Yesterday, Thursday, October 14, 2021, the first of three concerts to be performed by the Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by maestro John Williams, with a program dedicated almost exclusively to his film works, was celebrated in Berlin.
Gorka Oteiza attended the concert and tells us about it in this special article exclusively for SoundTrackFest.
NOTE: The article contains “Spoilers” for those who are going to the concerts on Friday 15 and Saturday 16. 😉🎶
[AUTOMATIC TRANSLATION from SPANISH – Provisional one]
[A “BETTER/REAL” one will follow soon -Thanks for your patience!]
When in June 2021 it was announced that John Williams was to give three concerts in Berlin (Germany) in October, conducting the Berlin Philharmonic – Berliner Philharmoniker, the news caught us all by surprise. It is true that earlier in the year in an interview to the BBC, Williams had let slip that he was planning to return in autumn to Europe if things were better, possibly to Germany, but at that time, we all thought that this was a simple statement of intent and not something that could be a near reality.
At that time, in early 2021, the pandemic was still very active and we had a fairly closed Europe at the border level and in a state of alert, so Williams’ announcement, although highly gratifying, left a lot of doubts. Doubts that, it would be necessary to wait for the months to pass to be cleared.
Of the three concerts that were announced that John Williams was going to conduct in Berlin, the first two were only on sale in a subscription pack, which had to be purchased together with the rest of the concerts of the season. The third concert, the one on Saturday, would not go on sale until August, and would only be sold as a stand-alone concert. This allowed both regular subscribers to the orchestra and the general public to have a chance of getting a ticket to see Williams.
The truth is that when the concerts went on sale to the general public, the tickets were sold out in less than an hour, demonstrating the expectation that the maestro John Williams generates in Europe, where he does not perform as often as in the United States (concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, Boston, Tanglewood…).
It is curious to think that John Williams was in Europe in January 2020 in Vienna, this being the last major concert before the pandemic began to hit the continent hard. Likewise, it is curious to think that now that the pandemic is more or less under control and normality is slowly recovering, John Williams is coming back to Europe, offering the first big concert we are going to have on the continent in 2021.
But let’s get down to business, and let’s talk about yesterday’s concert, Thursday October 14th, in Berlin. Here is the full program of the concert.
The concert started punctually at 8 p.m., in a dynamic and powerful way with the grandiose fanfare composed by Williams for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games – Olympic Fanfare and Theme. A charismatic and rarely heard piece in concert, with a display of strength, symphonism and intensity, which prepared us for the program of Olympic proportions that we were going to taste next.
Then came almost 8 minutes of suite of Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Excerpts, where if we closed our eyes, we could almost remember the famous film only with its music, and let ourselves be carried away by that feeling of the unknown, but from the comforting intergalactic dialogue offered by the well-known 5 musical notes.
Then, John Williams paused and took the microphone, to offer one of the many explanations we had throughout the concert. Besides thanking the privilege of conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, one of his great dreams, he commented how he had been surprised by his first visit to Berlin, finding a city totally opposite to Los Angeles: people walk or cycle everywhere instead of driving, and you can see families with children in the parks.
He then presented the next piece, Far and Away Suite, where he highlighted the strong Irish character of the music, the theme of love, and the struggle in the suite, praising the work of the concertmaster to obtain the characteristic and necessary sound in the work.
As usual with him, John Williams conducted the entire concerto standing, baton in hand, giving precise directions both to the orchestra as a whole, and to the sections in particular, as well as to the soloists. Raising his hand to ask for more strength from the brass, picking up the sound of the strings with a twist of the arm, or pointing with his index finger or a glance and raised eyebrows at a soloist, were enough to guide the orchestra to the point his music required.
The next pause gave way to Williams’ introduction of the 3-piece block dedicated to Harry Potter: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Hedwig’s Theme, Nimbus 2000 & Harry’s Wondrous World. After a brief comment that at the time he was unaware of the size and success of the saga, until he was told that it had been translated into over 64 languages, and that it was the biggest British export since The Beatles, the music began.
The unmistakable celesta opening of Hedwig’s Theme immersed us fully in the magical world of Harry Potter, whose musical foundations were laid by Williams in the first three films. The pieces, which were performed with brief pauses in between, took us through the jocular and mocking Nimbus 2000 to arrive at the central theme that permeates the Harry Potter adventures: Harry’s Wondrous World.
Next came another brief comment from Williams to talk about his collaboration with Spielberg on Jurassic Park… which made him jump to Indiana Jones… and he reminded us that when the Berlin concerts are over, he’ll get back into his studio to compose the music for the 5th installment, which is due for release in summer 2022.
