“John Williams Conducts John Williams”
October 14, 15 & 16, 2021, Berlin, Germany
The Berlin Philharmonic conducted by JOHN WILLIAMS
Bruno Delepelaire, violoncello
- Olympic Fanfare and Theme
- Excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind
- Suite from Far and Away
- Three Selections from Harry Potter:
Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Nimbus 2000 from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Harry’s Wondrous World from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
- Theme from Jurassic Park
- Superman Theme
- Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra from Indiana Jones and the last Crusade
- Marion’s Theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark
- The Raiders March from Raiders of the Lost Ark
- Elegy for Violoncello and Orchestra
- The Adventures of Han from Solo: A Star Wars Story
- Yoda’s Theme from The Empire Strikes Back
- Throne Room and End Title from Star Wars
- Princess Leia’s Theme from Star Wars (Oct. 14)
- Flying from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
- The Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back
Review by ‘Fabulin’ (original post)
After the welcoming standing ovation, the concert opened with the sounding of the Olympic Fanfare, which introduced the reliably disciplined and strong sound of the Berlin Philharmonic. This was followed by Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which, in contrast to the Viennese direction that mirrored Charles Gerhardt’s legendary recording, here were conducted by Williams with more liberty.
Afterwards, Williams took a while to compliment the city, which he said to have driven around over the past few days. He said that, in contrast to Los Angeles and New York with their abundant cars, it was great to see so many pedestrians and cyclists in Berlin. He added that the city has great history in its antique architecture, a thriving present, and in the faces of the many children in the park he saw that it is set for a great future as well.
Next came his introduction of the Far and Away suite, which Williams said was a project with a need for Irish music, something that he had always wanted to do at the time. He described the Doonybrook segment, written as a non-seriour brawl that in tone harkened back to the times of pies thrown in people’s faces in Hollywood comedies. The execution of this suite by the Berlin Philharmonic was solid, with the ever-energetic concertmaster convincingly taking on a role of a country fiddler. The Donnybrook segment stood out thanks to the great vitality coming from the lower strings.
The introduction of the selections from Harry Potter was brief, and their execution conservative (as far as world’s greatest orchestras go). Hedwig’s Theme is a fitting piece where I should mention that the oboe soloist (a young lady with a flaxen hair) was outstanding throughout the concert among the woodwinds. Overall, for this reviewer the highlight of the segment was Hogwarts’ theme in Harry’s Wondrous World, a guilty pleasure it always is.
The final piece before the break was the concert arrangement of Jurassic Park, In contrast with the original 1993 direction, where one can relax and stirr a tea between the phrases of the maestoso, this rendition followed Williams’ recent tendency for much faster tempi. The main theme at today’s speed resembled a single lyrical utterance, closer to an aria, credit to the skill of the Berlin Philharmonic which played it with grace. The island fanfare was played by the trumpet section with gusto, I daresay rivalling the legendary original performance of Malcolm McNab and his colleagues. The BSO’s trumpet section is young and strong, precise in attack, and very cohesive, which continued to be felt throughout the concert. It is not improbable that all of the trumpeteers who played today grew up with Williams’ music and knew it’s big moments by heart. What an uncommon and wonderful compliment to an old composer this is!
The second part of the concert resumed with a mighty performance of the Superman Theme. The excellence of the bassline, if it persists until Saturday, should be felt on the recordings, and the BSO certainly can hope to produce one of the go-to recordings of this piece.
After Superman, a selection from the Indiana Jones series was introduced in Williams’ standard fashion. The difference was the mention of contemporary events – Harrison Ford having recovered from an accident and filming the next installment in London, and Williams planning to begin the writing of the score upon a return to Los Angeles. It also involved what to me was the most comical event of the evening, when the maestro forgot Sean Connery’s name and the crowd in the front rows begun trying to yell it to him through muffling masks.
The Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra to me was one of the highlights of the evening. The BSO was a flawless machine in this one, fitting for a piece most of all related to Berlin. Marion’s Theme was a solid show, although I confess that I missed the spoiling plushness of the strings of the Vienna Philharmonic. Raiders March on the other hand was directed by a noticeably more vigorous hand than the one in Vienna, and the eventual recording, if safe from any misfortune, might well prove superior to the one made by Simon Rattle at the Waldbühne a few years prior.
Next came the introduction of the Elegy for Violoncello and Orchestra, which Williams selected because he personally associated the sound of the cello with many different emotions, and the Elegy is well-suited for individual interpretations by the listeners. Indeed, it sounded generally solemn and emotional; clearly could work well as a score to many different films, and was a fine choice as an ambassador for Williams’ concert works.
Without much ado, the Star Wars pieces were announced, and to my pleasant surprise, in the opening Adventures of Han, the Philharmoniker roared to life as if they had just been reborn, no doubt owing to the shrewd contrast produced by pairing this piece with the Elegy. Overall it was my favourite performance of this piece to date, matching, and possibly exceeding the original one, and joined the Scherzo as another highlight. After it, Yoda’s Theme came in with unexpected nobility, courtesy of the Berliner horns, and upon it’s completion earned an immediate standing applause. Afterwards followed the final piece in the official programme, Throne Room and Finale from Star Wars. The performance was a very fine one, and the eventual recording is likely to be added to the list of ones we so much like to compare and favour. The trumpeteers should be mentioned once again, since a lot in the Star Wars pieces depends on their excellence, and they provided it in spades today. Overall, with energy reserves of the orchestra fully engaged and just about every piece a barn-burner, the second part of the concert was especially strong, not unlike in Vienna. It should also be noted that the percussion was astutely disciplined – certainly less error-prone than that of the VPO.
Then came the encores, known to me beforehand since the concertmaster named them loud to the orchestra during the public-open rehearsal on Wednesday. Princess Leia’s Theme, after a standard introduction, much like Marion’s Theme, was a solid performance, and the principal horn was distinguished by Williams and orchestra colleagues to stand up three times to receive a standing ovation. The second encore was Flying from E.T., begun in a racing tempo from the final bike chase and welcomed by the audience with some happy noise. Then Williams feigned leaving the stage again, and returned with the final piece – The Imperial March. The public reacted with a welcoming ovation, one even longer than what I remember from the initial Viennese concert. With the composer-conductor overjoyed, and the orchestra firing on all cylinders, the piece was over not long after it begun. It was decidedly faster than the one in Vienna, although to my ears the horns lost their discipline and got a bit uneven, and so the Viennese ones remain unmatched. I regret I cannot single out the principal flute for praise as much as I could the oboe, or the flutes in Vienna, but that is the beauty of having these live performances with different orchestras and different strengths – back then they were strings, horns, and flute; today – trumpets, percussion, and the oboe. I am sure the orchestra will continue to make quick gains during the two performances it still has ahead of it, since it most certainly already did between Wednesday and Thursday.
I am looking forward to your reviews after the next concerts.
P.S. It should be noted that I was seated behind the orchestra and cannot speak about all nuances of balance or judge the string performance. I am sure those at the front might have praise to add in these areas.
P.P.S. The audience seemed slightly inhibited by all the circa-epidemic restrictions. Had it been like in January 2020, when all everyone cared about was a ticket, I am sure the crowd would have been more freely jubilant.
Review by ‘Pawel P’ (original post)
It was a night to remember! The Friday concert lasted 115 minutes, not including the 25-minute break, and it was pure magic. I won’t write anything that hasn’t already been written here, but the experience was absolutely wonderful and also felt different from the Viennese in many aspects. Mostly because there was no Anne-Sophie Mutter and Williams was much more talkative. The performance of the Berliners was of course phenomenal. They played as if they were designed to perform that music.
I suppose that the first encore, ‘Princess Leia Theme’, was omitted because maestro could be tired and exhausted – but I hope it will be performed today. If not, maybe it’ll show up on Bluray in the version played on Thursday. When it comes to highlights, I must say definitely ‘Far and Away’ (pure joy!) and ‘Elegy’ (very touching) maybe because they are so rarely played, but I liked everything. ‘Superman Theme’ was a monster, as were ‘The Throne Room and the Finale’ and The Imperial March’. Maybe I would skip ‘Nimbus 2000’ in favor of ‘Fawkes the Phoenix’, but it’s a minor matter.
