Washington DC, April 28 & 29, 2005

Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington DC
Thursday, April 28 & Friday, April 29, 2005
The National Symphony Orchestra conducted by JOHN WILLIAMS
Gil Shaham, Violin

Concert Review by Hector J. Guzman

This past April I had the good fortune of visiting for the first time the east coast of the United States, particularly the capital Washington D.C. I had planned o­n going to Boston but this year, for the first time since Williams became the conductor of the Pops, film-scoring commitments prevented him from conducting there.

The program was o­ne of Williams’ concert hall works, including his Violin Concerto andTreeSong, and with these selections I got the opportunity to see in action o­ne of the biggest super-star violinists, Gil Shaham. The concert opened with Tributes! For Seiji, a piece that needs to have a commerical recording, a must-listen for all Williams fans. It’s like a short Concerto for Orchestra, in fact, I believe the Boston Symphony had actually comissioned a Concerto for Orchestra, but I guess Williams felt a shorter piece more appropiate for Seiji Ozawa’s 25th anniversary with the orchestra.

The Violin Concerto and TreeSong were performed exquisitely; the Violin Concerto has more  virtuosistic qualities and the TreeSong is more mystical. You have to hear TreeSong live, the rustling and rattling in the percussion sounds fantastic live.

The selections from American Journey were performed very different this time than the previous three times I’ve heard it which were played uninterrupted. This time Williams arranged to three selections, “Immigration and Building”, “Civil Rights and Women’s Movement” and “Flight and Technology”, were performed separate from each other, and with little changes here and there o­n the two outer movements, the middle o­ne had considerable additions and re-orchestration the piece opens and runs more or less as it does in the recording, with a noble feel to it, but instead of ending the way it does o­n the CD, it repeats itself midway up. The repetition is more heroic with brass dominating here and the finale had multiple repeats of Williams’ trademark: loud bass drum followed by a cymbal crash (so-called “boom-tzzz”). Two ladies next to me looked at each other and mouthed “wow!”.

I got the chance to attend the concert o­n Thursday night and the Friday matinee. Thursday’s concert attendance had a younger crowd than Friday, where more elderly people seem to be in a hurry just as American Journey ended.

The encores o­n both concerts were “The Imperial March” from The Empire Strikes Back, that served as a “coming soon” for Revenge of the Sith. The final encore was the “Flying” theme from E.T.

On Thursday night there was a post-concert discussion with John Williams and Gil Shaham were they discussed their work. Williams mentioned he was working o­n War of the Worlds and another project with Steven Spielberg. “He’s a young man”, Williams said, “I’m just trying to keep up with him”. They took questions from the audience, the most interesting were questions were about atonal music, how music has evolved since Bach or Mozart’s time, Williams said musicians back then were more accomplished than today, in the case of notation, they had to read in clefs that moved around the staff, now they (we) just read o­n fixated staffs.

The most interesting question, though, was o­n a possible piano concerto, “my wife just asked that the other day”, he quipped. He said it wasn’t in his plans, he was more inclined o­n strings intruments and that he was thinking in writing something for the viola, to which Shaham quickly added, “I’ll have to learn to play that”. Williams likened the violin or cello like the human voice and that’s what he felt he wanted to do. Shaham also asked Williams for another violin concerto; this reminded me that Boston Pops’ concertmistress Tamara Smirnova has also expressed her desire for a violin concerto from Williams.

Among other questions, he was asked about his personal favorite score, Close Encounters he replied. A lady asked if he had added “The Land Race” from Far and Away into the “Immigration…” segment from American Journey, he thanked the lady for remembering that score and he pointed out that if there was any similarity between the two it might be because the composer may react the same way to certain conditions, much the way a person reacts to certain situations in their lives.

The final question, appropiately enough, was about the upcoming and last Star Warsfilm. He said he was very grateful and happy to have finally finished what he started with George Lucas and that the film does have a certain coda that brings closure to the entire cycle.

Williams thanked Gil Shaham for his beautiful playing and, what he called the flagship orchestra of the nation, the National Symphony Orchestra.

Thus, ended the conversation and the concert as the audience cheered him and as always at the end of both concerts, he gave the “gotta go to sleep” sign and an end to an evening of music at the nation’s capital.

— Hector J. Guzman

Concert Review from The Washington Post (excerpt)

Tributes! For Seiji, which Williams wrote in 1999 to commemorate the 20-years-plus tenure of Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor Seiji Ozawa, made for a rousing concert overture. The quick-tempo work is somewhat of an orchestral showpiece, allowing each principal section to pass around the bright main theme. Williams intelligently structures this inventive material with muted intonation, tightly crafted fugues and patiently developed climaxes.

Further surprises were in store in the two featured works for violin and orchestra. With his introspective and somber Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Williams pays tribute to his wife, who died tragically in 1974. Although more quiescent than plaintive, the concerto addresses a loneliness and isolation worlds away from Williams’s typically epic music.

Click here to read the full review

(Thanks to ‘thx99’)