Three reports by JWFan members on the Boston concerts, their meeting with other members and with John Williams himself!
Symphony Hall, Boston, MA
Friday, May 21 & Saturday, May 22, 2004
The Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by JOHN WILLIAMS
Tamara Smirnova, violin
Report by Neil S. Bulk
Meeting with John Williams
We’re waiting outside the “Performer’s Entrance” where there is a big empty coach bus parked. We’re all talking and getting to know one another when an employee from Symphony Hall comes out and tells the bus driver he has to move. This is about the time we realized that something good could happen. But until then we were entertained by the bus driver insisting he was there to pick up kids from some program going on inside Symphony Hall, which the Symphony Hall employee didn’t know anything about. There was a lot of “well I have my job to do” going back and forth. Eventually, the bus moved a little, and that’s when a certain black Lincoln Town Car, license plate number “BSO-1” pulled up, not far from where we were standing. Sharpies in hand, cameras ready to go, Mr. Williams got out of the car. He immediately acknowledged our prescence and smiled and made a little excited gesture. To put it succinctly, we all got at least one autograph but “Ray” was the only one of us that night fortunate enough to get a photo with Mr. Williams.
After this I called my dad and then my mother, I was psyched.
May 21 Concert
Now a few words about Symphony Hall. It’s much smaller than I expected, but the acoustics are great. I was also a little disturbed by the behavior there. I’ve been going to live concerts since I was 4 years and I was always taught to keep silent during a concert. Apparently, Symphony Hall prefers to serve drinks during concerts and during the first half waiters and waitresses are constantly walking around opening bottles and serving customers. It was a bit disorienting and a bit disrespectful for those who wanted to hear the music without the cacophony of clumsy concert goers dropping glass bottles. Oh, also it now seems its standard operating procedure to have at least one cell phone go off nearby nowadays, too.
But the music was excellent. I won’t detail everthing, just the moments that made an impact (good or bad) on me. The concert opened up with “The Death Hunt” from On Dangerous Ground, by Bernard Herrmann. I only first heard this in October, when Esa-Pekka Salonen performed it at the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall at the same concert “Soundings” premiered. Since then, it has become a favorite piece of mine. Hearing it live was truly a treat. This piece is a tour de force for the entire orchestra, but particularly the brass and percussion sections. It’s a rousing way to start a concert. I noticed that for such a fast paced piece, Williams hardly moved during it. I can only imagine what Ricardo Muti or Leonard Bernstein would look like conducting it.
Also that night we heard some selections from Harry Potter. “Fawkes the Phoenix” was played beautifully. We also heard “Nimbus 2000” which is a piece played exclusively by the woodwind section. I didn’t like it when I first heard it live in July and I didn’t like it this time either. He finished up the Harry Potter section with “Harry’s Wondrous World”. I love this piece, but Williams only seems to play the version officially released on the ‘Chamber of Secrets’ soundtrack, the one with the revised ending that is all bombast and not very good bombast at that. I much prefer the simpler ending heard in the first film. I also noticed during it that we were hearing several live Williams “BOOM-Tzzzzz’s”. That made me smile.
At the first intermission (there were 2 that night) “Ray”, “Diskobolus” and I all met up in a pre-arranged spot just to talk. It was later, during the second intermission, that Renovia and Pat joined us here. We were also visited by a very nicely dressed guy that has a very weird obsession with all things Rupert Murdoch. It turns out it was “Foxfan”! Another JWFan member to join our little group!
Some more Williams music was played in the 2nd act of the evening, with Tamara Smirnova as violin soloist. Naturally Schindler’s List was played as was Fiddler on the Roof and Far and Away. Since Williams did not personally introduce the pieces, we didn’t hear the “Dead Composers” anecdote. We also were never told we may miss the news or that E.T. had “little friends”.
The third part of the evening was devoted to Henry Mancini. I enjoy his music, but to me it always seems to have a popular flavor to it. For some reason I have a tough time taking it seriously, but there is no denying the man’s ability and the music played was all very good. Williams joked that he played the piano on the original recording of ‘Peter Gunn’ when he was 12.
