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Interview: Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter on Her Long Association with Legendary Film Composer John Williams

Interview: Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter on Her Long Association with Legendary Film Composer John Williams

The arts institution head also on why his music continues to endure.

Deborah F. Rutter is the President of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. A post she has held since September 1st, 2014.
Recently, she helped helm several events to help celebrate the 90th birthday of legendary film composer John Williams. Included in the events were a screening of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial with live accompaniment from the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) and a gala 90th birthday concert which featured special guests including Steven Spielberg, Yo-Yo Ma, Anne-Sophie Mutter and more all accompanied by the NSO.

Ms. Rutter has a long association with Maestro Williams so I wanted to ask her a few questions about her friendship with him and also why she thinks his music is so popular with his legions of fans worldwide. I think you will find her responses spot on.

How long was the 90th Birthday Celebration for John Williams been in the planning stages for?
I think I reached out to John and his people in the spring of 2021. John Williams does not schedule as far out as some artists do because of the demands on his time for composing. Fifteen to eighteen months ago, I reached out him and said, we would love to be able to celebrate your birthday here in Washington DC. Could we do it next year? We were delighted when they came back and said, sure. Let's make that the official one. I was like, okay!

How were the events for the festival decided upon?
Everything was done in coordination with John's office. His people who represent and support him are magnificent. I've been working with them for decades. and we had some ideas that we proposed to them. They then came back with their own ideas, and we merged many of them together to come up with what would work at this time. It really was done very collaboratively with them.

I'm told you have a very special connection to John Williams. Can you please tell us about it?
I started out working at the Los Angeles Philharmonic in1978. I got to know John and his music firsthand, living there in Hollywood, as it were, and working at the Hollywood Bowl and working downtown with the LA Philharmonic. John Williams is the most gracious, thoughtful, generous, individual, you could know. I was twenty-two years old when I first worked with him. He makes everybody feel special.
The place that I worked the most with him other than Los Angeles was at the Chicago Symphony, where for many years, we would have him come and conduct a long weekend of concerts.
When he and his team called me to find out if perhaps the Chicago Symphony could record the soundtrack for Lincoln, I couldn't have been more pleased and honored to make those arrangements. I have a beautiful signed dedicated manuscript from him.

Why do think John Williams' music strikes an emotional chord with everyone who hears it?
Certainly, it's the quality of the writing. We often use music as a metaphor for how one expresses how they feel. And he has an uncanny ability to recreate or to create atmosphere. He really goes to the heart of evolvement, whether it's for film or otherwise.

Of all of the scores John Williams has written over the years, what is your favorite?
E.T. is my all-time favorite. I think the story is beautiful. And it is about young people coming of age but more about family relationship connection. The music captures the essence of that. It definitely enhances the film.

Special thanks to Kennedy Center's Vice President of Public Relations Eileen Andrews for her assistance in coordinating this interview.

Photo Credit: L-R Deborah F. Rutter and John Williams.

Photo of Deborah F. Rutter by Jeff Elkins.




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