Williams Conducts Oregon Symphony – Concert Reviews

April 28, 2014, Portland, OR
The Oregon Symphony Orchestra conducted by JOHN WILLIAMS
Bing Wang, violin


  • The Cowboys Overture
  • Excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • Three Pieces from Harry Potter
    (“Hedwig’s Theme”, “Nimbus 2000”, “Harry’s Wondrous World”)
  • Adventures on Earth from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
  • That’s Entertainment! (Schwartz/Dietz, arr. Williams)
  • The Book Thief
  • Tango from Scent of a Woman (Gardel, arr. Williams)
  • Excerpts from Fiddler on the Roof (Bock, adpt. Williams)
  • Theme from Schindler’s List
  • Three pieces from Star Wars
    (“Imperial March”, “Yoda’s Theme”, “Main Title”)
  • Lincoln
  • The Raiders March from Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • The Mission Theme from NBC Nightly News


  • NobleViola – Williams clearly has a grasp on what every instrument in the orchestra is capable of, and not only that, but in what role they sound and function best. Cellos – big romantic melodies. Brass – heroic fanfares. Violins – sweeping, high tessitura runs. Violas – motor rhythms. Etc… His music is not easy, but it almost never fails to lie well on the instrument. This is something that some of the greatest composers (in any genre) often have not been able to master completely. – Full review by Charles Noble, Assistant principal violist of the Oregon Symphony.


Concert Review by ‘ConcertAttendee’ (original post)

I was lucky enough to attend this concert. The Oregon Symphony was wonderful, first time I’ve heard them, but just an oustanding symphony.  Portland should be very proud. John Williams also commented that it was the first time he had ever performed in Portland.

Most notable comment he made, when introducing the music to E.T., he mentioned that he was asked a couple months ago to revisit the film and music for his approval. Add that bit of insight to any speculation on what John Williams-related release may be in the works. He mentioned watching the film and in particular the acting from the kids in the movie. So made me think it might be a new Blu-ray release rather than a new soundtrack release.

Here is the program and I will make comments on the evening for those interested.

The Cowboys Overture
This was a very long piece, much longer than any version I’ve heard before. A very wonderful opening played without introduction.

Excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind
One of my favorite Williams scores. This was a slightly abbreviated version from the longer piece that has appeared on some of the Boston Pops recordings. I have heard this music thousands of times, and this piece in particular, and it did not disappoint. Such a gorgeous piece of music, and the Oregon Symphony did a great job with it.

Three Pieces from Harry Potter

  • Hedwig’s Theme
  • Nimbus 2000
  • Harry’s Wondrous World

This is where Williams first addressed the audience. He introduced this music to thunderous applause. If there was one section of the night I would say the performance wasn’t the best, it would be here. I love the music from Harry Potter, but the music here lost some of its power. I thought including Nimbus 2000 after Hedwig’s Theme was an odd choice, since it is just a variation on Hedwig’s theme done on the wind instruments. It was sort of repetitive to hear back to back. Also, maybe he played Nimbus 2000 in other concert performances, but made me wonder if he was recently listening to the Harry Potter score again and really liked this theme from the soundtrack, and wanted to play it again in his concert repertoire. What I also found amusing was that you could tell he wanted to play the three pieces back to back, after Hedwig’s theme he was positioned to go right into Nimbus 2000, but the audience anticipated the end of the first piece and began applauding. His body language showed a bit of… annoyance might be the wrong word, but it definitely showed he was not planning on stopping, but he motioned to the orchestra to wait and turned to accept the applause. There was a tendency for the audience to begin applause before John Williams signaled that the piece was over. If it sounded like the music was coming to an end, the applause would start, even if John Williams was still gesturing to the orchestra, so a little annoying but I think it bothered me more than it did him. He anticipated this for the rest of the evening and adapted.

Adventures on Earth from E.T. The Extra-terrestrial
Williams addressed the audience again, and spoke as mentioned above about reviewing this film recently. He then made the comment about how if it weren’t for the score to the movie there wouldn’t be a movie. The audience laughed and John Williams said that it didn’t come out quite how he intended, but played it up with another comment like “Now let’s listen to the music without the distraction of the film.” Which got another big laugh.  This is another piece that I have heard so many times, but again, just like Close Encounters, just thrilled me to hear it again.  Though he said he was playing the full version from the film, there was one edit shortening the time of the bike chase to the “saying goodbye” portion.  But the performance was stellar nonetheless.
Uh oh… somebody is practicing the Indiana Jones theme… spoiler alert for an upcoming encore.

