On Sunday, the American Youth Symphony — widely considered the finest young, pre-professional orchestra in the country — played John Williams’ complete score for E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, live to picture at UCLA’s Royce Hall. It was only the third time ever in Los Angeles (Williams himself conducted it at the Shrine Auditorium in 2002, David Newman conducted the L.A. Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl in 2015). Prior to the concert, I conducted a fun Q&A with two musicians who actually played on the original 1982 recording sessions: David Newman, then a violinist on his way to becoming an Oscar-nominated composer and one of the world’s finest conductors of film music in the concert hall; and Ralph Grierson, a top studio pianist who performed the difficult but beautiful end-title solo. Joining us was Katie Kirkpatrick, whose mentor Dorothy Remsen played the magical harp solos in the original; who played that part for Newman at the Bowl in 2015; and who inherited Remsen’s harp, named it “Dottie” and still plays it today. Here is a rundown of the concert and the honorees dinner that followed.
The annual John Williams concerts at the Hollywood Bowl are always cause for celebration, and they remain as popular as ever, generally selling out three consecutive nights on a late-summer weekend. But this year offered a surprise: Williams conducted, live-to-picture, his score for the animated short Dear Basketball, based on Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant’s farewell poem to his beloved sport, narrated in person by Bryant himself. I contributed the program notes, as I often do for this concert (co-conducted by David Newman), but this year I also had the opportunity to preview the Dear Basketball premiere (including a new interview with director-animator Glen Keane), and I wrote about the concerts afterward.
It isn’t often that I go after a “scoop” — what we print journalists used to call getting to a hot story first. But when I heard that John Williams would not be scoring both of the Steven Spielberg films currently in production (The Papers and Ready Player One), I thought it was worth the effort. So we at Variety were the first to report that Williams will score The Papers, the Pentagon Papers story, and that Alan Silvestri (perhaps best known for such classics as Back to the Future and Forrest Gump) will be doing the sci-fi film Ready Player One. Silvestri is well known to Spielberg, who has produced a number of Robert Zemeckis films that he has scored over the years.
The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts is a relatively new theater in the heart of Beverly Hills. The family of the late, Oscar-winning composer Henry Mancini assembled an incredible lineup of talent as a fundraiser for the nonprofit organization on Saturday, April 1, and we were thrilled to be invited to cover it for Variety. The event, which featured Julie Andrews, John Williams, Quincy Jones, Kristin Chenoweth and many other stars, was a memorable concert of Mancini’s greatest hits, from Peter Gunn to The Pink Panther, “Moon River” to “Days of Wine and Roses” and more. Here is my story for Variety‘s online news page.
I am delighted to report that composer John Williams and director Steven Spielberg asked me to pen the notes for the third volume in their Sony Classical series of “Spielberg-Williams Collaboration” albums, released today (March 17, 2017). It’s a newly recorded collection of themes and suites from their past two decades of filmmaking, eight of which were nominated for Best Original Score at the Academy Awards (including such masterworks as Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, Munich, War Horse and Lincoln). And when Sony Classical decided to make it a 3-CD package — including the two earlier albums — they then requested a new introduction to all three discs. It was an honor to be chosen and I hope that my words will help to illuminate just how special this 43-year collaboration has been, both for film and in American music.
For one of its awards-related special end-of-year issues, Variety asked me to inquire of this year’s crop of potential score honorees about the challenges they face in a changing environment for composers in film. It was an interesting assignment, and I asked Johann Johannsson (Arrival), James Newton Howard (Fantastic Beasts), John Debney (The Jungle Book), Nicholas Britell (Moonlight), Alan Silvestri (Allied) and John Williams (The BFG) about time to compose, budgets, temp tracks, synth mockups and the controversial new practice of “striping” (recording different sections of the orchestra separately from one another).
The first of my four stories in a special edition of this week’s Variety deals with fantasy-film scores, specifically The BFG by John Williams and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by James Newton Howard. Both composers gave me time on the phone last month, Williams before he dove back into the Star Wars universe — he begins recording in a matter of weeks — and Howard prior to leaving for an extended stay in Europe. These are two of the finest orchestral scores of the year and, in this story, we delve into the details and the approaches to two very different fantasy tales (one by Roald Dahl, whom Williams knew, and one by J.K. Rowling herself).
John Williams conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic during three weekend concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. It was, as always, hugely entertaining, with the maestro doing considerable Star Wars music and introducing a new suite of music from The BFG. Then in just a few days, he’ll be honored on Turner Classic Movies with a night of his movies plus two terrific American Film Institute specials: a commercial-free version of the Life Achievement Award dinner from earlier this year, and his conversation with Steven Spielberg that first aired in 2011. Here is a look at both events.
I was lucky enough to attend composer John Williams’ 1992 re-recordings of his Olympics music, including his classic 1984 “Olympic Fanfare and Theme,” which prompted me to write this July 1992 piece for TV Update. (At the time, I was writing a nationally syndicated column about television.) I happened to stumble across the original piece this morning and thought you might like to see it. It predates, of course, his third and fourth Olympic themes (“Summon the Heroes” and “Call of the Champions”), which I’ve written about elsewhere. But it’s nice to be reminded of the composer’s original thoughts about creating these pieces, which are now an indelible part of the Olympics experience.
Tonight, John Williams becomes the first composer to receive the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award in the 44-year history of the honor. In connection with the event, Variety asked me to interview the five-time Oscar winner about composing such iconic themes as Star Wars, Jaws, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman and Harry Potter — as well as what’s next for him in an already distinguished 60-year career. It was also an opportunity to inquire of conductor Gustavo Dudamel, producer Kathleen Kennedy and AFI president Bob Gazzale about their thoughts on working with a Hollywood legend — and a chance for me to outline (in a short sidebar) some key career highlights.