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Review: JOHN WILLIAMS 90TH BIRTHDAY GALA CONCERT at Kennedy Center

This event was a one night only engagement in the Concert Hall at Kennedy Center on June 23rd, 2022.

Review: JOHN WILLIAMS 90TH BIRTHDAY GALA CONCERT at Kennedy Center
John Williams conducting the National Symphony Orchestra at his
90th Birthday Gala Concert.
Photo by Scott Suchman.

109 film scores, lots of symphonic music, and the music you hear during the Olympics doesn't even begin to properly describe a true living musical legend like John Williams. His 50 years and 29 film association with Steven Spielberg is the longest relationship in film between a director and a composer.

What better way to celebrate Maestro Williams' 90th birthday than with a sterling sounding concert at the Kennedy Center featuring distinguished guests including Steven Spielberg and Yo-Yo Ma and our very own mighty National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) under the direction of Stéphane Denève.

The festivities started with a montage from films that Williams has scored over the years as accompanied by the "End Credits" from E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. When you think about the range of music John Williams has written, its simply mind blowing.

Review: JOHN WILLIAMS 90TH BIRTHDAY GALA CONCERT at Kennedy Center
Anne-Sophie Mutter. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Among the featured soloists were violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter who Williams first met at Tanglewood. At the time Mutter begged Williams to write a piece for her and literally said "It only needed to be ten bars". The result is the haunting "Markings" which Mutter played along with "Hedwig's Theme" from Harry Potter.

One of the more moving parts of the evening was the short film shown in its entirety that John Williams scored for Kobe Bryant entitled Dear Basketball. Bryant's widow Vanessa said in a filmed message that when her husband decided to make the film about a child's dream of playing basketball, John Williams was his first phone call.

To show you what kind of longtime fan I am of John Williams, I'm the one that watches the Olympics and waits for the commercial breaks so I can hear his music going in and out of things. Don't judge!! I said that because I was extremely happy that Williams' "Olympic Fanfare and Theme" was included in this concert. Along with the mighty NSO there was the added bonus of having the US Army Herald Trumpets play the composition that started what is now almost 40 years of John Williams' music being used as part of the Olympics. The segment was introduced by Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

Review: JOHN WILLIAMS 90TH BIRTHDAY GALA CONCERT at Kennedy Center
Yo-Yo Ma. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Distinguished cellist Yo-Yo Ma has played on two of Williams' soundtracks. They are Seven Years in Tibet and Memoirs of a Geisha. They have also recorded a number of albums together with the latest one being entitled "A Gathering of Friends". Ma played one of Williams' best and subtle compositions from arguably the best movie ever made about the Holocaust. I am of course referring to "Theme from Schindler's List". Ma and Mutter got playful with "The Duel" from The Adventures of Tintin and it was great to see two generations of musicians get together to honor their musical hero.

Review: JOHN WILLIAMS 90TH BIRTHDAY GALA CONCERT at Kennedy Center
Stéphane Denève and the National Symphony Orchestra.
Photo by Scott Suchman.

Stéphane Denève led the NSO through music from Jurassic Park, Star Wars, and more with great energy which fueled the music in every instance.

Being the fan, I am of John Williams' music I would have maybe liked to have seen the concert dig a little deeper into his film catalogue. Yes, I understand that the general audience wants the big action film scores but what about something from The Sugarland Express (first film for Spielberg) or Catch Me if You Can (which is a jazz score) or because we live in DC maybe something from JFK or Lincoln? This is not a complaint but more of just a want to expand on what was already in this fantastic concert.

In his remarks, Steven Spielberg said that he directed the bike in E.T. to fly but John Williams made it soar over the moon. I think that sums up how we feel about this last of the old school film composers. Williams' music captures every emotion and he does so with a huge orchestra. You know, the way things were in the "old days".

I can honestly say that I can now die happy because after a well-deserved long ovation, Maestro Williams conducted "The Imperial March" from Star Wars as the concert's encore. I finally got to see him conduct in person!!

It does not get any better than that folks. This concert was everything you thought it would be and a fitting salute to our musical treasure John Williams.

Running Time: Two hours and twenty minutes with one intermission.

 




From This Author - Elliot Lanes

Elliot Lanes has been working in theatre for over 20 years as a PSM, Sound Designer, Board Op....you get the idea. He has had the pleasure of working with some of DC's finest artists at venues such... (read more about this author)


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