Boston, May 28, 2003


By Richard Dyer, Globe Staff, 5/29/2003

Convivial John Williams was back at the Boston Pops last night to tape a program for television’s ”Evening at Pops” devoted to film music — the art and discipline that has, he says, ”distracted” him for the last 40 years.

There was a classic by William Walton (”Richard III”), a piece from ”Citizen Kane” by one of Williams’s great mentors, Bernard Hermann, and one of his favorite scores of his own, the gentle, pastoral ”Jane Eyre.”

With Pops pianist Bob Winter, Williams did a bit of dashing four-hand piano accompaniment to a witty collage of silent-film scenes (”Perils of Pauline,” plus glimpses of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and the Keystone Cops). And with the orchestra he explained a dazzling sequence from ”Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” First we saw the film without the music as Williams described the musical requirements for the chase through the circus train, and then we saw it again, with the Pops playing live in synchronicity with the rhinoceros, the lion, and the snakes, and then the triumphant appearance of the ”Indiana Jones” theme. The virtuosity of the filmmaking, Williams’s music, and the performance brought the house down; film music is not supposed to be noticeable, but Williams made us sit up and take notice. Then California saxophonist Dan Higgins came on for a suite in cool jazz style drawn from Williams’s recent score to ”Catch Me If You Can,” ably abbetted by Pops vibraphonist J. William Hudgins and bassist Lawrence Wolfe.

Finally Williams brought on a longtime collaborator and friend, Nancy Wilson, who at a silver-haired 67 retains both her youthful figure and her ageless voice, still as sweet as spun honey. Backed up by her trio and the Pops, Wilson offered some standards in a non-standard way (”All of Me,” ”Embraceable You”) and a touching song Barry Manilow wrote for her to a lyric by Johnny Mercer, ”When October Goes.” Best of all was a song Williams wrote for her back in 1967, ”Make Me Rainbows.” With an intimate, harmonically charged accompaniment by the composer on the piano, she sang in a steady, pure soprano, with a breathtaking glissando at the end. Wilson may be an icon, but there’s nothing frozen and static about her; she’s pure musical motion.

The Boston Pops

John Williams, conductor laureate

At: Symphony Hall, last night.

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