After the Mancini music the thunderous applause and standing ovation brought Williams back for the first of two encores. “Ray” and “Diskobolus” vocalized an interesting phenomenom that I also experienced in Philadelphia last year. What happens is, Williams starts conducting The Raiders March. While any Williams fan can name that tune in 1 note, it takes the rest of the audience about 10 seconds to realize what is actually being played, to which they burst out in applause, while the piece is being played. Its nice that they eventually recognize the music and enjoy it, but I’d rather hear the music and not the sound of 10,000 hands clapping. I can hear that afterwords. The same thing happened with “Flying” fromE.T., the second encore of the evening. Williams does his best to settle down the audience. I think a random execution would work better though. As a side note, on the second night, Williams played “The Raiders March” as an encore again and some guy behind me said it was ‘Star Wars’, then it was ‘E.T.’ and finally he correctly guessed ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. I’m not sure, but if ‘Peter Gunn’had not been printed in the program, I think he would have been convinced it was “The James Bond Theme”.
After the first night, we all followed “Diskobolus'” sixth sense and waited outside the green room, as per his instuctions. It was there I met a person named “Ricardo”. Apparently he’s registered here but never posts. Ricardo, if you read this, please don’t be a stranger. After waiting a long time, an employee told us that Williams would typically leave at another exit if we were hoping to meet him. I looked over at “Diskobolus” who quietly nodded “no”, and he was right, Williams did eventually come out to see us, but he said he had a long day and that he would be back the next night. “FoxFan” mentioned the site (would he have done this if the trip was unofficial?) and mentioned we’d love to have a group photo. Ricardo also congratulated Williams on getting the honorary degree earlier in the day. Williams’ acknowledged this and it was really cool to almost have a conversation with him. And the fact that he personally told us he wasn’t up for anything that night was really cool. A genuine class act.
May 22 Concert
We then went back to Symphony Hall for our second concert. Again we met up with “Diskobolus” outside the performer’s entrance and this time we also met “Strongbad” who was waiting to meet Williams, as well as some other fans. There was a gentleman there with several LP jackets to get signed including ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Jaws 2′. Sadly he doesn’t have access to the net, so he doesn’t post here. Maybe someday he’ll find us. This time Williams’ car turned on the one way street and drove right past us, pulling into a different entrance. Then, with traffic on this one way street, we watched the beautiful Lincoln do the most insane thing I have ever seen a car do. The driver backed down the road, not at a nice leisurely pace, but really fast. Clearly this was the act of a madman. He then opened the trunk (we joked with him that he can let Mr. Williams out of there now) and brought in what I guess to be Williams’ tuxedo for the evening. Not entirely crushed that we missed out on meeting Mr. Williams again, we then decided to have our pictures taken with “the Williams car”. Hey, it’s better than nothing.
This concert was very similar to the one we heard the night before. I’m not going to complain though. I don’t think I can ever get tired of hearing The Death Hunt. They also played some Herrmann music from the films of Alfred Hitchcock. This got to be a little frustrating. First the good. “Scene D’Amour” fromVertigo is a great piece, and it was performed beautifully. But I had problems with both Psycho andNorth By Northwest. They were both performed to video, and many times the music did not match up to where it was supposed to be. For instance they played the main titles over a badly cut section of the movie starting with Marion seeing her boss on the street. It ended with her getting into the shower and then suddenly the films sound effects came on. Funny, just the night before Williams said it’s a pleasure to conduct the music without sound effects and dialogue. And then the shower scene was horiffically cut and during the murder music, the visual images just turned into a summary of the movie. This was pretty bad. With ‘North By Northwest’ they started playing the main theme over the crop dusting sequence, one of the most famous non-scored sequences. I also wasn’t happy with the arrangement of ‘NxNW’. I’m also going to say that I really don’t like video being shown at a concert, as I find the image distratcs me from concentrating from hearing the music. It takes a lot of will power to block out what’s being shown on the big screen in the front. There was also a technical problem at the beginning of ‘Psycho’. Apparently the small monitor Williams needed to view was not working, so he had to ask for it to be fixed and to start over again. He commented that this always happens in Hollywood.
