Williams awe

Cinematic (Queensland Symphony Orchestra)

QPAC, Concert Hall

April 29 – 30

As the listening guide for 2022’s “Cinematic” QSO concert reminds us, John Williams is the most prolific film composer of our time, with a career spanning five decades and including receipt of five Oscars, four Golden Globes, seven BAFTAs and 25 Grammys. Given how Williams’ lush orchestral writing and masterful creation of character motifs craft musical landscapes that not only match the magic of onscreen worlds but enhances them, there is much to celebrated from within his expansive body of work and his 90th birthday year represents the perfect opportunity for Queensland Symphony Orchestra to devote its annual “Cinematic” concert to a journey through his career.  

Of course, mention of John Williams, brings immediate association with the most immortal of all 20th century film music, however, it is not until concert’s end that the full fanfare force of the orchestra brings us the brass-fuelled Main Title from “Star Wars”. And appropriately for an epic score that so changed film music, we are treated to a number of its pieces, the touching romance of “Princess Leia’s Theme”, with melodic upper string and French horn sounds, the chaotic action of ‘The Asteroid Field’ sequence and, in encore under the baton lightsabre conductor and host Nicholas Buc, its equally iconic ‘The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)’ that features as a blaring musical theme throughout the franchise, plus the jaunty quirk of the “Cantina Theme”.

Williams’ legendary legacy is one of narrative and thematic diversity, which allows the orchestra to showcase its versatility. The usually serene strings section packs a punch with their rapidity of their controlled in-unison frenzy during the primal theme from “Jaws”. Indeed, from its opening foreboding tone of simple alternative notes, the ominous number grinds away with a feeling of suspense, making the orchestra’s share of its layers one of the evening’s highlights. Meanwhile, the strings swirl us through the delicate magic of the leaping note complexity within ‘Hedwig’s Flight’ of Harry Potter fame. Slowing this right down, ‘Theme from Three Pieces” from 1993’s “Schindler’s List” presents a palpable poignancy when concertmaster Princess Leia Natsuko Yoshimoto takes centre stage in exquisite share of the sombre and sorrowful piece’s difficulties. Respectful of its raw emotions, it is a sensitive rendition that captivates the audience.

Along with classics like the ‘Flying Theme’ from “E.T” that sweeps us into interval, the concert celebrates smaller and lesser known Williams works like the lightly touching “Viktor’s Tale” from 2004’s “The Terminal”, featuring a charmingly warm and friendly clarinet solo from principal clarinettist Irit Silver and the rousing ‘March’ from the comedy “1941”, full of brassy energy and ceremonial pomp. There is also the rarely-heard-live ‘Parade of the Slave Children’ from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”, the second outing of the famed archaeologist and adventurer. As always, lighting enlivens experience of the Concert Hall, painting a mottled pallet of forest greens in accompaniment of the theme from “Jurassic Park” and luring the audience into the eerie awe and discord of the slow sci-fi burn of excerpts from 1977’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, including its iconic five-tone motif representation of first contact.

As a tribute to the master of movie music, 2022’s “Cinematic” is a Queensland Symphony Orchestra show of many highlights, starting with its opening heroic strands of ‘Superman March’. The nostalgic reminder of 1978’s “Superman” film starring Christopher Reeve is big, bold and elaborate and provides not only an opening spectacle. but an apt illustration of the varied character of Williams’ works and the versatility of the state’s symphony orchestra in realisation of them, given how we are then moved into the film’s beautiful ‘Love Theme’, full of swirling harps and bells. As its plentiful key changes take us on a tour of the orchestra, it is all quite romantic, or at least as romantic as it can be it comes with visual of a T-Rex on double bass.

As with previous “Cinematic” shows, the costumed orchestra only adds to the excitement of the family-friendly event, with Caribbean pirates, Star Wars pilots, Harry Potters and even Chewbacca making appearance, especially to the delight of younger audience members. It makes it easy to appreciate the annual concert’s position as a QSO flagship for lovers of movie soundtracks. In this instance, its bring to life of the music of John Williams’ master craftsmanship not only allows audiences to listen in awe at this ability to weave theme into orchestration, but also serves as a reminder of the celebrated partnerships with directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, for example, that have characterised his esteemed career.

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