John Williams has a long history of association with the London Symphony Orchestra going back over forty years. He first recorded a score with it in 1977 (Star Wars, still the biggest-selling instrumental-only soundtrack of all time) and their first concert together took place on 16 February 1978. In all, twelve of his scores have been recorded with the LSO. There was an initial sense of disappointment at the Royal Albert Hall as the eighty-six-year-old Williams was forced to cancel through illness, to be replaced by Dirk Brossé, but Williams sent a message inviting the LSO to “raise the roof” and it duly obliged. Brossé has had a lengthy working relationship with Williams including conducting many concerts of his music.
During the course of the evening LSO instrumentalists spoke of Williams with great affection. Many said that his music had provided the soundtrack to their childhoods. The programme represented a collection of greatest hits designed to show Williams’s ability to create stirring epic themes and big open-hearted melodies. Brossé showed both his mettle and his taste and the LSO played with finesse as well as passion. The biggest rarity was the end-titles music for John Badham’s Dracula (1979),Williams’s excursion into the Gothick. It is tragic as much as macabre and a lament for Dracula’s passing.
Williams has an uncanny ability to enter the imaginative world of children, notably in the music for the Harry Potter series. ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was beautifully played, the opening celesta and scurrying strings perfectly capturing a child’s view of the World. There was blithe cheerfulness and vigour in ‘Harry’s Wonderful World’ which encapsulates Williams’s themes for Harry and his family as well as Hogwarts and Quidditch. ‘A Child’s Suite’ from The BFG is in the same territory but more theatrical and Brossé brought out its balletic bustle with some dash whilst Gareth Davies delivered a delicate flute solo. The rousing bicycle chase from E. T. the Extra- Terrestrial with its lively opening leading into its sweeping main theme had considerable richness from the strings and ample brass.
Williams is also more subtle than is often thought and there is emotion alongside the craftsmanship. There is an understated poignancy to the violin theme from Schindler’s List. Carmine Lauri played it with style. Above all, Williams represents a link to the classic Hollywood tradition from the 1930s of Steiner, Korngold and Waxman, their big tunes, rousing marches and opulent orchestration. ‘Superman March’ epitomises this and Brossé phrased the slow introduction and tense build-up impressively with fine brass-playing. A selection from Star Wars demonstrated this further, with echoes of Gustav Holst and Arthur Bliss, a relentless power with threatening brass and brutal percussion. There were four encores including a rather quick account of the Jaws theme and a very touching version of the tender and funny ‘Yoda’s theme’ from The Empire Strikes Back.