MUSIC REVIEW : John Williams Brings Bland Offerings to the Art Center

Times Staff Writer

John Williams brought his lackluster music and conducting to Orange County for the first time over the weekend, leading the Pacific Symphony in Segerstrom Hall in his and other composers’ movie music.

As a composer, Williams knows how to manipulate cliches to evoke the moods required for silver screen cowboys, star warriors or extraterrestrials. But away from the glamorous images, his music sounds threadbare, endlessly repetitive, overblown and heavily indebted to serious composers.

Perhaps the best thing to do while hearing it is to close your eyes and daydream.

As a conductor, Williams is a determined student of the metronome school, using mechanical arm gestures, occasionally injecting scooping movements with both hands and apparently, when really engaged, pumping both arms alternately as if climbing a ladder. When he wants to highlight jazz accents, his body clicks sideways.


Friday, he was as bland in leading other people’s music as he was in his own. Rodgers’ Waltz from “Carousel” had no feeling of waltz lilt or rhythm. Williams led a medley of Judy Garland hits with clockwork regularity after praising her “marvelous, natural phrasing.”

Even his own adaptation of Jerry Bock’s music for “Fiddler on the Roof” emerged like white bread, with all ethnic color squeezed out.

The Pacific Symphony played as if it were one big characterless studio ensemble. No one, from soloist to whole orchestra, marred the placid surface with vitality, interpretation or real expression.

The brass were less than festive or secure in Williams’ “Olympic Fanfare,” the “Bolero” of fanfares. Strings were lean, dry and kept ungratefully busy in his Overture to “The Cowboys.” Not even the talented flutist Louise DiTullio could give personality to the aimless, purported love theme in “Jane Eyre.” Concertmaster Endre Granat proved an underpowered, featureless solo “Fiddler.”

Excerpts from Williams’ music for the “Star Wars” trilogy also sounded spiritless, tired, deficient in sweep and incisive rhythm.

Nonetheless, many in the audience seemed to adore Williams. Little pockets of fans gave him the now-Pavlovian standing ovation.


Williams responded with two encores: an excerpt from John Barry’s score for “Out of Africa” and his own Flying Sequence from “E.T., The Extraterrestrial.”