Last week, on Thursday April 7 and Friday April 8, the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra – Bilbao Orkestra Sinfonikoa – BOS under the baton of Erik Nielsen, performed two special concerts at the Euskalduna Palace in Bilbao, Spain, entitled “An evening with John Williams” (read more).
Asier G. Senarriaga attended the concert on Friday, and tells us about it in this exclusive article for SoundTrackFest.
NOTE: At the end of the article you will find photos of the dress rehearsal and the concert.
The Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, the BOS, Bilbao Orkestra Sinfonikoa, as part of the precious ephemeris that celebrates this precise year, its centenary (birthday March 8, 2022), has given to the fans last April 7 and 8, and in the incomparable setting of the Euskalduna Palace in Bilbao (Euskalduna Jauregia in Basque) two monographic concerts devoted entirely to the symphonic magic of one of the greatest composers of our time – if not the greatest – John Williams, who celebrated his ninetieth birthday this past February.
If we talk about a John Williams’ concert, we could say, being from Bilbao as we are in SoundTrackFest, that any repertoire, any choice of content and representation of his career, would have satisfied the devoted fan. But, in this case, these were works that are indelibly imprinted in the collective psyche, works so full of greatness, magic, and iconic cinematographically, that the smile was an obligatory sign in the audience as they took their seats to attend the spell of listening to the music of the Master of Masters live.
With the usual presence at the controls of the BOS of its principal conductor, Erik Nielsen, the program began with an explosion of epicness, Williams’ trademark: his composition for the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996, the apotheosic “Olympic Fanfare”. The preciousness of the melodic transition games between strings, brass, and woodwinds, with the punctual support of the percussion, were played with intense dedication and sincere devotion by the musicians, together with a vibrant direction by Nielsen, who knew how to give clarity to the entrances and exits of the sections with commendable attachment to the composition.
We cannot avoid pointing out that the theme with which the concert began has a curious origin within the body of Williams’ work, since its central theme came from a scene composed for a film that did not end up in the final cut, but for which the Maestro had already created its musical accompaniment. We are talking about a flashback during the time of the Crusades, with the origin of a Templar Knight and his first encounter with the Holy Grail, in none other than ‘Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade’. As this scene made his entrance at the end of the film in Petra lose strength, Spielberg discarded the initial presentation of the character, and Williams ended up creating another melody for the Holy Grail, different, while the initial one was transformed seven years later into the Olympic Fanfare of the Olympic Games in Atlanta.
The magnificence and compositional boast of one of his most impressive periods of inspiration (from 77 to 84), is represented by the Suite of “Excerpts” from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind“, where Williams goes from defining the mystery of alien abductions with a musical suspense of many carats, to a haunting atonality and intelligent orchestration, culminating in an ecstatic sonority of unsurpassed magnificence with the “Five Mythical Notes” of the Final Encounter and the representation of supreme positivism with the musician’s use of the timeless “When You Wish Upon A Star” from Pinocchio (and Walt Disney Productions logo melody since the 1960s). All of this, coupled with its lavish central theme, explodes into unparalleled creative grandiloquence in a spectacular finale that the BOS delivered with crisp and paced clarity, despite the extreme difficulty of the piece.
The concert continued with the obligatory visit to the realm of magic, revisiting Hogwarts and the Harry Potter universe, with Erik Nielsen demonstrating a splendid knowledge of the subtleties of the composition and showing exquisite sensitivity in the transition from the celesta and harp solos to the most intoxicating symphonism of the full orchestra, during the pieces “Hedwig’s Theme”, powerful, scintillating, and of great vivacity, and “Harry’s Wondrous World”, epic, lyrical, and with one of the best final crescendos of the author’s career. Chapeau.
And it is a pity to have to point it out, but from this moment until the intermission, the 3 remaining works, suffered from slight problems at various levels in the interpretation and resolution, which we will mention below.
For a score that is already a legend in the history of film music, and which awarded its author his last Oscar to date, the fifth, “Schindler’s List”, the sumptuous lament of heartbreaking beauty for the victims of the Nazi Holocaust, suffered from a tempo too accelerated in both the conducting and execution of the concertmaster. The piece, the Main Theme, requires a measured and slow tempo, which shells the notes of the pain and suffering of the Jews, through the heartbreaking voice of this instrument. But on this occasion, the notes of the solo were too fast, resulting in a lack of tension that did not let us feel the structure of the melody as it was originally conceived. A pity, although in spite of everything, the composition is so immense that its essence was fortunately not completely diluted.
And it is then that we find ourselves with the piece that, we suspect, could have given the orchestra more problems in rehearsals, “The Lost World Jurassic Park – Main Theme”, because in addition to its extreme intrinsic difficulty, the rhythm changes are so abundant and complex, that I am afraid, the result in the concert, was far from ideal, despite the optimistic commitment of the performers. It should be noted that at times one part of the orchestra seemed to be behind the tempo and the other part ahead of it, but this was corrected for the final explosion of the piece, although this time it lacked the tremendous fierceness of the original conducted by the Maestro.
