John Williams hasn’t performed in the UK for over 20 years. During that time there’s been a Star Wars rebirth, Jurassic World is now a billion dollar box office hit, and there’s probably a Jaws 18.
His legacy is as big as his brass section (not a euphemism) and it’s no surprise that when he announced a one night only affair at the iconic Royal Albert Hall with the London Symphony Orchestra, tickets sold out faster than pumpkin spiced lattes on the first day of autumn.
All was, however, not as it should have been. The man himself fell ill upon landing in London (it’ll do that to a person) and was unable to perform his RAH date. Instead, rather than cancel the show, it went ahead with Williams’s long time friend and colleague Dirk Brossé. Now I shan’t lie – was I disappointed? More than Jeremy Corbyn at Ascot. Did I need to be? Absolutely not.
The show that went ahead was a storming success, with John Williams apparently nestled in his hospital bed listening live on Classic FM. With that in mind, the cheers were thunderous and Brossé was as animated as a chihuahua at dinner time.
Starting with a bang, the orchestra wasted no time in getting to the Star Wars Main Titles – Williams’s most iconic anthem. The concert hall attendees all gripped their seats with force…. I’m not sorry…. and there was a smattering of enthused applause at that first toot of the horn. I won’t bore you with the details of leitmotifs and diminuendo (both signature Williams techniques), this piece speaks for itself.
The setlist of the evening is also very clever, alternating between the icons and the lesser known gems. Excerpts from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind follow Star Wars, clearly staying up in the stars, but just a little closer to Earth. This score has a breath of Jaws about it in places (namely sections of The Escape (Alternate Cue)).
With barely even time for a deep breath, the hall is silenced with Hedwig’s Theme. I wrote in a previous article this week about Harry Potter in much more detail and as I stated there – everyone knows this piece of music. What’s so charming about it is how subtly Williams it is. There’s brass, but quiet brass. There’s strings, but they’re whispering along. With Williams clearly aware of Potter mania we then get 2 more pieces of magical music. Fawkes the Phoenix and Harry’s Wondrous World. Theses pieces show off more of the fun side of this score – with it’s musical jumps back and forth and supporting flute work it can’t help but bring a smile to the face of anyone.
A wonderful feature throughout the evening is when selected members of the LSO stand up to talk about their experience’s of John’s music and how they came to fall in love with the art and the man. From fangirls, to Star Wars super fans, to those who were there from the beginning, it’s a true representation of the diverse and talented orchestra.
Potter is followed by Dracula – you can probably find a fan fiction of that somewhere. And then the final piece before intermission, Adventures on Earth, does what you’d expect – sets all eyes dead front and centre. I first remember hearing this iconic piece on the old E.T. ride at Universal Studios in Florida and being amazed at the atmosphere. I’m sure everyone has their own punch of nostalgia when hearing the tune.
The second half starts in heroic style with Superman March. Visions of tight fitted costumes and arms raised in flight come to mind, and I’m not talking about Brossé’s fitted trousers and outstretched baton (again, not a euphemism). Next, one of Williams’s more recent endeavours, The BFG, is again a surprise to me as I remember watching the film and not knowing who composed it’s score. It’s certainly generally softer than the majority of his other work, but everyone needs their ballads. Imagine Whitney was all I Wanna Dance With Somebody and no I Have Nothing.
The absolute beauty of Theme from Jurassic Park plays next – my personal favourite. This piece just has a feeling of pure joy and scale, and as I listen to the music I can see the scenes from the movie in my head. The brachiosaurus reaching to eat the leaves, the expansive fields of dinosaurs drinking from the lake, Jeff Goldblum’s chest, etc.
The chilling Theme from Schindler’s List plays soon after to a respectfully quiet audience. The atmosphere is almost identical to that of a remembrance service or moment of silence. I remember falling in love with the piece when it was played by Nicola Benedetti at the 2012 Classical BRIT awards, and hearing it live in this way almost brought a tear to my eye. To capture the heartbreak of the subject so elegantly and effortlessly makes this piece, in my opinion, one of Williams’s finest moments.
In a drastic change of mood, The Imperial March is then met with grateful applause as it turns into a true Star Wars medley with Han Solo & The Princess and Throne Room & Finale hot on its tail, the latter of these being the star of the show to me. The piece grasps the feeling of elation but also anticipation of what’s to come. What better way to end the main part of the evening?
Following a standing ovation of supreme proportion, Brossé returns to the stage with a beaming smile and unfinished business. As if an evening of John Williams could be complete without it, the LSO dive straight into the murky water of Jaws – Main Titles – the first unforgettable notes getting a cheeky laugh from the revellers.
After yet more Star Wars (Yoda’s Theme) and yet another standing ovation, we are all treated to a second and final encore. With little surprise and met with huge applause, The Raider’s March is the final treat of the evening. How could it not be?
What Brossé did with this evening is extraordinary. To take the reins from Williams (who people paid 4x the ticket price to see) and come out the other end with the fans adoring him is an astronomical feat that he performed with respect, grace, and ease.
Of course, if Williams does return to London anytime soon, you can find me on the front row.
And I’m sure we will see him soon.
Life finds a way.