Williams’ Film Scores Aren’t Always Hits


Of the 13,070 patrons at John Williams’ annual Los Angeles Philharmonic gig at the Hollywood Bowl on Friday night, no doubt many were receiving their only dose of live symphonic music for the year. For them--and for proselytizers like conductor John Mauceri--today’s living symphonic tradition runs right through the cinema, and Williams is their high priest.

But while the best of Williams’ film music is certainly worth hearing outside the theater, not all of it deserves the concert treatment.

While it is easy to zing the “Cowboys Overture” for its debt to Copland’s “Rodeo,” or the suite from “The Reivers” for its similarities to Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait,” they are both effective concert pieces that don’t require viewing of their respective films to be enjoyed. Yet the flat, halfhearted readings that the Philharmonic turned in Friday paled beside memories of some zesty Williams/Boston Pops performances of this music at the Music Center in 1981, although actor Ossie Davis lent a weathered, earthy dignity to the Faulkner-derived “Reivers” narration.


The march from “1941”--a nifty, high-stepping tune with an off-kilter, swaggering rhythm--is another swatch of film music that makes a fine concert piece, but in this rhythmically tame rendition, little was happening. A bit out of the ordinary was the “Dry Your Tears, Afrika” from “Amistad,” with its interesting, mildly percussive undercurrent and excellent vocal support from the Hollywood Film Chorale. And a recent tragic event gave some poignancy to the moving “Hymn to the Fallen” from “Saving Private Ryan,” which Williams dedicated to the late John F. Kennedy Jr.

In between the concert-worthy stuff, though, were stretches of banality from some of Williams’ less-inventive scores. A three-part suite from “Hook” sounded tedious and predictable, as did the theme from “Seven Years in Tibet” (despite cellist Daniel Rothmuller’s plush, throbbing tone). And to the roll-call of music best confined to the cinema, add Williams’ new suite from “Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace.”

Ultimately, the audience responded most enthusiastically to encores of three tried-and-true themes: “Star Wars” (the original), “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “E.T.”