Today I’ll see the maestro for the fourth time in my life (I have also been at Vienna concerts twice) and it’s something that a few years ago was only in the sphere of my dreams. If I manage to go to Milan, I can say that it’ll be my Perfect Five.
Review by ‘bollemanneke’ (original post)
Okay, here we go. I wanted to review the concert immediately, but family came first, which in this case meant a Breaking Bad episode. Half of the notes I made during the concert don’t make sense to me anymore as they’re all in caps lock and full of typos, so this might just end up being a random rant. We’ll see. I don’t care.
The orchestra was just fantastic. I loved the trumpets and the prominent percussion in the mix. I loved the woodwinds. The flutes were so moving. I loved the way they were almost… afraid to overdo notes and were so gentle with them. I loved The way they executed their scales so beautifully. I loved the strings and their truly flawless rendition of Hedwig’s theme and their stunning transition from Quidditch to Harry’s theme in HWW. I loved the harp transforming Harry’s Wondrous World into the gateway to Hogwarts itself. I loved the prominent low notes in the Adventures of Han, even if it might have been a little slow. I loved everything.
And then there was the joy. There was so much palpable joy every single minute. I don’t want to start bashing Vienna immediately – well, I do, really – but maybe that was the most striking difference between the two concerts. Vienna sounded like a chore. Like a group of good musicians who suddenly realised they were going to have to play notes – together, even! – and who tried to make the best of an awkward situation. This orchestra played on an LSO level, they spoke one language to each other, the language of music, and they had a blast while doing it. Yes, there were some flubs, notably in the percussion, but the Berlin people made mistakes while being wrapped up in the pieces while Vienna was discovering the music as they were playing it. (WHAT HAPPENED IN VIENNA?)
Also, did anyone else listening to RBB Kultur notice a particularly weird thing going on where the sound would continually become sharp and muffled, as if someone was constantly adjusting something, or are my headphones broken already? (Please let them not be broken, they cost €150 and I only got them last year.) It was especially prevalent during the applause and there was occasional crackling on the left channel too.
Then, there was JW himself. Was he tired from Star Wars in Vienna? My God, he was great today. What I loved the most is how he took so much time introducing so many of his pieces and, even more importantly perhaps, how he seemed to love the audience as much as they loved him. He was so relaxed and lively and happy. If they release… no, sorry, WHEN they release! – this concert, hopefully in one proper edition this time, they absolutely have to include everything he said. It made it all even more special. Why did he say ‘thank you, that’s fine’ when the audience clapped as he mentioned Harry Potter, though?
Speaking of speeches, is it only me who never ever needs a radio presenter during live concerts? I can understand what JW is saying in English, thank you very much, and no, I don’t need you to remind me 500 times that this is the Berlin Philharmonic playing, just describe what’s happening in the venue and otherwise just shut up. Also, she would not stop repeating how young the audience was. Well, if they want more young people, I would say the way is clear for this orchestra. I don’t need LSO re-recordings that badly anymore either, these musical wizards will do just fine. Are you reading this, Simon Rattle and Riccardo Muti?
Then, Far and Away came. Is it me, or did JW shorten a section (the string bit that leads the love theme from C major to E major), which, again, was played just perfectly?
Also a note about the program in general. I loved this one much, much more than Vienna. (No,, I’m not dropping this!) Even though Anne-Sophie Mutter was undoubtedly the best performer in that concert, I didn’t need all the arrangements on that occasion. They’re a fine curiosity and she’s a marvellous musician who was on fire back then, but they shouldn’t have been included in the Maestro’s first concert in Europe since ages. This program was the way to go and, God, was I moved by the elegy for orchestra. I don’t particularly like the repetition of themes, like Nimbus 2000 and Marion in multiple pieces, and I might even say that I didn’t miss Leia as an encore either for that reason. (If the orchestra’s management ever reads this, please note I obviously do want it on the commercial release as it is your duty and my wallet’s wish to preserve every second of this blissful evening.)
