October 23, 2007
Williams Conducts Williams
Horn concerto, film themes performed to standing ovations
LOS ANGELES—More than 1,200 enthusiastic members of the student body and faculty of the University of Southern California heard the West Coast premiere of John Williams' "Concerto for Horn and Orchestra" Thursday night at Bovard Auditorium on the USC Campus.
Williams conducted the 24-minute work for only the third time since its 2003 debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The soloist was James Thatcher, who has been Williams' principal French horn player on his Los Angeles studio dates since 1988 (performing the prominent horn solos in such films as Hook, Far and Away and JFK).
The audience response was akin to a rock concert. The crowd's roar, both after the concerto and at the conclusion of the concert, was deafening. The USC Symphony, which performed with aplomb throughout the evening, was as much in awe of their conductor as the audience. The affection was clearly mutual, as Williams spoke warmly of the highly professional ensemble of young musicians.
Thatcher's superb performance of this very difficult piece demonstrated his facility with the instrument and his deep understanding of Williams' writing. The five movements ranged from contemplative (the third movement, "Pastorale") to savage (the second, "Battle of the Trees") to melancholy (the fifth, "Nocturne").
Williams opened the concert with his Cowboys Overture, an energetic, eight-minute distillation of his Americana themes from the 1972 film. The second half consisted entirely of film themes, including the "Flying Theme" from E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), the theme from Schindler's List (1993), with Margaret Batjer as violin soloist; and three themes from Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980): "Imperial March," "Yoda's Theme" and "Main Title."
The composer spoke briefly, introducing a pair of themes from his Harry Potter suite. The "Nimbus 2000" music was brilliantly executed by a small ensemble of woodwinds, while "Harry's Wondrous World," containing the key themes from the first film (2001), was performed by the entire orchestra.
Williams conducted two encores: "Sayuri's Theme" from Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) and the march from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Several minutes of standing ovations followed.
Film-music historian and Thornton School of Music faculty member Jon Burlingame gave the pre-concert talk about Williams' work in films and his place in American music of the 20th and 21st centuries.
The concert was sponsored by the USC Flora L. Thornton School of Music, presented as part of Visions and Voices: The USC Arts and Humanities Initiative.