The etiquette rules that classical music is supposed to have were blown up early Thursday at John Williams’ 90th birthday celebration concert at Washington’s Kennedy Center. The audience applauded untimely, roared with laughter, howled, cried their eyes out, and gave one standing ovation after another. On the way back from intermission, they even made a corridor for the composer of Superman either Jurassicpark, who chose to sit to the left of the orchestra in the sixth row, well away from the boxes of honor.
Then, the madness was definitely unleashed at the end of the recital, when that man, whose greatest ambition seemed to be to go unnoticed, came on stage, snatched the baton from Stéphane Denéve, who had conducted the National Symphony Orchestra in a two-hour program with some of his most famous compositions and treated the audience to an energetic interpretation of imperial march, of Star Wars. Confirmed the status of giant of symphonic music of the old man in the sixth row, then yes, a shower of golden confetti exploded over the attendees.
The place, the imposing performing arts center on the banks of the Potomac River dedicated to the memory of President Kennedy, the gala convocation and the guests – from Steven Spielberg to the musicians Yo-Yo Ma and Anne Sophie Mutter, or the athlete Jackie Joyner -Kersee- gave the celebration an air of state birthday. It was not for less. Williams, author of 109 soundtracks and a handful of concerts and chamber pieces and winner of five Oscars, awards for which he has been nominated 52 times (a mark in which only one Walt Disney surpasses him), is one of the most important American composers, with or without cinema, of the last century, as well as the author of some of the most recognizable melodies of our time. He has a privilege equal to a few: the kind of transcendence that popularity without shortcuts grants, as evidenced by the fact that some of his masterly excerpts (such as the two-note ostinato of Shark or the chase of the bicycles of ET) have been embedded in the memory of hundreds of millions of people.
Filmmaker Steven Spielberg, the beneficiary of a mutually beneficial creative relationship, didn’t want to miss the party. And he brought the audience to their feet just by walking out on stage. “John has helped make film music an autonomous and tremendously popular art, more than any other composer in history,” he said. “His scores by him cross language and cultural barriers and speak directly to our hearts. Johnny, you are timeless and at 90 years old, I fear you are on your way to being eternal”.
Director of Matches in the third phase later recalled that the party was actually hiding a double celebration: just 50 years ago he, then a young aspiring movie magician, asked to have lunch with a composer he had discovered in the film the rascals (1969, by Mark Rydell, with Steve McQueen). “It was clear to me that if I ever directed my first feature[itturnedouttobein1974[resultóseren1974crazy evasion), I would count on that musician”, added the author of Schindler’s List, whose mother, he also recalled, “was a concert pianist”, and made him grow up listening to “Bach, Brahms, Chopin and Shostakovich”. “Williams immediately connected with the generation of nerds of the cinema to which I belonged, that we wanted for our stories soundtracks of the usual ones”. Upon meeting Williams, he was surprised: “that he was not English, with that name”, that he was such a modest man (modesty was the virtue of the composer most alluded to this Thursday) and that, “with that musical sophistication”, it did not turn out to be “a scholar, a grump, or at least a guy with an Austrian accent.”
Spielberg did not want to be short in recognizing the merit of the composer, who also ended up becoming an “inseparable friend”. “If it hadn’t been for him, my movies wouldn’t be the same, and I wouldn’t be up here tonight. I imagined the scare of Shark, but without his music, the white shark would be nothing; his are his teeth. Harrison Ford created a cinematic icon with Indiana Jones, but John made us believe in adventure again. And with Schindler’s List He created the perfect vehicle for us to empathize with the victims of the Holocaust. For me, it is still my favorite composition among his”.
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Perhaps because it is also the 40th anniversary of ET, The final credits served to open the celebration of his 90 years, which Williams, who lives in Los Angeles and shared the Princess of Asturias Award for the Arts in 2020 with Ennio Morricone, actually fulfilled in February. Images of the films to which he has put music in his more than six-decade career, which began as a jazz musician on the West Coast, were shown on a giant screen behind the orchestra. At the end of the first piece, a chatty Denéve, with fresh memories of Elliot and the rest of the gang’s trip to the moon, exclaimed, “John Williams is out of this world. And he is with us tonight!”
The musical guests were the violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, who somewhat dampened the enthusiasm of the audience with the performance of markingsone of his collaborations with Williams, and the theme of Hedwigfrom Harry Potter, and legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who played the centerpiece of Schindler’s List, before embarking on an interpretation of the duel of The Adventures of Tintin (Spielberg, 2011). Both musicians pretended to be angry and fight with the bows of their instruments before melting into a hug at the end of the piece.
Another of the great protagonists of the night was sport. A recording by the widow of basketball player Kobe Bryant introduced the projection of Dear Basketball, animated short that the Los Angeles Lakers player, who died in early 2020 at the age of 41 in a helicopter accident, produced in 2017 as a heartfelt love letter to the game in which the little boy he once was would end up scoring a epoch. It turns out that the athlete and the composer were great friends, “united by the love of cinema and music,” according to his widow.
The other sporting moment of the night was provided by medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who came onstage to recall that Williams also composed Olympic Fanfare and Theme, a commission for the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. The orchestra performed it to the accompaniment of images of great sporting feats. The sum of these and the music gave that slogan of Olympism as good. And Williams sounded “faster, higher, longer and further”.