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MUSIC REVIEW : Williams, Philharmonic Please the Bowl Throng

John Williams holds many distinctions, but perhaps the most impressive is that he’s probably the only living classical composer who can draw more than 35,000 people to two concerts of his own music.

True, there were fireworks on the officially sold-out programs Friday and Saturday at the Hollywood Bowl, but, rest assured, Philip Glass or Milton Babbitt couldn’t draw such throngs with twice the explosives.

For someone who regularly attends new-music concerts with tiny audiences, it is startling to witness the whooping and hollering that accompanies a Williams announcement of his next piece. No matter how one assesses this music’s artistic merits, it is classical music and it’s not dead.

Friday’s event proved to be a dry-run for Saturday’s live telecast, with cameras, hosts and unseen commercials all in their places, and Williams charmingly wasting time during the frequent delays. He programmed quite a bit of his less-celebrated music and avoided many of the biggest tunes (including the themes from “Star Wars,” “Jaws” and “Superman”).

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Williams, a sometimes indifferent conductor, was apparently satisfied with getting and keeping things going. As a result, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s performances were often more loose than honed. Still, his music required little prodding to make its points.

Highlights included a noble and foreboding suite from “JFK” and the truly thorny “Shark Cage Fugue” from “Jaws.” Concertmaster Alexander Treger soloed efficiently in excerpts from “Schindler’s List” and the Williams-arranged “Fiddler on the Roof.” Music from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” served as finale with fireworks, but Williams generously let Sousa have the last cheer with a pyrochoreographed “Star and Stripes Forever” in encore.


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