E.T., Close Encounters, Hook, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Attack of the Clones…
Blossom Festival, Cleveland – Sunday, July 28, 2002
The Cleveland Orchestra conducted by JOHN WILLIAMS‘
John Williams Salutes the Silver Screen
Concert Review by Ray Barnsbury
I just got back today from “John Williams Salutes the Silver Screen” in Cleveland, Ohio. Being my first time to see this amazing man in person, it was an incredible evening. Since I love to read about others’ experiences at this type of event, I thought I’d share mine with you. My family and I arrived almost two-and-a-half hours before the 7:30 show, to make sure we were able to park and find our way around. I’ll describe my pre-concert experience a little later. The concert was held at Blossom, a huge outdoor theater. The stage and about 5,000 seats are under an immense roof (this area is called the Pavilion), but other than that, it’s completely outside. Behind the seats is a grassy hill where about 13,000 more people can sit on blankets or lawnchairs they bring themselves. Our seats were in the Pavilion a little off to the right, and nine rows back. I had an excellent view of Mr. Williams! It was quite warm during the first half of the show, and very stuffy. I felt a little light-headed a couple times, but getting some fresh air at intermission helped me feel better for the rest of the performance. Okay, now on to the good stuff! When Mr. Williams finally walked out onto the stage, I could not stop grinning. It’s so cool to see him in person. There was no introduction, he just stepped out to much applause from the audience, and they began Sound the Bells. It was a very nice, festive opening for the evening. Then came Excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It was the version from the Greatest Hits, except with less in the middle; there was no Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. It was played very well, and when the five note theme finally appeared, it was fun to see people look at each other in recognition.
After that, much to my delight, Mr. Williams stepped up to the microphone. It brought a smile to my face just to hear him speak. He thanked everyone for being there, and said how much of a privelege it was for him to be able to work with the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. He was very generous, just like I’ve heard he is. He talked a little about American Journey, and then they played ‘Immigration and Building’, ‘Sports and Entertanment’, and ‘The Civil Rights Movement’. I know these pieces from the American Journey CD, and they are very nice played live. More stirring than when heard on CD.Two Pieces fromAngela’s Ashes were played next. The first was the theme played beautifully by solo cellist Stephen Geber. I don’t know what the next was, since I’ve only heard the main theme. One of the highlights of the performance came next: ‘Adventures on Earth’ from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. As soon as the flutes and strings began the introduction to the chase fanfare, there was an excited rumbling from the audience. It was so great to hear this brilliant piece played live!
John hurried offstage for intermission. I was a little worried about him. It was hot, and he was wearing a tuxedo. Plus, he’s 70 years old. Not exactly the ideal situation. But he was back for the next half, and started with ‘Flight to Neverland’ from Hook. It was magnificent. Although there were a few minor differences from the Greatest Hits recording, I enjoyed it immesenly. Next was Selections from Far and Away. I must say, this was my favorite part of the concert (but not by much!). The program listed five selections: ‘County Galway, June 1892’, ‘The Fighting Donellys’, ‘Joseph and Shannon’, ‘Blowin’ off Steam’, and ‘Finale’. ‘County Galway’ was the same as on the CD, except without the bagpipe intro or the main theme at the end; just the haunting Irish theme. The next four pieces were actually the End Credits. ‘The Fighting Donellys’ was the beginning of the end credits, and ‘Joseph and Shannon’ was the following statements of the main theme. ‘Blowin’ Off Steam was the fighting music, and the finale was the rest of the End Credits. It was breathtaking.Johnny came to the mike again to talk about Harry Potter. He said that it was this time last summer that he had been working on Sorcerer’s Stone (which received applause) and that this summer he was working on Chamber of Secrets (to more applause). There was no mention of William Ross. The program had a slightly wrong listing of which pieces were to be played, but Mr. Williams talked about each piece before they played anything, clearing up any confusion (but mistakenly reffering to Hedwig as “he”!). The orchestra played ‘Hedwigs Theme’ (same as on CD), the soundtrack version of ‘Diagon Alley’ with a bit of a different ending, ‘Quidditch’, and ‘Harry’s Wondrous World’ (same as on soundtrack, except with a more bombastic ending). These pieces perfomed live, especially the first and last, were simply amazing. They proved that after all his years in the business, Williams is still the master (not that I needed to have it proved to me), and it was obvious that the rest of the audience agreed.