Next, we listened to Theme from Jurassic Park, with a majestic and delicate beginning to the horn, which gave way to the harp, before displaying all the sonorous richness of the orchestra.
With this piece, and after 50 minutes of concert, we reached the break, which offered us a 20-minute pause after which the second part started almost at 21:15h.
And nothing better than to take the pulse of the concert again with all the energy and grandeur of Superman March, in a perfect interpretation of the orchestra, where the brass and percussion shone especially.
John Williams took the microphone again to comment on the next block dedicated to the music of Indiana Jones, and commented especially on the theme Indiana Jones and the last Crusade: Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra, making the joke that that night we only have the orchestra and the motorcycle was missing! He commented on how he composed the piece to be dynamic and jocular, a not very serious fight, and how when he went to the movies for the premiere, he was shocked that the motorcycle and sound effects were so loud that you could barely hear the music. So he decided that whenever he could, he would include this piece in his concerts, and here it was.
Thus, the orchestra kicked off a precise and dynamic performance of Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra, then gave way to a tender and delightful Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark: Marion’s Theme, as a counterpoint, then taking the end of the Indy block over the top with Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Raiders March, pure adrenaline and another of the great ovations of the night! It is worth mentioning that in this piece (at least in this one, and maybe in some others as well), John Williams conducted from memory, without using the score. It was something curious, to say the least, that I could see from where I was sitting.
Next, the orchestra’s cellist, Bruno Delepelaire, took his place in the front row of the stage next to the conductor’s podium, and began with the first notes of the Elegy for cello and orchestra, a piece that, as Williams himself had described earlier, expressed desire and hope in times of pain, but also forgiveness. A melodic, soft, sentimental and very expressive piece, with a perfectly synchronized cello and orchestra, which Williams had the good sense to retain with a couple of seconds of silence at the end, baton held high, to let what we had heard sink in.
And so the concert reached the final block that was dedicated to Star Wars, with Solo: A Star Wars Story: The Adventures of Han, energy and dynamism with all the flavor of the original saga. Followed by a sublime and charismatic Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back: Yoda’s Theme, which gave way to all the pomp and circumstance of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope: Throne Room, ending with the power of its well-known End Title.
It was almost 22:10h and the concert was “officially” over, but a standing audience applauding wildly was not going to let it end like that. And Williams couldn’t resist. He came out again, and told the anecdote that in the first Star Wars movie he scored, he thought that Luke and Leia would end up being a couple and made a theme that would be the origin of this relationship. But two years later, in the sequel, he was surprised that this was not going to be possible (“And George Lucas didn’t say anything to me when I presented the music!) This amusing introduction gave way to the wonderful Star Wars: Episode IV – Princess Leia’s Theme, brilliantly performed.
Another round of applause from the audience managed to start a second encore: the powerful and energetic E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial – Flying Theme, which made us feel like we were riding through the skies on a bicycle, touching the moon. The concert was over, and it was at its peak. There was nothing that could beat this theme as a finale… or was there?
The insistence of the audience managed to start a third and last encore, Star Wars: Episode V – The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme), a very complex piece for a concert finale, especially for a brass section that had already given its all, but that managed to overcome this grand finale with flying colors (the Berliner Philharmoniker did not want to be less than the Wiener Philhamroniker!).
It was almost 22:30 when John Williams came out to salute for the fourth and last time, while the audience continued to applaud on its feet. Williams made the “let’s go to sleep” gesture. And so we did, with a great taste in our mouths!
John Williams has once again made history, and this is already the second year in a row. While in 2020 he managed to open the doors of film music to an orchestra so closely linked to classical music as the Wiener Philharmoniker, now in 2021 he did the same with the Berliner Philharmoniker, also closely linked to programs where film music does not usually find a place.
A fabulous performance by the Berliner Philharmoniker, a wonderful direction by John Williams, who does not resent his advanced age (let’s not forget that he will be 90 years old in February 2022), and an audience eager to enjoy his music, were the necessary ingredients to make last night’s evening unforgettable.
Unforgettable… but fortunately not unrepeatable, because we will see Williams on stage two more days in Berlin: today Friday 15 and tomorrow Saturday 16, and, in addition, the concert on Saturday 16 will be broadcast digitally at the following address:
And if all this wasn’t enough, John Williams has recently announced that he is returning to Europe in 2022, specifically to Milan (read more).
2020 Vienna, 2021 Berlin, 2022 Milan…. Let’s hope we can continue to enjoy and celebrate John Williams in Europe for many more years to come, with orchestras of great prestige such as these. We are sure that there are more European countries willing to welcome the maestro in their concert halls!
Article and pictures by Gorka Oteiza
Additional pictures by Javier Quilis