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.
While I was preparing my John Williams piece for Variety, I had the good fortune to connect with actor Mark Hamill, who of course plays Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars films. He was so enthusiastic in his praise for the maestro, and waxed eloquent in his appreciation for film music generally, that I didn’t want to use simply one or two quotes in the Williams piece. Variety editors agreed, so here is the sidebar story in which Hamill talks about his history with classic film music, and Williams in particular. The New York Post picked it up the next day.
It’s always a treat to interview the legendary John Williams. A few weeks ago he talked with me about scoring The Post for longtime colleague Steven Spielberg; about his eighth Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi; and about his plans for 2018, which include a theme for Solo and a new concert work celebrating the centennial of Leonard Bernstein. I also interviewed Last Jedi director Rian Johnson, actor (and fan) Mark Hamill, and fellow composers David Newman and William Ross, about the iconic composer’s place in movie and music history. The story is in this week’s issue of Variety, including a collection of Oscar trivia related to the composer. In a separate story, I explore the maestro’s first animated short subject (which itself is also Oscar-eligible this year), Dear Basketball, based on the Kobe Bryant poem.
I interviewed composer John Williams recently and happened to ask him about the stand-alone Star Wars movie titled Solo (about the adventures of a pre-Episode IV Han Solo). He confirmed that he would be writing the theme for the film and that John Powell (who had already been announced as the film’s composer) would probably be incorporating it into his overall score for the film. Variety editors thought this scoop was too important to wait for our feature story, still several days away, so we broke the news early Saturday morning. It was repeated and linked-to so often, in so many other contexts around the world, that I’ve begun to wonder if it’s my most-read news story ever. Update: Williams recorded his Solo theme with a Los Angeles orchestra on Wednesday, Jan. 3, according to a musician’s social-media post that included photos from the Sony scoring stage.