Concert ‘Tribute to John Williams – Part 2’ – Summary
The Orquestra Simfònica del Vallès conducted by Rubén Gimeno recently performed three concerts at the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona, entitled ‘Tribute to John Williams – Part 2’ (read more).
Our colleague & collaborator Coque Cano, attended the concert on 8 January 2023, and leaves us this detailed summary of it.
Tribute to John Williams (2nd Par) – OSV & Ruben Gimeno
Concerts dedicated to John Williams are regularly scheduled throughout the country, making it possible to listen to his music live in an easy and close way for all kinds of audiences. Sometimes they are exclusive of his music, sometimes his music serves as a bait, interpreting a part with pieces of his own and adding works by composers of the most diverse, and even, in a format that is beginning to be quite common, through a face to face with some other iconic film composer (he is usually “confronted”, with better or worse fortune, with Ennio Morricone or Hans Zimmer). Various formats that, obviously, are not always successful (especially for the selection of music), and that for the advanced fan may even be strange or of little interest.
This is not the case of the concert of this article, a more than interesting concert because of the different nature of the proposal: a double concert reviewing the work of the New York maestro, with images of his films (so far something normal), but with the differential element of having a narrator to present each piece, almost as if it were a movie trailer. And not just any narrator, but the great Salvador Vidal, a renowned Spanish dubbing actor who has lent his voice to actors such as Liam Neeson, John Travolta, Richard Gere, Michael Douglas, George Clooney, Mel Gibson, or Harrison Ford.
This columnist attended the second of the two concerts launched under this new format, which had three dates during last Christmas (Sunday 18/12/22, Monday 19/12/22 and Sunday 8/01/23), all three in the wonderful Palau de la Música Catalana, performed by the Orquesta Simfònica del Vallès and conducted by Rubén Gimeno. As a side note, the first part of this well-deserved tribute to Williams was performed a year ago, with the same protagonists and on the same stage, but with a completely different program, in which pieces such as “Summon the heroes” (Atlanta ’96 Olympics), “A prayer for peace” from the film Munich, and themes from other hits by the composer, such as Jaws, The Patriot, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, 1941, Schindler’s List, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Star Wars were performed. (read more-1 and read more-2)
Since I did not attend that concert, I must refrain from commenting on it, other than to highlight the possibility of listening to less usual gems in concert such as “The patriot” and especially “1941”, although, having seen the second part, I am convinced that it was a good show.
Focusing on the concert at hand, entitled “Homenatge a John Williams (2ª Part)”, only two films were repeated from the first part (Schindler’s List and Star Wars), and the missing hits (Superman, E.T. and Indiana Jones) were included. Here too there were pleasant surprises, as there is not usually the opportunity to hear live the overture to “The Cowboys”, nor the solemn “With malice toward none” from “Lincoln”. I would almost say that just for that and for the quality of the orchestra, it would be worth the ticket.
The concert began, as in the first part of the previous year, with an Olympic fanfare, in this case the most famous of those composed by John Williams (an expert in the field), that of Los Angeles 1984, which served as an introduction to the life and work of the maestro, with a first locution by Salvador Vidal according to the greatness of the character, with the sustained notes in the background and the giant screen concatenating images of the composer and several of the films for which he has worked. All very appropriate and motivating, if it were not for a mistake that should not be overlooked (even though its origin would later become evident), such as the inclusion of an image from the film “Scent of a Woman”, whose score was composed by Thomas Newman. The music sounded impeccable, but this kind of details must be taken care of and avoid giving wrong information to the audience.
The first cinematographic piece after this introduction was the aforementioned work from the film dedicated to Abraham Lincoln, a biopic directed by the filmmaker with whom Williams has always maintained more than a close collaboration: Steven Spielberg. It is not usually mentioned when talking about the composer, but this is a superb score that does justice to the historical figure of the American president, and it was especially patriotic to listen to it with the narration by Vidal. It is true that he did not dub Daniel Day Lewis in the Spanish version of his Oscar-winning performance (his “official” dubber was Jordi Brau), but he did dub Michael Douglas in “The President and Miss Wade”, a film full of speeches with Aaron Sorkin’s stamp very similar to those heard in the concert, so it could not have been more accurate.
It was a great moment and a demonstration that this format, with actors of this importance, has a long way to go.
From the solemnity of “Lincoln” we jumped to the fantasy of “Hook”, with the theme “Flight to Neverland”, included by Williams himself in almost all his concerts, one of the high points of the second part of his career, and which always tests the orchestras for its rhythm and expressive force (without going any further, the La Scala Philharmonic in the recent concert in Milan did not quite get the hang of it). No great show, but the Simfònica del Vallès defended it very well, helped by the narrative interludes of Vidal, who here introduced in a very mischievous way a famous passage from Peter Pan to get the audience to follow Williams’ score with their clapping (“do you believe in fairies? if you do, clap your hands, don’t let Tinkerbell die”). Great.