Next was ‘Across the Stars (Love Theme from Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones)’, as it was listed in the program. It was played excellently, and sounded pretty much identical to the soundtrack recording. Very moving. After this Mr. Williams turned around and bowed, unbuttoning his jacket. Amidst a roar of cheers, he continued to undo his bowtie, smiling shyly. The audience laughed with glee and cheered harder. It was great. The excitement rose throughout the crowd as everyone anticipated the next piece. With no introduction necessary, Mr. Williams led the orchestra in the always uplifting ‘Main Title from Star Wars‘. The audience burst into wild applause. It was FANTASTIC! Finally, Mr. Williams and the orchestra took one “final” bow and he exited to the back of the stage. But we in the audience knew better and cheered him back out. He waved some more and then motioned as if asking “One more?” We yelled our agreement and he struck up the orchestra in a rousing encore of ……………………………………………………………………………The Raiders March! The more seasoned fans in the audience cheered as soon as we heard the opening bars, and the rest did when the trumpet played the theme. This is a great encore piece, and it really got the crowd fired up. After the closing “BUM-BUM-BUM-BUM,” he bowed again and walked offstage. However we all rose to our feet once again to cheer him back out. He returned, thanking us very graciously, and the noise quickly died down as he took the microphone. He told us that they thought we might be getting home too late for the news, so they would send us off with The Mission Theme! He said that when he wrote it for NBC 20 years ago, they told him that if they ever played the entire piece, it would be on a slow news day. “Well, in 20 years, there were no slow news days,” he laughed. “So here it is.” Even after this introduction, many people laughed out loud as they realized what was being played. After that, he exited the stage once more. We continued to stand and cheer, and I could see him drinking from a water bottle just backstage. He soon returned once more. I was hoping for Superman, as were several people around me who were yelling for it, but they playedThe Stars and Stripes Forever. This was no disappointment, and it roused the audience even more. Finally, with more waves of gratitude, he exited the stage for the last time, followed closely by the orchestra. We headed for the green room, but according a rather snippy woman, “Mr. Williams is not receiving any guests.” I wasn’t too disappointed, however, because of what happened before the concert .
We arrived early enough to hear the orchestra rehearsing Raiders and the Mission (so the encores were no surprise). Since there was so much time before the concert, we decided to sit in the grass and enjoy the festive atmosphere. This was my first glimpse of Mr. Williams; I could see him conducting the rehearsal from where we were. My dad suggested that we go down there to get closer look, and that I should take my CD covers I brought with me to get signed. I thought he wanted me to interrupt the rehearsal asking for an autograph. I was horrified that my first memory of Mr. Williams would be him yelling at me for disturbing the practice, so I didn’t want to. But I took my things, and my dad and brother and I went down to the first couple of rows to watch him rehearse. We were so close! And to see him run a rehearsal . . . so exciting. After a moment he dismissed the orchestra members and sat down on a chair at the edge of the stage to receive the few people who were waiting for him. The other ten or so people down there rushed into a line to get his autograph. I saw the oppportunity of a lifetime, so I joined them. I heard him say something like “I should get moving,” but I finally made my way up to him. I stared up at him and handed him my Greatest Hits CD cover. He asked me if I woud like him to sign it, and he proceeded to do so. I said, ” Thank you very much!” As he finished writing, I reached up for my pen and he shook my hand! Am I ever glad he misunderstood!!! And that was it. No time for anything else. If only he knew I was thanking him for so much more than the autograph. I shoved my E.T. cover into my brother’s hand and he got that signed as well. It was truly an amazing experience. Since then, I’ve been wishing so much that I could’ve at least said something more. But I’m thankful for what I got, which was more than I had hoped for.
Thanks for reading! It was a magical day, one that I will never forget. I would encourage anyone seeking a meeting with Mr. Williams at a concert to attend rehearsals or arrive very early, and I wish you all the best of luck should you endeavor to do so in the future! :-)
— Ray Barnsbury
Concert Review by ‘Harry Potter’
Before going to the concert, I had three goals in mind. The first: to have a wonderful time; the second: to make memories to last my entire life; the third: to get at least one autograph from Mr. Williams, preferably on my E.T. soundtrack. With that mindset, I set off with my group (my dad, my mom, my friend, and my cousin, all casual John Williams fans). For those who don?t know, I will let you know how Blossom is set up. The stage is under a huge open-air pavilion, which seats about 5200 people. The sides are all open, but there is a roof above. The stage is raised and is air-conditioned. Outside of the pavilion, there is an upward slope where people can sit (after buying a ticket) and can bring picnic supplies and eat, drink, and be merry while listening to the music. The entire pavilion was filled, along with about the same amount or more on the lawn, so there were probably 10,000 to 15,000 people there to watch and listen. We had seats in the pavilion, in the left-front section, in the fourth row. All I can say about my seat was WOW! I sat in front of the harp, and I had an awesome view of the conductor?s podium. I was even able to feel the air conditioning from the stage blowing on me throughout the concert, and I was able to hear Mr. Williams coaching the violins when they had a hard, energetic part. Before the concert started, all the orchestra members were warming