Report by ‘Diskobolus’
On Friday, I got to Symphony Hall around 7:15, and even before I got to the corner I saw Neil and a group of people I supposed were Ren and Ray. Neil seemed to realize who I was before I introduced myself. I immediately realized that Neil, Ray, and Ren (and Pat) were all extremely cool and nice people and it was so great to meet them at last. While we waited for Williams to arrive in his Lincoln, we got to know each other and checked out what everyone else was getting signed. I had Chamber and Schindler’s that night. Neil talked about the bus being in the way, but it’s always funny watching two people clash when they’re both “trying to do their jobs”. The BSO employee was about to tell the bus driver to move when, uh oh, “It’s too late. (You moron).” The black Lincoln came pulling up alongside the bus, and Williams had to pass this ugly motorcycle that was in the way before he got to the sidewalk.
Me – “Hi, Mr. Williams.”
JW – “This is a really great pen.” (takes my Silver Sharpie)
Me – (blathered on about how great Williams is)
Neil, Ray, and Ren proceeded to get autographs as well, but only Neil had the presence of mind to actually take photos at this point, hence the kick-ass photo Ray has with Williams. After he went in, everyone was basically euphoric about the meeting. We went into the hall and figured out where everyone was sitting, and arranged to meet downstairs for both intermissions. After the concert, we met in front of the green room and prepared to meet Williams again, but unfortunately he only came out to say he was tired and that we’d “do the group photo tomorrow night”. At this point I left with my friends from school (whom I’d met up with at the hall, they missed the Death Hunt, fools) and said goodbye to everyone.
Saturday was hugely hectic for me since I was moving all my crap from school to my house. I again got to the hall around 7, and met someone already waiting who turned out to be StrongBad. Another guy had way too many LP’s he was trying to get signed. Ren, Ray, and Neil showed up not too long after. Oh, Ren had this awesome HPSS score she was going to get signed. There were some random people there as well, including this family with two kids that I think I scared by talking to them, and by the fact that all the rest of us arrived separately but seemed to know each other. Anyway, early on we saw that some BSO guy got into a Lincoln and went to pick Williams up, seemingly. Soon after, we saw another BSO car arrive with a singer who turned out to be none other than soloist Monica Mancini. At last, Williams’ car turned onto the street, but kept driving around to the back entrance. We were disappointed by this, and as Neil noted, saw the insane driver back up at lightning speed, swerving around a car that was pulling into the street. The car stayed, and we got some great photos of the car, which will be posted later.
During the concert we again met Foxfan and this time John Takis.
After the concert, we again gathered outside the green room, joined by more members including Trumpeteer. Williams didn’t come out, sadly, but Neil gave an employee the card to give to Williams, hopefully he got it. We snapped a few more group shots, and left.
Report by ‘Ray Barnsburny’
Meeting with John Williams
After getting to Symphony Hall, we walked back and forth on the sidewalk in front of the building, unsure about which side Williams was supposed to be dropped off at. Thankfully Diskobolus (Disk-uh-bole-us), our resident BSO insider, soon spotted us and we waited in front of the entrance Williams would supposedly use. It was just our group of five, which probably helped our chances of being approached by Mr. Williams. Sure enough, we soon saw BSO-1 pull up and I all of a sudden became really excited. Mr. Williams walked right up to us and very cordially signed autographs for each of us. I had brought the CD covers for ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer?s Stone’ and ‘Far and Away’, two personal favorites, both of which he signed for me. He didn?t say much, just the occasional ?You?re welcome? to our heartfelt ?Thanks you?s. Neil was able to get a picture of me with Mr. Williams as you saw above, for which I?m so grateful. I felt bad that I wasn?t able to return the favor at one of the other potential Williams-meetings of the weekend, but I fully intend to do so in the future, and as Neil pointed out, this way he still has something to live for…
May 21 Concert
After this huge thrill, we all headed to our seats. Symphony Hall was beautiful inside, and I sat in the second balcony, towards the back of the auditorium. I leaned on the railing in front of me for pretty much the whole concert in order to see better, and it was quite comfortable. I?ll go through some highlights of the concert:
Herrmann?s The Death Hunt was amazing! It was a bold, frenzied, driven piece which featured fantastic horn parts. I loved hearing that aspect in particular because I play the horn, though I was forcefully reminded of how, er . . . inferior I am to these wonderful brass players. Williams had the horn section stand up for recognition after the piece which was nice.
