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Sunday, 29 December 2013 23:35

Concert review: David Robertson and the symphony share some love for the music of John Williams Friday through Sunday, December 27-29 + Video

David Robertson David Robertson stlsymphony.org
Written by Chuck Lavazzi
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There are undoubtedly conductors who would approach a concert of John Williams film music as something of a necessary evil—the kind of superficial "pops" programming that draws crowds but offers little in the way of artistic value. None of them, however, would be named David Robertson.

Mr. Robertson is not shy about his admiration for composer John Williams's remarkable string of popular, high-profile movie scores. He loves this stuff, and showed it in the careful attention to detail in his interpretations as well as in the enthusiasm with which he introduced each selection from the podium.

Mr. Williams, who will turn 82 in February, is probably the best known and most frequently recorded film music composer of the last 100 years. He's certainly one of the most honored, with five Oscars, four Golden Globes, twenty-one Grammys, seven BAFTA awards, and a raft of platinum records. His most visible work has been for blockbusters like "Jurassic Park", the first three "Harry Potter" films, the "Star Wars" series, and (most recently) the much-acclaimed "Lincoln," but Mr. Williams's involvement with the film music business extends all the way back to his days as a jazz keyboardist and film and TV studio pianist. Remember the piano riff for "Peter Gunn"? That's him. Ditto music for TV shows like "Land of the Giants," "Lost in Space," and "Checkmate."

Over the course of a little over two hours, the orchestra performed selections from "1941," "JFK" (with a stirring solo by Principal Trumpet Karin Bliznik)," the first two "Harry Potter" movies, "E.T.," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "War Horse," "The Terminal" (Klezmer-inflected music distinguished by virtuoso solo clarinet work from Diana Haskell), "Jurassic Park," "Star Wars," and "Superman." The concert opened with the only non-film piece, the familiar "Fanfare the Theme" from the 1994 Olympics. It was a well-balanced program that gave every section of the orchestra a chance to show off and demonstrate once again that this really is an ensemble of outstanding musicians.

That said, the evening did point out the difficulties of adequately presenting music composed for the sound stage in a concert hall. Orchestral details (like the pizzicato strings in the opening of the Olympic fanfare) that can be pumped up in a recording studio become inaudible in a live performance space, where there's no reasonable way to tone down the brass section. Mr. Williams is a colorful orchestrator, but some of that gets lost when you have five trumpets, five horns, four trombones, and a big percussion battery (including what appears to be Mr. Williams's favorite instrument, the glockenspiel) going full tilt.

That's a pretty minor complaint, though. Overall this was very bracing and entertaining stuff, perfect for a holiday weekend.

The SLSO has had quite a public affair with movies and movie music over the years. It continues in 2014 with "Casablanca" (on Valentine's Day weekend, appropriately) and another edition of "Bugs Bunny at the Symphony" a month later. You could say it's a match born out of financial necessity more than love, as these programs nearly always sell out and are probably quite profitable. But if they pull in new audience members, then I'm all for it.

The symphony concludes the year with its annual New Year's Eve extravaganza on Tuesday, December 31st. The regular concert season resumes January 10 and 11 with the first in a series of "Beethoven Festival" concerts, as Andrey Boreyko conducts the Beethoven "Symphony No. 7" along with Nielsen's "Violin Concerto" and Berg's "Ravish and Mayhem." For more information: stlsymphony.org.

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