Sitting in the Walt Disney Concert Hall, listening to the LA Phil led by Gustavo Dudamel perform a series of John Williams’ compositions, I realized something. John Williams has scored my life and the lives of countless others. It’s the music of memories. Collectively, the audience sat entranced, drawn in by a whole orchestra breathing life into these iconic scores and themes. Think of the theme from “E.T.”, “The Raiders March”, “Jurassic Park” or “Harry Potter.” They all go beyond the screen and into the mind. It became clear as the concert progressed that it is hard to separate the images from the music and the music from the images.

And so this 3-show series is smart; it utilizes the visuals only when it wants to. This allowed us, the audience, to engage in different ways and that act affects the audience on multiple levels. It revealed Williams’ contrasts, his variations, and penchant for exploring and pushing the limits of film music but most importantly, presented him as the King of the Theme.

The show began with his “Olympic March” and immediately it created an otherworldly feeling of watching TV. As if I’m sitting on a sofa, watching the stats of people much younger and more physically talented in every possible way in a replay doing moves I will never be able to do. Images of these sport stars and their Herculean feats (plus a really intense curler) were the blast off to a concert of pure drama and imagination.

Next came Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a stark contrast to the prior commercial enterprise entry. The arrangement was elastic, beginning Avant Garde with symphonic noise before morphing into hopeful, romantic melody. It was something coming into focus, like a mountain that keeps appearing in the mind, and finally, it is right there, turning chaos into sense. This is also the moment, when I began to cry. There was something about this arrangement, a condensed version of everything I love about this score, and hearing it performed in this way, it just made me tear up. It’s the power of John Williams.

From here we went out to sea with a jaunty fugue from “Jaws,” because why do the main theme when you can twist it up a little and explore other elements of the score. But enough about killer sharks, it was time to hang with our good friend Harry Potter for a set of three pieces. In the performance of “Hedwig’s Theme” there was a nuance revealed throughout the performance. The way in which a little light string wistfully breezes in: it is arrival personified. Then it was Fawkes theme, a less obvious choice, which showed off Williams’ penchant for wonder. But it was the performance of “Harry’s Wondrous World” that showcased everything. This piece is a collection of things colliding. Proper announcing English horns, Hungarian Rhapsodies and American film music all coming together and looping between in texture and form.

Then, a perfect choice for Holocaust Remembrance Day*, came a little “Schindler’s List”. Soloist Simone Porter cued up that sad violin and broke all our hearts with her performance. But don’t worry, then it was back to Universal Studios for “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial”, a theme that just screams “THE MOVIES!”

Now, I love Hook as much as the next 90s kid, but “Return to Neverland” is the one piece in the program that didn’t quite make sense to me. As this is a retrospective, why not include one of his jazzier themes like “Catch Me If You Can” or “The Terminal”? This theme is in the same vein as a Harry Potter or an E.T. and ultimately was a beautiful performance, but to include something from a totally different genre of film would have rounded out the selections.

Off to another island filled with danger, wonder and kids getting into a trouble, it was time to take a little trip to “Jurassic Park.” When watching a single French horn player begin this piece, with a kind of call to the rest of the orchestra, it becomes clear how expressive this theme really is. It’s quiet and then immediately bombastic and confident; the whole orchestra just bouncing back and forth between phrases.

Another set of three selections, the “Motorcyle Scherzo” from Last Crusade began the adventures of Indiana Jones. This choice was inspired. The Last Crusade is one of Williams’ most well rounded and joyful scores, and damn it, it does not get enough attention for being great. From there we were all romanced by “Marion’s Theme” and enthralled with “The Raider’s March” as clips from the first three movies played above the orchestra. This montage showcased much to my amusement, a healthy amount of the greatest chick in the bizz: Marion Ravenwood. Because the LA Phil gets it. Next up was an expressionistic performance of “Sayuri’s Theme” from Memoirs of a Geisha headed by cellist Robert deMaine.

Then the moment all the kids were waiting for: Star Wars. This 3-piece finale to the program featured another inspired selection of works from a vast catalogue. Beginning with “The Imperial March”, then “Yoda’s Theme” and ending with the “Throne Room and Finale” …it was, dare I say, magical. The screen above was a montage of moments from all eight main line Star Wars movies, cut to the pacing of the orchestra. This projection started off so classic though that it was a mild shock to the system when suddenly Ewan McGregor appeared. I must admit, though at first I found myself thinking, “ugh the prequels and no Jimmy Smits in sight!” it was then quite a joy to see Poe Dameron up on screen because Poe Dameron can show up anywhere and the world is suddenly a brighter place.

The show ended with a surprise two encores, one a beautiful and emotional relatively new arrangement called “Adiago from The Force Awakens” and “Superman!” Because remember, John Williams also wrote the theme to Superman! Most exciting of all, the man himself, John Williams was there, sitting in the audience like a proud father. When he walked to the stage at the end of the show with Dudamel, there was so much joy radiating throughout the concert hall. We were lying witness to a living legacy as the LA Phil revealed why on a deeper level, this kind of celebration of film music is important, entertaining and moving.

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*This review is in reference to the Sunday Jan 27, 2019 show.
Images from the Saturday Jan 26 performance and are by Ryan Hunter.