Night Set List
Conductor Keith Lockhart
Prelude to Ben-Hur
Love Theme from Out of Africa
Main Title, Fountain Theme and Chez Maxim Waltz from Gigi
Opening Sequence from Star Trek Into Darkness
Harry’s Wondrous World from Harry Potter
Raiders March from Raiders of the Lost Ark
Conductor John Williams
Star Wars Main Title
March of the Resistance
Princess Leia’s Theme
The Asteroid Field
Luke & Leia
Scherzo for X-Wings
The Jedi Steps & Finale (with accompanying film montage)
The Imperial March
Flying Theme from E.T.