Hollywood Bowl, July 4, 2002
The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by JOHN WILLIAMS
James Taylor, U.S. Army Herald Trumpets (Special Guests)
Review by Scott Calhoun
Time sure flies. It is hard to believe it has been nearly 8 years since we attended our very first John Williams concert. In the same amount of time some of us have attended the rehearsals as well. This year, however, it was different. For the first time since our little tradition, the rehearsals were closed courtesy of Osama Bin Laden and the various terrorist concerns. In order to attend the morning session, one needed a pass. How one could obtain such a pass seems to be a mystery overall, although connections with members of the orchestra seem to be the most logical way. Yet, with a little bit of good fortune I was yet able to witness most if not all of the rehearsals. This year was special in that the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets were to perform and they practiced their parts outside the Hollywood Bowl in the parking lot about 30 minutes or so before the arrival of Mr. Williams himself.
For the past 7 years John Williams has consistently used one driver to chauffeur him from one place to another. Since the signing at Cosco however, some months back, he has been using a very friendly and quite approachable grey haired fellow. According to him the maestro is a very courteous, friendly and warm individual, definitely the impression many of us have gotten from meeting this talented composer in person. Why the change in drivers would be anyone?s guess and why I even mention it here is beyond my own comprehension. Be that as it may, there is not much to say about the morning practice sessions which started at 9:30 (give or take a few minutes). The orchestra had some difficulties within the horn sessions ofSummon the Heroes which seems to be always the case whenever the Los Angeles Philharmonic plays this piece. It was nothing major though and I doubt many would have noticed it; I simply have listened to the piece so many times I would have to be tone death not to have realized it. On a side note here, it is amazing how many firemen it takes to oversee the fireworks display and management. One could have thought there was an actual fire somewhere near the bowl.
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. I drove home, ate, took a nap and got ready. In no time my nephew and I were on the way. We had to get some film on the way but got to the bowl in about 40 minutes. Well, we got to the bowl, but it took us, believe it or not another 45 minutes to park the car. Suddenly you needed a parking pass here and you had to move there?it was a mess. Most everyone was late and the concert did not start until about 15 minutes past the scheduled 7:30pm time. Security, the main reason for all of these problems, was tight. Bags were checked and the usual. Yet for some odd reason I have the feeling that if I had been a terrorist, I would not have had too much of a hard time to sneak any weapons or explosives in.
The concert started out with the usual Star Spangled Banner. Williams then proceeded with his own Liberty Fanfare featuring the US Army Herald Trumpets. This piece unfortunately tends to stand in the shadows of Williams perhaps more popular pieces composed during the same time (i.e. The Mission Theme, Fanfare and Theme). Liberty Fanfare was composed to commemorate the rededication and 100th Anniversary of the Statue of Liberty. It is a fine piece indeed and one of my favorites. Full of bright, staunchly consonant, trumpet flourishes which start the piece and is later followed by a quieter, more pensive theme for strings.
Next up was the Battle Hymn of the Republic also featuring the talents of the US Army Herald Trumpets who were assembled to the front left and ride on the podium. It was after this piece that John Williams inserted the Arlington piece from JFK which seemed to have been a decision he made earlier in the day according to his comments. Finley played this theme brought back memories of the first time that I had seen this Oliver Stone film and it perfectly showcases how Williams? music always tends to be fresh and inventive even after many a decades.
Rodgers Carousel Waltz preceded the performance of Copland?s Lincoln Portrait as read by the special guest of the evening Mr. James Taylor. A wonderful job the singer/songwriter did with this piece. His emotions seemed to be just right, not over dramatic and yet full of sincerity and devotion. At the commencement of the words that this nation of the people, for the people shall not perish, the otherwise rather subdued audience broke out in a patriotic cheer and applause.
John Williams opened the evening with his piece from 1986 and ended the first half with his Summon the Heroes. It is quite amazing to see the differences in style when one compares the two pieces. Although distinctively Williams, Summon the Heroes employees a much mature sound and orchestration, lazed with more complex, even dissonant harmonies, heard most in the unaccompanied brass gestures. This piece is also much underappreciated since it represents the first of Williams? many Olympic based pieces that employs this sound. Yet it is a piece that tells the struggling devotion and determination of the competing athletes in a most wonderful fashion.
Part two of the evening was dominated by Mr. James Taylor who presented among his old time favorites, three new pieces to be included in his upcoming new release. Although I have never been a particular fan of this without a doubt quite talented artist, I did remember him from a Boston Pops special he did years ago with John Williams during the time when our maestro was the principal conductor of the world famous orchestra. It was striking to hear this one piece by Mr. Taylor which reminded me of the Jerry Goldsmith film The River Wild. While that theme of the movie was based on a traditional called The Water is Wide this new song seemed to be loosely based on it as well, at least in the melody compartment. Whether this was by choice or one of those bizarre coincidences is anyone?s guess.
Rounding out the concert were three marches by Mr. March himself Sousa. Accompanying The Washington Post, Semper fidelis and ever favorite The Stars and Stripes Forever was a rousing well coordinated fireworks display that seemed to have finally awoken the audience. This concert clearly was filled with guests who were here to either see the fireworks, Mr. Taylor or John Williams. The familiar outburst in cheer and appreciation for the conductor were missing this time or if anything very much passive.
Yet the applause in the end resulted in three encores. First of was Star Wars played with such assurance by the musicians that one would think they could play this piece with their eyes closed. Mr. Taylor came out for the second cameo singing America the Beautiful wonderfully augmented by the orchestra. This must have been the most emotional representation of this famous piece I have ever witnessed. The emotions this moment created in me were furthered by the third and final encore: Raiders of the Lost Ark. It took the crowd a little time to recognize the piece especially when compared to other concerts of years back, but once the recognition was there this march sure roused them all. At the conclusion of this Mr. Williams did his familiar ?need to go to sleep? gesture, took the hand of the orchestra leader and followed by the musicians left the podium.
In conclusion this was one of the more unusual concerts we have attended in many years. For the first time it was only my little nephew and myself. It was also his very first concert and he loved it to say the least, although he complained a little over the many James Taylor songs and the lack of Williams?s material, but as I explained, this was really not a John Williams?s concert but a fourth of July celebration. Also this must have been the one concert that went bye without many comments from the composer himself. Not that Mr. Williams ever was much to speak during his past concerts, but in this one he was more or less silent all the way through. Yet even under those circumstances, Mr. Williams again instilled the kind of magic and wonder he has done since the first time I heard his music over 20 years ago. Back then, in Germany, I swore I would see the man perform one day, and now after 8 Hollywood Bowl concerts and several person to person meetings all I can say are two words to this incredible person which seem oh so little: Thank you!