I am so grateful this concert could go ahead. I am glad that John Williams finally got the European concert and recognition he deserved. Glad he is still around after covid. Glad I am not interested in Indy 5. Glad Vienna was not the end of his adventure on our continent. Glad the orchestra exceeded all my expectations. Glad they made the end of this year even more special than it already is for me. Thank you, Berliner Philharmoniker, for a truly glorious evening. Thank you.
Bring on the CDs and more re-recordings. And Vienna, stick to Strauss waltzes and whatever other crap you keep playing at that new year’s thing, will you?
October 14 & 16
Review by Marian Schedenig (original post)
These were once again outstanding concerts. I attended the Thursday and Saturday performances, both times close to the stage – on Thursday I had a seat in row 3, 2nd place from the left, with a good side view of Williams; on Saturday again row 3, but almost in the middle, only slightly to the left (which was in fact the 2nd row because the middle blocks start in row 2). That was the closest I’ve ever been to Williams.
For some reason, I was under the impression that the hall was known for problematic acoustics, so I got a bit worried when I realised I was sitting to the left of even the rear violins on the first day. Needlessly, because the hall turned out to be stunning, and I could hear everything perfectly (plus extra harp, which was nice).
My personal highlights were the Olympic Fanfare (always wanted to hear that live), Far and Away (much more fun than I’d expected, because I realised when the expansion came out that after all these years I don’t enjoy the full score/album as much as I used to – but it’s a fine suite), possibly the best live Raider’s March I’ve heard (I usually find it a bit too much on the heavy side in concert – not this time), Throne Room (because it’s Throne Room and because it wasn’t in the previous Williams concerts I’d attended), and the three pieces that I thought suited the orchestra and the hall best: Nimbus 2000, Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra, and The Adventures of Han.
Comparing it to Vienna, I’d say both concerts were sufficiently different that I don’t feel the need to pick a “better” one. Pieces that relied on precision (like the three standouts I mentioned above) were spot on here, while the more lush and lyrical pieces stood out in Vienna. There simply is no match for the Viennese horns (the Berliners were excellent, but they just don’t have the same instruments), but the Berliner trumpets were fantastic. The halls complemented those different strengths as well – the Musikverein with its warm, luxurious sound, and the Philharmonie with its incredibly powerful yet transparent acoustics. In Vienna, I could hear every tiny detail, which is a rare thing when you know the pieces more or less by heart (and also, as I mentioned at the time, something that I’ve very rarely experienced at the Musikverein). In Berlin, the balance wasn’t always perfect to that effect (it may have been better with a little more distance to the orchestra than my seats, where I got the most direct sound of the strings), but the spaciousness was stunning (not just left and right, but also a three dimensionality between the strings up front and the various winds in the back). I’ve also never heard instrumental doublings so clearly, especially when the horns and celli were doubled. The Viennese Imperial March remains unmatched (both for its tempo and for the incredible horn section), while the Berliner Raider’s March easily beats Vienna. Jurassic Park, despite a few inaccuracies, was a marvel in Vienna (and again the horn parts stood out in particular), whereas the Berliner version was excellently phrased in the B section of the main theme, but perhaps even faster than the usual (too) uptempo version. On the other hand, the Berliner precision in the Motorcycle and Han scherzos was marvellous.
I’m especially happy I picked those two days because I got an excellent Leia’s Theme on the first day and the insane closing ovation on the last day. Williams was in very good shape on the first day (notably fitter even than in Vienna, I would say). From comparing notes after the last concert, it seems that he was much more energetic on Saturday than on Friday, but the difference to Thursday was still apparent. I couldn’t help getting a bit worried and distracted whenever he turned to the left to propel the violins and looked like he’d run out of breath any moment. I think he deliberately shortened his last few speeches, and didn’t even turn around for the applause between Yoda and the Imperial March to make sure he’d get through the concert before running out of energy. But on the other hand, the actual energy he invests in these concerts is incredible, and at times he seems to work even harder than the orchestra. And it seems obvious to me that he does it because he is aware of what he can get out of these pieces with the orchestra if he doesn’t compromise and gives them everything he can.
