New York Philharmonic – Constantine Kitsopoulos conducts John Williams’s score for Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

John Williams
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Mary – Dee Wallace
Elliott – Henry Thomas
Keys – Peter Coyote
Michael – Robert MacNaughton
Gertie – Drew Barrymore

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Cinematography by Allen Daviau
Edited by Carol Littleton
Production design by Jim Bissell
Costumes by Deborah Scott
Screenplay by Melissa Mathison

New York Philharmonic
Constantine Kitsopoulos

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 18 May, 2024
Venue: Wu Tsai Theater, David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

The New York Philharmonic concluded this season’s ‘The Art of the Score’ series with a screening of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Watching the heartwarming story of the gentle lost alien and Elliott, the troubled 10-year-old boy who befriends him, play out on a huge, high-definition screen while simultaneously hearing the one-hundred plus members of the New York Philharmonic bring the soundtrack to life, live and uncut, made one more aware than usual of the crucial role played by John Williams’s  Academy- and Grammy-winning  score as a story-telling device.

Williams’s collaboration with Spielberg dates from The Sugarland Express (1974) and includes Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Wars, and Schindler’s List.  Four of Williams’s five Academy Awards are for Spielberg-directed movie,, and few soundtracks characterize this era of Hollywood music-making as well as the one he composed for E.T.

Led with polish and precision by Constantine Kitsopoulos, the Philharmonic delivered a sparkling performance that did justice to the music, enhancing both the drama and wide-eyed wonder. From the flute’s quiet introduction of the main theme to the cataclysmic conclusion, the orchestra seamlessly delivered nearly three hours of mood-enhancing sounds, exponentially elevating the experience and allowing one to appreciate details that might otherwise go unnoticed – the polytonal sequences that emphasize the alien nature of the extra-terrestrials;  the comic sounds from the trombones as E.T., drunk, bumbles his way around the kitchen; the lyric swell of the gorgeous ‘flying’ theme as Elliott and E.T. pedal their bicycle across the sky; the graceful gestures of the harpist that underline the empathy between E.T. and Elliott; the belligerentbrass  and sweeping strings as the kids fly their bikes through the town and away from danger; the crashing cymbals and menacing timpani in the most climactic moments; the poignant woodwinds and strings in the scene where the anguished Elliott tells E.T. that he loves him.

As for the film itself, seeing it again, forty-two years after its 1982 debut, it came across as funnier, more sentimental and more frightening than remembered. For a relatively low-budget effort, it has aged  exceptionally well. Some special effects – such as the blue screen that lights up the sky when E.T and Elliott fly across the moon – may seem rather obvious, but Williams’s stirring music makes the scene so beautiful that it doesn’t really matter. Spielberg’s genius for telling a story through film – from his imaginative deployment of the grandest of scenic displays to a glimpse at the tinniest wince of a protagonist – is in a class of its own. And when you have the combination of fine actors, screenplay, cinematography, editing, and music that are at work here, the spell of this cinematic fable is completely cast.

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