AMAZING show on Sunday! I saw him with the CSO in 2007, which was much more of a "Greatest Hits" program, I thought, as opposed to the selection of comparatively "deep" tracks he played today. There were a higher proportion of classic crowd-pleasers in '07, but I didn't enjoy this one any less. I was in the upper balcony, and with my trusty pair of binoculars, I had the best seat in the house, with clear views of everyone but the trumpets and some of the percussion, who were camped out behind the screen. (Can't the CSO afford a retractable screen? There's an awfully long donor list in the program...) I'd say the standout section of the ensemble was the trombones, who lit up all the up-tempo selections with bold and melodic lines. I'm an orchestral layperson if ever there were one, so time after time I would sweep my viewfinder from one end of the brass to the other, seeking the source of that righteous racket, and it was almost always the trombones. Big kudos as well to the flute and piccolo players, who popped in and out precisely at the appointed times to dress up or punctuate the big melodies with long or short runs, as well as nailing key solos in the slower material. And of course, the hardest-rocking man on stage, the timpani player, brought every crescendo section over the top. The program followed what was posted exactly, with the addition of a salute to Hollywood leading ladies set to the theme from Laura, which Gil Shaham stuck around to play as a "personal favor" to the Maestro before the intermission. The encores were the same as reported above, too. The Cowboys overture was a thrilling and energetic opener; I've never heard the full overture live—certainly never under Williams' baton—and it's really a gorgeous, cohesive piece of music, one of those film suites that seems to tell a story in and of itself. The same is even truer of Close Encounters, and speaking as one who's immune to the charms of the film, I loved seeing what amounted to a highlight reel of the movie's few memorable scenes on the projector screen, accompanied by a blessedly short summary of the score's menacing suspense material and a full rendering of its transcendent climax. (I don't use that word loosely, but the ending of that suite really embodies it for me.) Jaws was pleasant, as always, though I'm too young for this to be one of my favorites. (That was, I think, the only outright repeat from 2007 in the main program, and, now as then, I couldn't find the demarcation point between "Out to Sea" and "The Shark Cage Fugue.") I find it curious that, in two concerts, Williams has included selections from this score without touching the concert suite of the main theme (not that I miss it; these pieces are more enjoyable). Shaham's section was next, and I actually found this section less engaging than the rest, partly because it consisted mostly of non-Williams compositions, and partly because Shaham—a formidable player who really seems to enjoy himself—was a bit poorly amplified. Still, it was a pleasant surprise to hear Williams' orchestral arrangement of "Por Una Cabeza" from Scent of a Woman, which is a treasure I'd only recently unearthed, and the Fiddler medley, which was masterfully arranged, with melodies bouncing all over the orchestra. (I wonder how long it's been since JW conducted that one. I can't imagine it's been at the top of his concert playlists since...well, probably before he gave concerts.) Schindler's List was moving, of course, and quite powerful live (another one I'd never experienced that way). Several concertgoers in my section of the house were moved to a spontaneous standing ovation at the end. This is as good a time as any to note that on every single selection, the CSO was tighter than shrink-wrap. Close your eyes, and they might as well have been blaring the CD versions of any of these selections (with a few pleasant exceptions below). The Laura starlet montage brought us to the intermission. I always love catching snatches of upcoming selections from rehearsing musicians before and between shows, and I heard a horn player limbering up for "Flight to Neverland" once the musicians started to return. That was the first selection of the second half, another I hadn't heard live from the Maestro, and another knockout. This one featured the flying montage that I've read about before. As it began, I was begrudging the presence of the screen, because it always means lowered lights on the stage and less attention on the musicians. After a minute or so, though, I was won over by the sheer quality of the montage. Someone must have slaved over licensing, sequencing, and synchronizing the clips, which covered a wide swath of decades, studios, and genres. And kudos to Williams and the musicians, who—aided by a scrolling metronome/monitor in front of the conductor's stand—kept the music on track with only a few missed beats. Next came the "Three Pieces from Indiana Jones," which opened with the "Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra." That's a sentimental favorite for me, as it was one of the Williams "gateway drugs" on the Greatest Hits 1969-1999 album that took adolescent me from "casual fan" to "casualty of fanaticism." (I actually credit "Scherzo" with awakening me to the power of a well-crafted instrumental piece. It was that track that showed me there was more to John Williams, and film music, and orchestral music, than trumpets and theme songs.) This was the first of several pieces where the precision of the musicians really shone. Pizzicato strings gave way to horn bursts, which led back to bowed string lines and fleeting flute runs without a millisecond of overlap or delay. I also could swear