The Franz Schubert Fhilharmonia orchestra conducted by Tomàs Grau, performed a few weeks ago 3 concerts entitled ‘Harry Potter, Star Wars, Indiana Jones and more… The Best Soundtracks by John Williams’. (read more)
Our colleague and collaborator Coque Cano attended the concert held on Monday, June 6, at the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona, and leaves us this exclusive summary article for SoundTrackFest.
Within this season 2021-22 of the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona, we are having the immense luck that the Franz Schubert Philharmonia (FSF) is including in its repertoire, and already more or less regularly, several concerts dedicated to film music.
Today it is time to talk about the latest of these, which took place on Monday, June 6th (a public holiday in Barcelona) at 7:00 pm, dedicated to the work of John Williams and entitled “Les millors Bso de John Williams” (“The Best Soundtracks by John Williams”). This new commitment to the genius from New York was justified by the 20th anniversary of the premiere of the first Harry Potter film, the character that opened and closed the official program, but also by the anniversary of the composer’s 90th birthday, which he celebrated last February.
In any case, any excuse is a good one to offer the music of the maestro, and even more so if once again the FSF proved to reach a high level of excellence and to be absolutely perfect to interpret it, full as it is of young musicians who grew up with melodies that are authentic generational references, and also (and in this Williams is unique in history), of several different consecutive generations: Jaws, Superman or Star Wars in the 70s, Indiana Jones or ET in the 80s, Jurassic Park, Home Alone or Hook in the 90s, or Harry Potter (and more Star Wars) from the 2000s onwards. And that is what the concert was in essence, with unavoidable pieces that are part of our collective memory.
Needless to say that the Palau was almost full, in an evening that was brilliant at the interpretative level, and sublime at the musical level (as much as we have heard them hundreds of times, we never tire of listening to the maestro’s hits), and effervescent at the level of the audience, which did not hesitate to reward the orchestra with continuous ovations that extended the concert to an hour and forty-five minutes, including up to three encores.
Special mention should be made of conductor Tomàs Grau, the FSF‘s current principal conductor, born in Barcelona in 1979 and therefore also a son of one of those generations imbued with Williams’ music, for which he showed great sensitivity and true passion, with some slight personal touches (especially in some tempos or in the typical transitions so usual of the composer).
Let’s say that his style has its points in common, but at the same time clear differences from that of Marc Timón, who conducted the same orchestra in last year’s concert entitled “John Williams forever” (read special article) (by the way, Marc was present in the audience as one more fan after his jump to pop music with his great album “Amalia” – read more), being this one much more mimetic with the ‘Williamsian’ modes, but both achieving great interpretations of the FSF.
Well, the concert began chaining six of the reference themes in the work of John Williams, an emotional and interpretive tour de force that obviously delighted the audience and demonstrated the timeless evocative and iconic power of his compositions for film.
The first was the “Hedwig’s theme” from Harry Potter, which although it was initially intended for the character of the protagonist’s owl, it is the reference theme of the saga, and has been of obligatory use in all the sequels of the initial series whoever the composer was, and even now by James Newton Howard for his saga-prequel of “Fantastic Beasts”.
Great staging that had its continuation with the “Main Title” of Star Wars, which of course sounded glorious and drew a resounding applause from an audience that was already rubbing their hands with a repertoire full of greatest hits.
Then, another of the best-known themes in history, the two-headed “Raiders March” from Indiana Jones, which as we know was the result of joining two of the proposals that Williams made to Spielberg as a theme for the hero. Tomàs Grau gave his personal touch with a somewhat slower than usual start, to gradually increase the tempo, leaving a very good taste in the audience.
After the adventurous enthusiasm came the aquatic terror with the theme of “Jaws”, in the lately much-used concert version entitled “The shark theme”, instead of the longer suite “Out to sea / the shark cage fugue” that Williams himself usually plays when conducting.
With no time to breathe, the program continued with another of the maestro’s highlights, nothing less than the “Flying theme” from E.T., in an interpretation full of magic, sweetness, and emotion. In short, what was required for a piece that needs no introduction, with special mention to the strings and flutes, great here and throughout the evening.
To end this sextet of ‘greatest hits’ of the composer, the “Jurassic Park: Theme”, a piece that, along with the “Hedwig’s theme” from Harry Potter, has grown in popularity in Williams’ career in recent years, especially because of the impact and influence that everything related to the Jurassic saga has had since its inception in 1993, whose latest installment has just been released. In fact, it is not simply the main theme of the film initiated by that impressive horn solo (very complicated and very committed for the main performer of that instrument, who practically nailed it), but it is also composed as a suite with the theme of the park of obvious fanfare character, and that altogether was one of the pieces that generated greater enthusiasm, something that could be clearly seen at the end of the concert.