That’s Entertainment!
I thought this was an odd choice. Played with no introduction. But John Williams had the biggest grin on his face during this piece. Made me wonder if he just loved this kind of music and arrangement. If this is what he listened to at home. This was a much longer arrangement than what was played on the old Boston Pops album with a lot more instrument variation and playfulness. It ended up being a joyous piece.

The Book Thief
I loved this score even if it sounds a little disjointed at times. And I loved hearing it performed love. Just beautiful.

Tango from Scent of a Woman
Bing Wang, violin
There was a little break as the stage was rearranged for Bing Wang to take the stage. There was no introduction.  The performance wasn’t quite up to par with Itzhak Perlman’s from the Cinema Serenade album, but very fun to listen to.  Audience laughed during a couple portions, most notably at the violin “plunk”.

Excerpts from Fiddler on the Roof
Bing Wang, violin
A very long and wonderful arrangement of the Fiddler on the Roof score. Bing Wang didn’t have much to do during the first part, but the latter half was arranged to highlight the violin in several sections. It was the longest arrangement of the score I have heard, and it was probably the best performance of the evening. Bing Wang really shined during this. There was a tremendous standing ovation after this piece. A massive standing ovation, which led to the night’s first encore.

Schindler’s List
Bing Wang, violin
We were treated to Bing Wang staying on stage for the Schindler’s List theme, which she made her own. Very moving. In fact afterwards, the audience took a while to build up their applause. The beauty of this piece really affected the energy in the audience, and you could feel them trying to regain themselves from the somber mood.  This was also one of the rare points where Williams addressed the audience talking about his long work history with Spielberg, and told an anecdote about watching the first cut of Schindler’s List with Spielberg and mentioning to him that he needed a better composer than him for this outstanding movie, and Spielberg responded “Yeah I do, but they’re all dead.”  This got a big laugh.

Three pieces from Star Wars

  • Imperial March
  • Yoda’s Theme
  • Main Title

Williams introduction to the Star Wars pieces also drew great applause much like Harry Potter. John Williams mentioned now working with JJ Abrams who he said was very young and he would try his best to keep up with him but said he would most likely NOT be doing another six Star Wars films.
I have heard these pieces played live several times before, and the Oregon Symphony really hit the ball out of the park. They did an incredible performance of all three of these pieces. And even noticed some audience members who were rather stoic throughout the evening, smiling and nodding their heads during these pieces, most notably during the Main Title.  Another highlight.

The standing ovation after these pieces was amazing!  This led to first of THREE encore pieces. The first time I have seen three encores at a Williams concert.

Encore #1:
Williams introduced this piece highlighting the outstanding performance by Daniel Day Lewis. He also mentioned that most people in the audience probably have not seen the film but urged people to do so. He introduced the piece as the music he wrote to accompany Daniel Day Lewis’ reading of the 13th amendment. It was an odd choice for the encore, but I knew there must be a second more rousing one, especially since somebody was practicing the Indiana Jones theme earlier.  And sure enough after more thunderous applause we received…

Encore #2:
Raiders of the Lost Ark End Titles
This was played with no introduction, and the audience applauded like they were at a rock concert when they recognized the very familiar theme. I have never heard this at a concert before, but John Williams seemed rather amused by it. It was the full on end credits piece with Marion’s theme, and was a wonderful encore.  The audience burst into a HUGE standing ovation.  We thought it was over. but…

Encore #3:
The Mission Theme from NBC Nightly News
When he signaled he would do one more, some audience members actually burst out into shrieks of delight. This last encore got an introduction from Williams. He talked about NBC commissioning him for the piece, and when he turned it in, he asked if they would ever play the whole thing. They told him it was a little long, but maybe on a slow news day they would. He made a joke about with Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams reading the news, there never was a slow news day, so we were to be treated to the full piece. (I actually know they did play the entire version on the news when it was introduced, with film of John Williams conducting but…)   The audience laughed when they recognized the tune. And laughed more during the first portion of the piece. It was the first time during the evening that the nerd fan that I am wanted to turn to the audience and say “Shoosh!”  The audience simmered down during the stirring string portion of this piece and it was an even better encore, very satisfying conclusion.  A very long standing ovation.  John Williams came back out on stage two more times and finally made his now signature “I’m sleepy” gesture and left the stage.

All in all, a tremendous concert!