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September 8, 2015
E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial Live at the Bowl
David Newman conducts Los Angeles Philharmonic in John Williams' iconic score by Jon Burlingame
HOLLYWOOD—More than 35,000 watched and listened as Steven Spielberg's classic E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial unspooled with David Newman conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic in John Williams' Oscar-winning score during three weekend performances at the Hollywood Bowl.
It may have been the greatest complete live-to-picture concert ever staged at the Bowl. The cheers and sustained applause (multiple bows by Newman and the Philharmonic at the end of each performance) demonstrated a surprising level of audience appreciation. Unlike Back to the Future or 2001: A Space Odyssey, both of which were screened with live music recently at the Bowl, this was less of a party atmosphere as the audience (especially Sunday night) seemed completely enthralled.
Certainly the beloved nature of the 1982 film itself was a factor. But Williams' heartfelt, brilliant and now iconic score (he spent three months composing 76 minutes of music) was superbly performed by Newman and the 86-member Los Angeles Philharmonic.
With just two rehearsals, the Phil ably negotiated Williams' complex work, relying most of the time on Newman's energetic, dynamic conducting to keep in sync with the film (just eight of the 26 cues required the musicians to play to "click," a metronome-like technical aid often used on the recording stage to keep most film musicians in precise sync).
Williams appeared via videotape to introduce the film. He declared E.T. to be "Steven's masterpiece... with performances that are so honest and true and timeless," and in recommending his colleague Newman as conductor, surprised the audience by announcing that "he knows much more about film music than I do." (Newman played in the violin section on the original 1982 recording and is now widely acknowledged as one of the world's finest conductors of movie music.)
At the start, the orchestra conveyed the awe and mystery of the spaceship and the little beings quietly examining Earth's flora; and the darker, more ominious sounds of the presumably villainous humans who arrive and force an early takeoff, stranding one of the aliens. The piccolo playing E.T.'s theme, and the harp that signaled the unique relationship between him and Elliott (Henry Thomas), were closely mic'd and very effective.
Comic moments for the woodwinds and brass – especially as E.T. becomes intoxicated at home, causing Elliott to be drunk at school – were followed by the first of several instances of spontaneous audience applause when Elliott and E.T. take flight by bicycle, creating that enduring image of their silhouette against the moon.
The finale, underscored with 15 uninterrupted minutes of music that is a tour-de-force for symphony orchestra, was flawlessly performed and stunningly in sync – especially the moving final moments as Elliott and E.T. say goodbye; as the ship departs, leaving a rainbow in its wake; and that unforgettable last shot of Elliott's tear-stained face as the film cuts to black.
Williams wrote a new first-act concert ending and an entr'acte for the post-intermission return to the film; the popular concert version of his "flying theme" was heard as a new piece for the end credits. E.T. packs an emotional wallop under any circumstances, but the unique combination of that film on the Bowl's five huge screens and Williams' landmark score, interpreted by one of the world's great symphony orchestras, left thousands in tears and thousands more giving Newman and the Philharmonic extended standing ovations.
Williams conducted E.T. live with orchestra in 2002 at L.A.'s Shrine Auditorium, but that was a benefit event for an invited audience. This past weekend marked the first time that E.T. was shown to the public with live orchestral accompaniment. (Film Concerts Live!, a co-venture of IMG Artists and the Gorfaine-Schwartz Agency, is the producing entity.) In the coming months E.T. will be performed by the San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco and St. Louis Symphony Orchestras.
©2015 Jon Burlingame