After this almost exhaustive review of the most famous pieces of his career (only Superman was missing, or in a second step of popularity “Schindler’s List” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”), came the only surprise of a program perhaps too full of clichés. We are talking about the “Anakin’s theme” written for the little Anakin Skywalker of “The Phantom Menace” who would end up becoming the fearsome Darth Vader in the prequels of the second galactic trilogy directed by George Lucas. A melodic theme of innocent air that, however, incorporates notes of the imperial march, which would eventually become the theme par excellence of Vader, in another example of the narrative talent of John Williams. It does not usually appear in the repertoires dedicated to the maestro, so it was one of the pleasant news of a program that we did not know until that same afternoon.
Next came one of the composer’s most successful compositions and one that in recent years is being more vindicated, even by himself in his most recent concerts (without going any further, it opened the historic Vienna concert – read more). The theme “The flight to Neverland” and by extension the entire score of “Hook” remained somewhat out of the spotlight in Williams’ career, probably due to the incorrect perception that the film was a failure even on a commercial level, when again we are facing a product that over the years has shown a remarkable generational impact. In any case, a memorable composition, and one that once again demonstrated the quality of FSF and its conductor.
The second saga repeated after Star Wars was Indiana Jones, with that wonderful and playful scherzo Williams composed for the third installment of the archaeologist “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. This new version of the “Scherzo for motorcycle and Orchestra” that, if I’m not mistaken, Williams premiered in his no less historic Berlin concert (read more), was one of those that made the orchestra shine the most and demonstrated that we are in front of a composer who has best described musically the action scenes, incorporating here sensational funny elements.
Star Wars still had a third moment during the afternoon, with the following interpretation (it was not a suite, hence part of the audience applauded extemporaneously) of the emotional and solemn “Yoda’s theme” composed for “The Empire Strikes Back”, ideal for a conductor of the sensitivity like Tomàs Grau, and the pompous (in the good and musical sense of the word) “Throne room & End title” composed for the triumphant finale of “Star Wars” (for many of us, now known as “A New Hope”). Beyond the excellences of both pieces, I would comment as a negative point that, given that the “End title” of Star Wars is so similar to the “Main title” already performed in the concert, it could have been an opportunity to omit one of them and leave room for another work of the composer.
And to end the program, we returned to the ‘Potterian’ universe with another concatenation of two very different themes of the saga. The first was the reinterpretation for winds of the theme written for the protagonist wizard’s broom called “Nimbus 2000” that John Williams is incorporating to his concert repertoire. A virtuoso exercise in style with constant conversations between the woodwind instruments, which this section of the FSF nailed. The second, the epilogue of “The Philosopher’s Stone”, entitled “Harry’s Wondrous World”, a lavish and very emotional musical finale to the first chapter of the saga.
The applause, as happened throughout the evening, was very grateful, to the point that the conductor was asked to extend the concert with three encores that left the feeling of great success.
The first encore was easy to guess, because as we have already mentioned on other occasions, the perfect finale for any concert by the composer is the “Imperial March”, a powerful and martial piece that rivals in popularity with the very same main theme of Star Wars, and that lately surprises by its absence in the first chapters of the recently released Disney + series dedicated to the character of Obi Wan Kenobi and his confrontation with Lord Vader. Surely it was impossible due to an issue of rights and availability of the score, but it would have been incredible if the new theme for Obi Wan had been interpreted, Williams’ latest creation of elegiac character and, as always in the maestro, with a great version ideal for concert. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future there will be the possibility.
The second encore, which was probably planned if the audience demanded more, as was obviously the case, wanted to close the circle again for the twentieth anniversary of Harry Potter, so the “Hedwig’s theme” was played again, in what should have been the definitive closing of the concert.
But, despite some absent-minded who already left the room, the audience still wanted more and after a couple of minutes of applause and standing ovations to each and every one of the musicians of the FSF separately (in a sign of enormous respect by the conductor with the orchestra), Tomàs Grau addressed the audience explaining that he would have liked to incorporate music of the maestro that unfortunately had been left out (he spoke of “Memoirs of a Geisha”, “Saving Private Ryan”, “Superman”, “Home Alone” and “Close Encounters of the Third Phase”), but that they had no plans for a third encore, so, in a very funny way, he left the audience the decision to reinterpret some of the pieces of the concert.
Curiously, the conductor himself even hinted that it could be E.T. and, if I remember correctly, “Jaws”, to which someone from the stalls shouted: “Jurassic Park!!!!”, which brought general applause that ended up choosing this piece by popular desire. It was neither the shortest nor the easiest, and even less after more than an hour and a half of concert, but the orchestra gave it’s best to close the evening in style. That is the power of John Williams’ music, which filled the evening with illusion and magic in Barcelona.
Article and pictures by Coque Cano