Then, the unfortunate beginning of the initial horn solo of “Jurassic Park” gave way to the Suite of this unforgettable creation, which remained in balance and concluded nailing practically in its entirety the pieces collected in it. Perhaps more intensity could be missed in the work of the brass section in certain moments, probably somewhat insecure in this piece, but nevertheless they fulfilled and approved the difficult transition between the central theme and the “Journey to the Island” with technique and great work of the conductor, although it must be said that a greater sonorous apotheosis was missing in the conclusion.
And we arrived at the 20-minute intermission, before a second half, in which the interpretation felt more organic, the conducting sharper, and the fit of all the elements more brilliant and dynamic, as we will see below.
It was time to revisit the musical saga par excellence of the seventh art, a one-hour review of the most famous galactic epic in history: Star Wars.
To the legendary “Star Wars – Main Title”, the Bilbao Orkestra Sinfonikoa gave itself with unbridled passion and sincere devotion. The brass sounded inspired, horns and trumpets shone with perfection, the strings illuminated with symphonic colors of adventures in a galaxy far, far, far away, and in the Palacio Euskalduna, we all began to feel like Jedi masters again, with John Williams blazing the trail before us.
The concert version of “Leia’s Theme”, already present in the opening overture, took us back to the magic of being children again, and with the preciousness of woodwinds and violins, cellos and violas in a state of grace, we heard again in our memories the voice of the princess, “Help us, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you are our last hope…”.
The “Scherzo for X-Wings” from Episode VII, The Force Awakens, imbued us with one of the most wonderful and adrenaline-pumping pieces of the sequel trilogy, in a theme that breathes new life into the classic motifs of the Rebel Alliance. A melting pot of epic sonorities and with a marching finale that made the BOS and its director, Erik Nielsen, have a wonderful time, which was essential when it came to transmitting the magic of the music.
From this moment until the end, it can be said that everything was an apotheosis of union between audience and musicians and that the emotional vibration of the music was enhanced by the measured and lavish work of a BOS, now accelerating towards greatness.
Lord Vader arrived on stage, and “The Imperial March” began to bring out the shivers of emotion and goose bumps among the audience, and well deserved, if we add to the extraordinary masterpiece of Williams the portentous interpretation that they gave us tonight in Bilbao.
The sonorous intensity made us take the controls of the weapons, because next was “Here They Come”, and although the tempo of the piece surpassed the original, to be honest, if a piece can be forgiven for not respecting the canon, it is this one. An overwhelming rendition of a growing sense of wonder in which the whole orchestra has its reward; there is a moment of brilliance for each performer, and their union makes up one of those pieces that are not history, but legend.
The lyrical preciosity and the sensitive interpretation of the winds made us reach high levels of emotion as we remembered again “Luke and Leia” in Endor, at the moment in which a revelation was going to destabilize the galaxy forever. Sensational.
And after the emotional pause, the stratospheric action returned with the Concert Version of the track “The Battle of Endor”, re-orchestrated in its day by the Maestro for concert halls under the title “The Forest Battle”. Sumptuous collection of motifs, the Ewoks, Endor, the Empire, The Rebel Alliance, in a grandiloquent and exciting symphonic tour de force, with a mastery of Nielsen at the controls that showed off every detail of the original score, every orchestral color, and every entrance, with alacrity, sapience, and enormous vibration. Enjoyable final sound explosion to top it all off, 10 points!
The knowledge of 1,000 years and the mastery of The Force then took over the Euskalduna with “Yoda’s Theme” and again the audience shuddered. The sensitivity of this immortal piece was interpreted with great detail and a relaxed and perfect tempo, because we all know that, “ Do. Or do not. There is no try…”.
And the culmination, the celebration of the victory of good over evil, of light over darkness, at least for the moment, exploded in the solemnity and lavishness made music of “The Throne Room & End Titles”, and what can we say when in a Suite we have the most heraldic version of the Force Theme, Luke’s theme, Leia’s theme, the rebel fanfare, and the end credits that changed the course of film music 45 years ago. Well, one can only say thank you Mr. Williams for your unforgettable music, and thank you BOS for the impeccable interpretation of it in this finale to remember.
But as they said in the cartoons years ago, “don’t leave yet, there’s still more”, and after the final ovation, Nielsen returned for an encore, and this could be none other than “E.T. The Extraterrestrial”, and the concert arrangement “Flying”.
Picking up the magic of E.T. to make Elliot and his friend’s bicycles fly and escape from the U.S. government, the BOS gave us a funny detail, which me shed two tears of emotion when attending its execution. While the central theme exploded in symphonic arabesques of extraordinary beauty, a good part of the string/viola section began to pedal in the air from their chairs, while they played without missing a beat in time, pushing Elliot on his journey with E.T. and making those bicycles fly even higher than they had ever flown before. Thank you! It was wonderful, and the goose bumps and appreciation from the audience closed the concert and the night with a thunderous ovation.
May we meet again here, and let’s hope that, in a very short time, we can talk about a new film music concert in Bilbao, but in the meantime…
“May the Force be with Us,
Article by Asier G. Senarriaga
Pictures by Gorka Oteiza
PICTURES - Dress Rehearsal - 2022-04-07
PICTURES - Concerts - 2022-04-07 y 08