A force awakens

Dayton Philharmonic presents ‘The Best of John Williams’

By Gary Spencer

Photo: Mark Hamill, Luke Skywalker, from the ‘Star Wars’ series, set to a classic score by John Williams; photo: Rob Bogaerts, Dutch National Archives

Oftentimes, one of the most overlooked parts to the success of a motion picture is the score. While it may seem to be a second tier element of a film—or to some viewers, arbitrary—a great, well-thought score or soundtrack can subtly yet strongly influence the viewer’s feelings when a character appears on-screen or at a given moment in the story.

“For most movies, if you strip out the soundtrack, the movie won’t work,” says Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra Artistic Director and Conductor Neal Gittleman. “Good movie music is absolutely essential to the emotional impact of a film.”

After the advent of the silent film in the early 1900s and through the modern millennium, score composers remain mostly unsung heroes of the movie business. However, one exception is John Williams, arguably the best-known movie score composer of all time. Williams has composed music for some of the biggest box office hits of the last fifty years, including “Jaws,” “Superman,” “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial,” “Schindler’s List,” the first three “Harry Potter” films, the “Indiana Jones” series, and, most famously, the “Star Wars” saga. His work has earned him five Academy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards, and 23 Grammy Awards. In tribute to Williams’ legacy, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra will perform a program entitled ‘The Best of John Williams,’ part of its Superpops series, this weekend.

“I think it’s a wonderful program concept,” says DPO concertmaster and violinist Jessica Hung. “Thanks to beloved and iconic film franchises like ‘Star Wars’ and, more recently, ‘Harry Potter,’ John Williams’ music has become immersed in the modern American cultural consciousness in a way that even the most popular European classical composers have not.”

While some may argue that Williams isn’t an orchestral innovator, he has taken cues from legendary composers and quietly brought them into the human consciousness through film. Perhaps one of Williams’ biggest hallmarks is his use of the “leitmotif,” an invention commonly accredited to German composer Richard Wagner. The leitmotif is usually a short, catchy melody conjured in reference to, or in direct appearance with, a particular character or major event in a film, and Williams’ soundtrack scores boast a plethora of such occurrences.

“John Williams remains the original master of this motif-crafting for film music, for example in ‘The Imperial March,’ Darth Vader’s menacing theme for the horns,” Hung explains. “His music also captures the mood of different films from the heroism of ‘Indiana Jones’ to the pathos of ‘Schindler’s List.’”

With such a grand mass of music and themes to Williams’ credit, one might believe that it would be difficult to put together a two-and-a-half hour program that aptly surveys the music of  Williams. But according to Gittleman, the composer’s vast body of outstanding work made the assembly process pretty painless with the criteria he had in mind—with the occasional exception.

“There’s no problem coming up with pieces to play—there are tons of them, and they’re all good,” he says. “We want to feature the familiar stuff that everyone knows and loves, but also sneak in a few rarities. One tune that took some digging is his theme music for the old ‘Lost In Space’ TV show, but I found a recording that had been done by a Czech Orchestra.  Eric Knorr, our orchestra librarian, sent off an email to Prague and we ended up with a set of parts!”

Despite incorporating some of Williams’ more obscure works, the DPO is betting the program will entice new patrons who otherwise might not consider frequenting one of its performances.

“I think that this concert holds strong appeal for both our loyal season subscribers as well as less frequent concertgoers,” Hung says. “John Williams is a household name, and the film music being featured including classics like ‘E.T.’ and ‘Jurassic Park,’ up through newer music from ‘Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens,’ is irresistibly epic and entertaining. We’re doing very well with single ticket sales, and this is projected to be a sold-out show!”

Gittleman concurs that ‘The Best of John Williams’ is an ideal gateway for new audiences to discover the magic of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra.

“It’s a great introduction because it shows just how great and impressive-sounding the orchestra is,” he says. “A lot of the music is familiar and accessible, even to someone who thinks that classical music is too stuffy…so a show like this one is the kind of home run we like to have on the season. There will be some surprises, so come to the show and they’ll be revealed then!”

The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra performs ‘The Best of John Williams’ at 8 p.m. Friday, April 7 and Saturday, April 8 at the Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St. in downtown Dayton. Tickets are $34–84. A third performance is scheduled at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 9 at Hobart Arena, 255 Adams St. in Troy. Tickets are $12.50-50. For tickets or more information, please call 937.228.3630 or visit DaytonPerformingArts.org.  


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Gary Spencer
Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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