up, and amongst all the din of instruments, occasionally I could hear a little snippet of something I recognized, like a little trumpet part from ?Building and Immigration? from American Journey. The concert started about five minutes late, and I was getting impatient for the concert to begin. Who I thought to be the first-violinist came out and tuned the orchestra. She sat down, and the door on the left side of the stage (where I sat) opened. Out walked Mr. Williams. At that point, the crowd erupted in thunderous applause for him, and I sat in my chair clapping as loudly as I could, with my face beaming with joy. I couldn?t believe that the man who was responsible for creating the music I love was standing in front of me. I expected him to say a few words before beginning the music, but he walked right up to the podium, bowed a couple times, mouthed ?Thank You?, and proceeded to conduct. I?m not sure what size of a crowd Mr. Williams is used to seeing, but he looked very pleased and almost surprised at the size of the crowd. The applause died down, and he began with the first number of the evening: Sound the Bells. I thought this was a neat choice as an opener. Sure, it wasn?t film music, but the crisp trumpet fanfares set the mood for the evening. The performance was just the way I expected it to be–excellent. The next piece played was Excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It was weird for me to be listening to the music being played in front of me by a live orchestra, as I am used to listening to his music with headphones at work. Right from the very beginning with the build-up to the ?Let There Be Light? crash, I knew this whole experience was going to be one I could never forget. The piece played on, and if you are used to the version featured on the ?John Williams Greatest Hits: 1969-1999? CD, this piece was slightly different because some of it was edited out. I noticed a section of the music before the piece turns melodic was missing (the part where a choir sings and ?When You Wish Upon A Star? is played). I liked it better this way because the arrangement played didn?t drag on as much as the CD arrangement. After CE3K was finished, Mr. Williams stepped up to the microphone and thanked everyone for coming out to the concert. He said he enjoyed working with the Cleveland Orchestra, and noted what a privilege it was for him to do so. He then introduced the next three pieces, which were three movements from American Journey. He explained that the music was for Steven Spielberg?s Millennium Gala presentation. He announced the orchestra would be playing ?Immigration and Building.? He then said the next movement would be ?Civil Rights and–? and he quickly corrected himself by saying the next movement would be what he called ?Sports and Entertainment,? and the final movement would be ?Civil Rights and the Women?s Movement.? He commented on each movement, saying a little about what the music is supposed to mean and feel like. I thought each movement was going to be presented as they were on the American Journey CD, that is one right after another. I got to thinking how he was going to finish the third and final movement since there is no ending to it, as it flows into ?Flight and Technology.? I also was thinking if he meant ?Popular Entertainment? or ?Arts and Sports,? since he combined the two titles when announcing. Then the music began, so I stopped thinking. ?Immigration and Building? was exactly the same on the CD until the end. Just when I expected it to turn into the next movement like the CD does, he changed the ending. Instead of the normal non-ending, he tacked on the ending of ?Flight and Technology? to complete the movement. A very nice move I thought, one to give a sense of completion. The audience applauded, stopped, and Mr. Williams continued with ?Popular Entertainment.? Alas, one of my questions was answered. This movement, as far as I could tell, played exactly the same as on the CD. Now it was time for ?Civil Rights and the Women?s Movement.? I was awaiting the prominent piano part near the beginning since the piano wasn?t too far from me, but there was no prominent piano part like the CD. In fact, this arrangement was the furthest from being the same as the CD version, but that didn?t and doesn?t bother me. This arrangement still retained the emotion of the CD arrangement. At the end (where I had my second question) I was eagerly awaiting the finale. Just when the movement was supposed to end like the CD arrangement, the concert arrangement took off again, this time in a different key. The arrangement ended a little after, but sadly I don?t remember how. Next came Two Pieces from Angela?s Ashes. The two pieces were the ?Theme from Angela?s Ashes? and ?Angela?s Prayer.? Solos on the two pieces were done by principal cellist Stephen Geber. These two pieces were beautifully performed, especially the solos. The final selection of the first half was “Adventures on Earth” from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. I was especially looking forward to this selection, as it is from my favorite score. While I would have appreciated the full fifteen minute version heard in the movie, this version was highly suitable for me. It was highly delightful for me to experience the themes from my favorite score and movie performed live. I especially liked the part that is similar to ?Saying Goodbye? from the movie because I tried to picture the movie with the music playing. This selection was one of the evening?s best. Next came the intermission. Nothing much happened here, except me running into my high school band director. After the intermission, “Flight to Neverland” fromHook was played. I still was sitting in my seat amazed that I was listening to John Williams music conducted by John Williams. I still couldn?t believe I was watching him conduct. I still was having fun listening to live music I was used to hearing on headphones. Next, the orchestra played Selections fromFar and Away. The selections were ?County Galway, June 1892,? ?The Fighting Donellys,? ?Joseph and Shannon,? ?Blowin? Off Stream (The Flight),? and ?Finale.? The performance was somewhat