Envision Darth Vader making an entrance, Superman soaring through the skies or a giant shark lurking in the ocean. More than likely, you’ll instinctively hear a death march, a patriotic fanfare or an ominous, panicked beat.
Acclaimed composer John Williams has given musical expression to some of Hollywood’s greatest movie moments. Often collaborating with directors Stephen Spielberg or George Lucas, he has written the film scores for cinematic hits such as the Star Wars saga, Jaws, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park and the first three Harry Potter movies. With his recent Academy Award nod for Lincoln, he has been nominated 48 times—the second most in history, only behind Walt Disney.
"To describe John Williams as prolific is an understatement,” says Palm Beach Pops maestro Bob Lappin.
In continuation of the Pops’ tribute to the American songbook for its twenty-first season, the orchestra has dedicated a show celebrating some of Williams’ greatest works. Yet the group’s performance February 5 at the Eissey Campus Theatre in Palm Beach Gardens at times lacked the raw power and musical spark so key to evoking imagery and associated emotions of cinematic storylines—the essence of Williams’ signature movie magic.
Lappin told the audience the group had rehearsed only twice before the concert. This was evident in the first notes of the opener, Williams’ overture for the 1996 Olympics, which the trumpet section muddled.
Later, Lappin directed the Pops too slowly through the theme of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the relaxed tempo made the adventurous fanfare seem boring. Likewise, the orchestra didn't produce the musical expression and subsequent feelings anticipated for excerpts from the four Star Wars themes, the last pieces of the concert. The problem here seemed to be volume control; the musicians substituted loudness for powerful yet controlled tonality. Watch out for where the trumpet is pointed.
Overall, though, the good outweighed the bad. The highlight of the evening was hearing concertmaster Rafael Elvira play the theme score to Schindler’s List. His interpretation of the hauntingly beautiful violin solo was simply perfect and filled any emotional void.
The first half of the concert also featured songs by Irving Berlin, who wrote more than 1,200 compositions—with lyrics—an era before Williams. The Pops’ performance of "Top Hat," "Let’s Face the Music and Dance" and "Cheek to Cheek" made us picture Fred Astaire dancing with Ginger Rogers. Lappin played the beautiful piano melody in "How Deep is the Ocean," a personal favorite, he admitted.
The Pops showcased other unique entertainment, too. A small group of musicians, including a pitched drum percussionist, formed an amusing Star Wars cantina band to play the music of the movie’s intergalactic bar. Two pairs of swing dancers appeared on each side of the stage, hopping to the quick beat, and returned later for "Swing, Swing Swing." A Star Wars character also delivered a message to Lappin, but we won’t reveal who or what.
The Pops performs its last Williams show of the season tonight at 8 at the Kravis Center. Tickets start at $29.