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.
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.
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.
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.
During the summer and fall of 2012, Universal decided to issue new Blu-Ray editions of two Steven Spielberg classics, Jaws (1975) and E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). To help promote both, they asked me to interview composer John Williams — who won Oscars for each — about his memories of writing those now-iconic themes and scores. It was, as always with John Williams, a pleasure to interview him. We discovered photos from the period, too. The Jaws piece is here; the E.T. reminiscence is here.
BMI asked me to write a piece acknowledging the celebrated film composer’s 80th birthday. Here it is. I drew on interviews that I had done over the previous months, for Classical KUSC and Variety, for some of the quotes.
I’ve written a number of pieces about Giacchino over the years but this was one of my favorites. Another in Variety‘s series of “Billion Dollar Composer” sections, it offered a chance to place his career in a bigger context; the main story recounts his own background and sprinkles in quotes from directors J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird (and adds 10 favorite career moments as chosen by the composer). There are sidebars about scoring video games and theme-park rides, and a really fun piece in which frequent collaborators Abrams, Matt Reeves and Damon Lindelof talk about his contributions to their films and TV shows. Incidentally, here is a 2009 Variety story focused specifically on his music for Lost and my 2011 visit to the scoring stage for Giacchino’s Super 8 (when Steven Spielberg happened to show up).
It was an incredible opportunity: celebrating John Williams’ 70th birthday with a big Sunday piece that would enable me to interview almost everyone important in his life: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas (on the phone from Abbey Road, where he was recording Attack of the Clones), Seiji Ozawa, Andre Previn and others. In addition to the praise from friends, I tried to install something of a historical perspective — where he came from, where he was going — while giving a sense that he was in no way slowing down. I’m very proud of this piece.