After some more great Herrmann pieces came the ?Suite from Harry Potter.? This was probably what I was looking forward to most, and I was not disappointed. It was a dream to hear ?Fawkes the Phoenix? live, and the performance was very moving. ?Nimbus 2000? was enjoyable, but we all agreed afterwards that a full-orchestral rendition of the theme would?ve been much better. ?Harry?s Wondrous World,? the last HP piece, lived up to its name. This ended the first part of the program, and was a highlight for me.
Violinist Tamara Smirnova was the feature of the next section, and she played beautifully. The Far and Away piece was the arrangement from the Greatest Hits album, and was just gorgeous. I had now heard my two favorite themes (‘Far and Away’ and “Fawkes”) performed live, and I was very satisfied. I also loved the Fiddler on the Roof suite, as did the rest of audience. The Henry Mancini selections were very enjoyable, and very light as Neil said. I especially enjoyed the festive ?Overture to a Pops Concert,? the medley featuring Peter Gunn, Baby Elephant Walk, and The Pink Panther, the appropriately named ?Pennywhistle Jig,? and the always wonderful Moon River. The encores, The Raiders March and ?Flying? from E.T. were expected but a joy to hear. I made a quick exit once I was sure there would be no more encores, and hurried down to meet the other JWFans in front of the door from which Williams would hopefully emerge. Again, Diskobolus was a great help, keeping us very confident that we were in the right place. After about twenty minutes or so Williams did step out, but it was to tell us that he would not be able to sign anything as he was very tired after having been up since early that morning. But he thanked us for coming, and stepping out to acknowledge us at all wasn?t something he had to do, so we were grateful for what we got. Kudos to FoxFan for both congratulating Williams on the honorary degree he had received that morning, and mentioning that we were from JWFan.net and just wanted a group picture with him. After hearing that we would be there the next night, he suggested doing the photo then, so we were encouraged.
May 22 Concert
This time I sat all the way on the right in the second balcony, seat A-1, so I was directly above the orchestra. It was a fantastic view, which will hopefully be clear in the photos I post tomorrow. The program for Saturday was somewhat the same as Friday, but without the Williams. It was still very enjoyable though, and the highlights of the new pieces for me were the Hitchcock/Herrmann collaborations. Psycho actually seemed a little lackluster, but it was not taken at a snail?s space as some re-recordings are, which was a plus. The montage of clips was just horrible; horrible in concept, horrible in editing, and horrible in execution. This last aspect is apparent in Neil?s mention of the technical difficulties. Williams of course handled this with grace, making the audience chuckle with his comment that this sort of thing always happens in Hollywood. ?Scene D?Amour? from Vertigo is a great romantic piece that was performed beautifully, and I enjoyed the ?Prelude? from North by Northwest. Again, however, the video accompaniment was unnecessary. The singers for the Mancini portion, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Monica Mancini, were very good. I especially enjoyed Ms. Mancini?s performance of ?Music on the Way,? a song based on music by her late father Henry Mancini that she performed to a montage of clips of Mancini and his family. The encores were ?Raiders? again, and The Stars and Stripes Forever instead of ‘E.T.’ Diskobolus and I had joked about screaming ?For the love of God, play Buckbeak!!!? but we were correct in assuming it was a lost cause.
Sunday was definitely bittersweet. We had parted ways with Renovia the night before, and after breakfast we lost another as Neil and I said goodbye to Diskobolus outside of the subway. Finally, Neil and I separated at the airport, and the Official Boston JWFan Meeting ended. I got pretty sad sitting alone in the airport, missing everyone already. But I was also so happy to have been able to meet everyone and have such a great weekend. I wouldn?t have thought so before the trip, but now I wholeheartedly believe that this must become an annual event, hopefully adding more members each time.