different without the pipes or The Chieftains and their drums, but the performance was still wonderful. After Far and Away, Mr. Williams spoke to the audience again, this time talking about the Harry Potter books and film. He noted that the books were great and they took kids away from the television, which he thought was a good thing. He also said he is currently working on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, but made no mention of William Ross and his contribution to the score. Mr. Williams then introduced the four pieces consisting in the concert suite, which were ?Hedwig?s Theme,? ?Diagon Alley,? ?Quidditch,? and ?Hogwarts Forever.? He talked a little about Hedwig the owl, about the happenings of Diagon Alley, and the game of Quidditch (which he called basketball on flying broomsticks). He seemed very excited that he was part of the Harry Potter franchise and was equally excited about continuing his part in it. ?Hedwig?s Theme? was seemingly the same as on the CD, and I immensely enjoyed the performance since the celesta was right in front of me. ?Diagon Alley? was like the CD until the end where it segued into ?Gringott?s Vault,? so instead he ended the piece with a jumpy couple of notes, but it almost was like it didn?t end properly, but it still was a nice rendition, especially the violin solos–they were very energetic. Next was ?Quidditch.? I was highly impressed with this arrangement, as it was an all brass rendition of the beginning of the Quidditch track on the CD with some brass action motifs mixed in. This selection was awesome to listen to, and the brass section did a wonderful job at it. It was truly marvelous. The final piece was ?Harry?s Wondrous World,? which was highly similar to the CD version and was wonderfully performed as well. After Harry Potter music, it was time for a little Star Wars music. The orchestra performed Across the Stars, and it was an amazing performance. The harp was in front of me and it sounded great. The emotional punches in the music sounded even better in the live performance than on the soundtrack. After the piece was done, Mr. Williams was thanking the audience and was pointing and laughing at someone in the audience. Next he untied his bow tie and unbuttoned his top button of his shirt. I felt bad for him since it was very warm outside and he was in a full tuxedo. The final selection of the program was the “Main Title” from Star Wars. When the orchestra hit the chord, the audience erupted in applause, and even more when the theme burst out. The audience highly enjoyed this selection, and I couldn?t believe what I was listening to–one of the greatest themes ever composed being conducted by one of the greatest composers to ever live. At the end of the program, the audience gave the orchestra and Mr. Williams a standing ovation. He thanked the audience and walked towards the stage door in front of me. A couple seconds later, he came back out and the audience roared even louder. He got back on the podium and put up his baton. I?m thinking what he could be playing?will it be ?The Raiders March? or the main title from ?Superman? or ?Jurassic Park.? My question was answered, as I heard the introduction to The Raiders March. About half the audience started applauding, and as soon as the Indy theme came, the entire audience went wild! You could definitely tell the what the crowd favorites were–Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Again, Mr. Williams walked off the podium and went back stage, only to come out again. He came to the microphone again, this time saying he wanted to get everyone home in time for the news. He continued by saying when he wrote The Mission Theme 15 years ago, he was told the entire piece would only be played on a slow news day. He joked then saying ?in those 15 years there hasn?t been a slow news day.? He stepped back on the podium, and started the orchestra. The jumpy strings began their part, and I think most of the audience either didn?t realize he wasn?t joking about writing the NBC News theme or didn?t realize what they were about to hear. When the familiar theme was played, then, many members of the audience chuckled at what they were listening to. For a third time, Mr. Williams walked off the podium, went back stage, and came back. This time, it was his last, but it was certainly a rousing piece which was to follow. The orchestra struck up Stars and Stripes Forever much to the delight of the entire audience. Everyone was clapping along with the beat of the piece. The choice of this piece was highly fantastic, as it really unified the entire audience into one high-spirited group. After the piece was played, Mr. Williams mouthed thanks to everyone and walked off the stage with the applause and cheers of the audience. I do have to say that the audience was very warm and very pleased with the concert and with Mr. Williams. I hope he realized that and was pleased at us. After the concert, an awesome lighting storm was coming into the area, so everyone, including the orchestra, was rushing to get home. However, I wasn?t part of that group. I stayed and made my way to the entrance of the backstage area. Much to my dismay, the lady on guard at the backstage gate said Mr. Williams would not be giving autographs. I even pleaded with her telling her I knew someone back there, but she wouldn?t have anything to do with me, and she sent me off, without my autograph. It was a huge disappointment for me to have to walk away not getting something I was looking highly forward to receiving–the autograph of John Williams on my favorite and most beloved soundtrack, E.T. While I had hoped to have all my goals accomplished by the end of the evening, I only went through two. I had one of the best evenings of my life, and I will never forget the joy I had in experiencing the evening. I will never forget the initial sudden burst of joy and excitement I had when he first walked on stage, and I will never forget being able to experience the music I love conducted by the composer I love live in front of me. I sincerely hope I will be able to experience this joy again, for it?s a joy beyond all words. Thank you, John Williams.