Make no mistake, it is always an honor to be asked to write about composer John Williams. I never take it for granted. So it was a distinct pleasure to be asked to write the program notes for the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s January 2019 concerts celebrating the famed film composer (and even greater fun to attend, as conductor Gustavo Dudamel, an unabashed Williams fan, conducted the entire program at Disney Hall). Deutsche Grammophon, which recorded all four nights, then asked me for an essay commemorating Williams’ long history with the Philharmonic for a two-CD set. Along the way I got to mention all of the repertoire played so brilliantly (a greatest-hits selection that ranged from Close Encounters and E.T. to Harry Potter and Jurassic Park).
It is always a joy to write about the music of John Williams, of course, but I rarely get the chance to discuss his concert music. This was a happy exception. Thomas Hooten, the immensely talented principal trumpet for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, asked the maestro to conduct an L.A. orchestra in his 1996 trumpet concerto (and, to fill out the album, his 1989 theme for Born on the Fourth of July, which also features a magnificent trumpet solo). Private donations and crowd-funding made it all possible, and when it was finished Hooten asked me for an essay about the work for the booklet. I was delighted to participate in this real labor of love.
I was honored to be asked to pen the program notes for the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s four-day series of concerts paying tribute to the great John Williams. Gustavo Dudamel conducted a thrilling greatest-hits collection of music that included four of his Oscar winners (Jaws, Star Wars, E.T., Schindler’s List), popular movie hits (Close Encounters, Raiders, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter) and more. I’m also delighted to be able to announce that I have written the liner notes for Deutsche Grammophon’s upcoming 2-CD recording of those concerts. Click on the image at left to read the L.A. Phil program notes.
This weekend John Williams, the most famous composer in Hollywood history, celebrated his 40th anniversary conducting at the Hollywood Bowl. His very first concert leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Bowl was on July 28, 1978, subbing for an ailing Arthur Fiedler, who had been scheduled to conduct a pair of “Pops at the Bowl” concerts that weekend. Since then, the much-honored dean of American film composers has returned to the Bowl on dozens of occasions, conducting not only his own music but that of other composers, most of whom were active in Hollywood at one time or another. The program included not only Williams compositions but also those of a friend and mentor, Leonard Bernstein (whose centennial is also being celebrated this year). Steven Spielberg served as host; David Newman conducted the first half. Here is my review for Variety.
Composer John Powell, the much-respected Oscar nominee for How to Train Your Dragon (and such other delightful animated scores as Happy Feet, Rio and Ferdinand), reviewed the entire Solo: A Star Wars Story experience with me for this Variety story, which ran the day before the film opened. It’s a fascinating odyssey that involves collaboration with John Williams (who penned “The Adventures of Han” theme used throughout Powell’s score), the creation of several new themes, and an unusual trip to Bulgaria to record a women’s choir for the score.
It’s always an honor to spend time with the legendary John Williams. I had a few moments with the maestro before he received BMI’s latest honor, named after him, and added a few tidbits about his current schedule in the Variety story I wrote the next morning. He was especially excited about the piece he’s written for cello and harp to celebrate the Leonard Bernstein centennial later this year at his beloved Tanglewood.
Composer John Williams has won practically every award possible in his long and distinguished career — Oscars, Emmys, Grammys, even the Kennedy Center Honor and the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award. So Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), one of the nation’s leading performing-rights societies — which had already given him its top honor in 1999 — gave him an even higher honor by naming a new award after him. It was a particularly star-studded evening, as I tried to convey in this Variety story about the society’s annual Film, TV and Visual Media Awards in Beverly Hills.
Christopher Lennertz, veteran composer of Supernatural, Revolution and other series, has pulled off his greatest TV assignment to date: the Netflix reboot of the 1960s classic Lost in Space. He not only recorded with an orchestra in London’s Abbey Road studio, he incorporated John Williams’ original TV theme (actually, Williams’ second theme for the series, used in its 1967-68 season) as well. This Variety story explains how he went about writing eight hours of music in 10 weeks.
Every year Variety asks me to analyze the music races for the Academy Awards — not really handicapping them, as that entails choosing favorites, which I don’t like to do. But examining the five nominees, quoting the composers, hinting at what’s important about each, and subtly suggesting what Academy voters might be thinking. Alexandre Desplat’s The Shape of Water is the current favorite, but I think you cannot count out Jonny Greenwood’s Phantom Thread or Carter Burwell’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Hans Zimmer’s Dunkirk and John Williams’ Star Wars: The Last Jedi are admittedly outsiders at this point… but the Oscars love to surprise us. This story appeared only in print, so please click on the images to read it here.
As always on Oscar-nominations-announcement day, I have written a kind of “instant analysis” of the song and score categories — who was nominated, who was not, and a bit about the background of the nominees. The lead of my story — the fact that two major pop names, Diane Warren and Jonny Greenwood — remained intact even though editors chose to highlight a “Taylor Swift snub” in the headline (something I have nothing to do with). But that’s about attracting readers to the story. The story itself is solid and filled with data about John Williams’ 51 nominations, Greenwood’s past history with the Academy, Warren’s failure to win despite eight previous nods, and whose recent wins may be a factor in whether they win again. It’s on Variety‘s website today; I will be writing new stories on the topic for print over the next two weeks.