I still find it hard to believe that only three years after I thought I’d just missed my last chance of ever seeing him live, I have now attended five Williams concerts, with perhaps more yet to come.
Review by ‘BuzzLightYear’ (original post)
After a few days in which I first had to realized what really happened, I want to say that the Berlin concerts were an incredible experience to me. I was there on thursday and saturday…
Just the moment when John Williams himself entered the stage was overwhelming! The orchestra was fantastic and the interaction between the musicians and the conductor was so enjoyable, you really felt how much fun everyone was having on stage, and that carried over to the audience as well.
By the way, the audience was phenomenal! So much euphoria and respect shown to John Williams, you could really see how grateful he was about it.
One of the coolest moments was, when he announced he would be composing new Indiana Jones music in a week or two, and the audience flipped out and making him smile about it.
The program was great too! One of my highlights was the Olympic Fanfare (which I haven’t been able to get out of my head since this weekend) – When the brass section started, I thought “Wow! What a sound!” – but when the basses, timpani, and the rest of the orchestra joined in shortly after with this great, deep chord, I was completely overwhelmed. So John Williams captivated me from the very start!
The program was full of highlights from Close Encounters, Harry’s Wondrous World, Marion’s Theme or Throne Room & Finale, but I actually liked every piece! And as the absolute top of the cake, they even played Theme from Jurassic Park, my absolute favorite soundtrack since my childhood, so that was something very special and meant a lot to me! When he announced it as “…the last 5 minutes of the movie” my first thought was “Oh my god, are they really playing T-Rex Rescue & Finale now?
The 14 minute standing ovations at the end of saturday’s concert was somehow the perfect ending to an unforgettable weekend, and I’m so grateful to have been there, and happy for all the other fans who had the same experience. Hopefully we will see each other again soon, to the next magical journey… :)
- AIM – Adventures in Music – An evening beyond superlatives from the orchestra under Williams, the enraptured Philharmonie audience was treated with a joyride through five decades of the Maestro’s spellbinding oeuvre, given in one powerhouse performance after another.- Full review
- *NEW* Celluloid Tunes – When conductor Herbert von Karajan began his legendary recording series with the Berlin Philharmonic and Deutsche Grammophon in the late 50s, a young John Williams was starting his own Hollywood career across the pond. Little did he know then that he would make his debut as conductor of that same revered orchestra more than 60 years later. – Full review
October 14, 15 & 16
- The Legacy of John Williams – A reflection on the already historic concerts of Maestro John Williams with the legendary Berliner Philharmoniker held at the Philharmonie Hall of Berlin on October 14, 15 and 16, 2021 – Full review
OFFICIAL PHOTOS (Stephan Rabold, Berliner Philharmoniker)
(Photos by ‘GlastoEls’)
(Photo by ‘Junion’)
(Photo by ‘Hugo’)
(Photo by ‘steve’)
(Photos by ‘jensenh’)
(Photo by ‘rough cut’)
(Photos by ‘GlastoEls’)
SOCIAL MEDIA PHOTOS (selection)
- John Williams and Anne-Sophie Mutter at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, Germany
- John Williams and violist Amihai Grosz (rehearsals)
- John Williams and violist Joaquin Riquelme (rehearsals)
- John Williams and violinist Noah Bendix-Balgley (rehearsals)
- John Williams and Pablo Sainz-Villegas at the Philharmonie Berlin, Oct. 14
- John Williams conducting, Oct. 15 (Berlin Philharmonic Instagram)
- John Williams and flutist Alberto Acuña, Oct. 16
- Williams autograph for conductor Ben Palmer, Oct. 16
- October 16 (audience photos):
https://www.instagram.com/p/CVIqktKAwG3/ (photo by composer Fernando Velázquez)
- October 16 (video stream captures):
SOCIAL MEDIA VIDEOS (selection)