I heard a slight modification to the ending of the piece, but there are already discrepancies between the OST, end credits, and concert versions, so it might just have been one of those that I was less familiar with. The middle piece was "Marion's Theme," in what I assume is the 2008 concert version, because it featured a beautiful and unfamiliar woodwind counter-melody here and there, plus some new transitional material. Bloody gorgeous. He closed the suite with "The Adventures of Mutt," a piece I used to find derivative and boring, but which has grown on me a lot in five years. It sounded positively joyous, and it's got to be one of the Maestro's most fun recent compositions outside of the Tintin score. I was surprised that this suite didn't include the "Raiders March," apart from its quotations in "Mutt," but I was just as happy to get to explore these three underplayed gems. (Still waiting for a recording of "Marion's Theme," aren't we?) A spoken intro from Williams led to the Lincoln triptych, wherein "Elegy" and "With Malice Toward None" were a sandwich of gorgeous wallpaper. (Sorry, I acknowledge the quality there, but do not combine the Lincoln soundtrack with driving or operating heavy machinery. Also, points lost for excluding "The People's House," which is the belle of that ball in my book.) "Getting Out the Vote," though, which featured concertmaster Robert Chen, was fantastic. What remains a small-ensemble piece of pseudo-source music on the album was rejiggered and (I think) expanded here to let the whole orchestra in on the fun. By the finale, I was tapping my foot and grinning to a piece that had only ever mildly amused me before. This is the kind of arrangement that makes me think Williams could permanently retire tomorrow, and musicians of sufficient caliber would still be able to spend decades finding new and hidden delights in his existing compositions. He closed out the main program with "Adventures on Earth," a piece I'd only ever dreamed of hearing live someday, and good God, what a marvel. I never knew that those jubilant shrieks that open the concert suite come mainly from the violins. (The woodwinds have to be somewhere in there, too, but I wasn't fast enough with my binoculars to tell for sure.) Every note and beat was spot-on, and this moves me a long way toward naming the climactic moments of E.T. as Williams' absolute zenith in terms of sheer musical majesty and joy. (I felt the same way hearing Erich Kunzel lead the CSO in the shorter E.T. suite at Ravinia some years back.) Incidentally, the Maestro made a point of specifying that the lack of film footage for this piece allowed the orchestra's contribution to the film to really shine, particularly with an ensemble as world-class as the CSO. I couldn't agree more (though, again, it would have been nice to lift the screen out of the way when it wasn't being used so we could see the back players). That was it for the main program, and honestly, I could have walked out right then and been more than satisfied. But all that flying hadn't quite taken us to another galaxy yet, so a three-part, all-Star Wars encore was in order. Williams led with "Yoda's Theme," which I never expected to hear live—ever, ever, at all, ever—and which brought a huge smile to my face, though I imagine a good chunk of the crowd might have been scratching its collective head. Gorgeous, buttery strings, especially the cellos, dominated this piece. Then came the last surprise of the night: the Star Wars Main Title/End Title suite (no surprise there), accompanied by a fantastic, new-to-me film montage that was, once again, brilliantly edited and synchronized to the music, even in the tiniest of details. (My favorite was a minor cymbal crash that perfectly punctuated a minor onscreen explosion or lightsaber ignition; I forget which.) This beat the tar out of the Lucas/Spielberg montage that Williams was shopping around in 2007, a barely synchronized hodgepodge of famous shots from the original trilogy. This montage, by contrast, gave every major and secondary character a shot at the spotlight, touched on all six films, for better or worse, worked in some comedy, and found ways to reference everything in melodically appropriate places in the music from Episode IV. I had written off film montages as a distraction for those who can't appreciate watching the orchestra; this one really proved me wrong. One more roof-shaking rendition of "The Imperial March," and Williams was ready for his sleepy-time cape routine. This was an excellent companion piece to the 2007 concert, and while I might have traded a couple of the violin-centered pieces for a fuller exploration of Williams' oeuvre, the crowd-pleasing Shaham section probably compensated for the omission of Superman, Jurassic Park, and the Raiders March. What surprised me, though, was the neglect of Harry Potter. "Hedwig's Theme" is—inarguably, I think—the Maestro's most popular and influential work of the new millennium, considering its impact on the rest of the Potter film-and-theme-park franchise. I would expect that to be a staple nearly as ubiquitous as Star Wars by this point. But I suppose when you show up as often as Williams does in Chicago, you play whatever you're in the mood for on a given weekend. Again, I can't stress enough the professionalism and precision of the CSO. I'm accustomed to hearing lesser orchestras lack this or that in manpower or tempo when it comes to these familiar compositions, but these musicians acquitted themselves beautifully on every selection. Chicago is truly blessed to have an orchestra like the CSO with such close ties to JW. Rock on, Maestro! Keep composing and come back soon!