And after this lively and cheerful theme, pulse rate was lowered to receive the elegiac gravity of “Hymn to the fallen” from “Saving Private Ryan”, an emotional swing that was only broken at the end of the concert, where the adventurous and more familiar spirit of the maestro ended up taking over the program. The absence of choirs detracted somewhat from the strength of the piece, but this point of gravity was counterbalanced by a great work of percussion and brass, as well as the voice actor’s speech, which reminded us of the greatness of a film that has become a classic of war cinema since its release.
Then came what for me was a big mistake in an event of this kind. If a concert dedicated to the work of a composer is programmed, it cannot be introduced or brought up in a forced way a piece that has nothing in common with his style, no matter how much Williams was the arranger and conductor for a new version. No matter the popularity of the work, its musical category, and even the quality of the interpretation (which we do not doubt and which was fulfilled in all three cases), but it is inappropriate. And furthermore, it led to that first error mentioned above, whereby a still from a film on which the composer has not worked was included in the visual review of his work.
Thus, the well-known tango “Por una cabeza” by Carlos Gardel was programmed, which has been used in many films of the most varied type, being perhaps its most memorable moment, precisely, the dance between Al Pacino and Gabrielle Anwar in “Scent of a Woman (1992)”. But John Williams did not work as an arranger in that film (as was erroneously implied in the concert program) and the version he arranged to be interpreted by Itzhak Perlman, appeared later in a great album entitled “Cinema Serenade”, released in 1997. This album included versions of several famous themes heard in the cinema, among them this tango referred to the aforementioned film that brought the Oscar to Pacino, a reference that is curious, since Williams himself used this same tango in a diegetic way for a scene of “Schindler’s List” (something that Salvador Vidal remarked when presenting the work).
In any case, a strange piece to the compositional work of the maestro and that, apart from the magnificent interpretation of the violin soloist, led to the appearance of stills from many of the films in which this tango has made an appearance, which only distorted the monographic tribute tone of the concert.
Williams resumed command with one of the great works of his extensive career, Superman, whose triumphal march was conducted with good taste by Rubén Gimeno, who showed a very academic character throughout the concert, without excesses, but controlling the tone of each piece. As a curious note, and even at the risk of seeming nitpicky, the compilation of images from Richard Donner’s film ended with the shield of Zach Snyder’s Superman.
It was time for the most prestigious work in the career of the Williams/Spielberg tandem, for which both won the Oscar as composer and director respectively and the film won the best film of the year. Violinist Marta Cardona was again perfect in the interpretation of the “Schindler’s list theme”, something we were assured of after having nailed it in the concert conducted in 2021 by Marc Timón with the same OSV entitled “John Williams forever” (read article). What we did not have the opportunity to hear was Liam Neeson’s (sorry, Salvador Vidal’s) Oscar Schindler’s moving speech lamenting for not having been able to save more Jews from the Nazi extermination, and ending with the Hebrew proverb “who saves one life, saves the whole world“. Another of those great moments that are well worth the ticket.
As happened with the next moment, which was none other than the interpretation (yes, with the actor’s narrative interludes), of the majestic score for the western “The cowboys”, and also doing so with its extensive, epic and “Coplandian” Overture, a work that deserves all the vindications and is as canonical of the genre as it is very typical of its author. I would say that it was the best performance of the concert, with an OSV fully imbued with the overwhelming spirit of the piece and with Salvador Vidal reciting what he called the cowboy prayer, emulating the great John Wayne, whose image filled the screen behind the orchestra.
The concert reached its final stretch with two other major works by the New York genius: E.T. and Star Wars. The first with the “Flying theme”, which always manages to levitate the audience and that the OSV managed to bring to fruition (Vidal recovered the Tinkerbell monologue taking advantage of the scene of Elliot’s mother reading the work of J. M. Barrie, and the audience clapped again), and the second with the “Throne Room & end title”, in which there was a strange beginning of the final credits, which did not correctly link the pomp and circumstance with the fanfare of the saga and in which the orchestra seemed somewhat out of step, something that probably went unnoticed to a Palau de la Música that applauded wildly, especially after the end of Vidal’s narration with a “may the strength of music always accompany you in your life…Happy New Year! “.
This ended the official program of the concert, but it was clear that something was missing. And that something was not in the first part of the tribute, nor was it in the program of this second part, and it is one of the most popular works of Williams, for what is probably the most famous character of adventure films and in which the actor who plays him has been dubbed in Spain precisely by… Salvador Vidal. Everything foresaw that this very special concert would end with our favorite archaeologist and so it was. Rubén Gimeno and Salvador Vidal returned to the stage and the “Raiders march” of Indiana Jones showed its first bars, with an audience already devoted to the cause, accompanying with their constant applause to the rhythm of the piece, as if it were already the New Year’s concert and the Radetszky march.
The static image of the hero embodied by the tireless Harrison Ford was present on screen while his voice actor recited the now famous “fortune and glory kid, fortune and glory”. Undoubtedly, it is hard to think of a better ending for a remarkable tribute to the maestro John Williams. I wish they would repeat the first part, because I would not hesitate to attend.
Article and pictures by Coque Cano