John Williams Brings Magic to Symphony Hall in Celebration of The Boston Pops’ 125th Anniversary

May 16, 2010




The Boston Pops – Amazing.  Symphony Hall – Historic.  John Williams – No single word can describe him or the impact he has had on our lives for the past 40+ years.  I could throw out the word iconic, but it really doesn’t tell you much.

I have to admit that I feel a bit behind the ball.  I lived in Boston during the time that John Williams was the Pops conductor, and you know what?  I never once saw him.  He and the Pops were never even on my radar.  What a shame!

I suppose, in truth, it might have a little to do with the fact that the Symphony and Pops have patrons who’s annual income far exceeds the average income of most people, making attending performances seem financially out of reach.  But I’m here to tell you that it just isn’t true!  The Boston Pops and Boston Symphony frequently offer ticket prices as low as $20, and they make a large effort to appeal to a young demographic with highly discounted ticket prices; are you a college student?  Then you’ve got a bargain waiting for you.  Are you under 40?  Yup, another bargain waiting for you.  And really, if you’re willing to fork over $100 for a Red Sox, Bruins, or Celtics ticket, the Pops and Symphony are actually a bargain for you too!

I wish I could go back 20 years and have that moment; I’d wish for that moment of inspiration where I’m sitting in Symphony Hall and magic happens.  I wish the fire had been lit inside me so many years ago.  Had I lived that moment, I would have enjoyed years of seeing this icon, John Williams, lead the Boston Pops right in my back yard.

John_Williams_Boston_Pops_125th_AnniversaryFlash forward 20 years, and here I am playing catch up.

This season, The Boston Pops celebrates its 125th anniversary and there are many reasons to celebrate.  The BSO organization is pulling out the big guns for this one, and who bigger can you celebrate with than John Williams?

John Williams led the Pops for 13 years, making his mark on Boston while he not-so-quietly continued to trail blaze in Hollywood.  Having just earned a wealth of awards and nominations for composing soundtracks to the most influential and memorable films in our cinematic history, John Williams made Boston his home, and I wish I’d have been here to take it all in.

So let’s talk about Mr. Williams for a moment.  According to IMDB, his first film/tv credit was for Gidget in 1959.  1959!  He started working as a musician, arranger and composer for film and tv shows like The Guns of Navarone, Lost in Space, The Valley of the Dolls, and Fiddler on the Roof.  And then along came that great white shark.

There are two pieces of music I can think of that upon hearing their opening notes there is no question what the piece is or who the composer is.  Beethoven does it in 4 notes, Williams only needed two.

John_Williams_Boston_Pops_125th_2On the heels of the success of Jaws, Williams scored the most famous cinematic music of all time, in my opinion.  In 1977, Williams gave us not one, but two soundtracks, both equally unforgettable.   I was 8 years old when Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind came into our lives and to this day I’ll never forget how I saw Darth Vader walk down that corridor and I wanted him to be my bodyguard.  Not that I needed one, I just REALLY wanted him to be mine! The music defined Darth Vader, and for this, we must look to John Williams.

And so it began.  Since 1977, Williams has composed film scores for the largest blockbuster films, and when we think of them, we think of their theme music.  Take a moment and consider:  Jaws, Star Wars, Close Encounters, Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., Harry Potter.  When you think of these films, you KNOW their tune and can hum it or sing it out loud.  What an imprint!

But to give you a little more color about John Williams’ impact on not only Hollywood, but on our own lives, here are some of the films he has also scored:   Dracula, The River, The Witches of Eastwick, Empire of the Sun, Born on the Fourth of July, Always, Home Alone, Hook, JFK, Far and Away, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Nixon, Amistad, Saving Private Ryan, Angela’s Ashes, The Patriot, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Minority Report, War of the Worlds, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Munich.

John_Williams_Boston_Pops_125th_Hooray_For_HollywoodWilliams has won so many awards and nominations that I bet he doesn’t have a room big enough to display them all!  Ok, he probably does.  But the point is, there is no other person who has been more influential to cinema and popular culture than John Williams.  Again, Betsy’s view.

But tell me what single director or screenwriter has worked on the number of films that Williams has.  We may know key lines from memorable movies, and we hold directors like George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg in high regard, but when you think of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, E. T., or that big shark, I’m guessing that music is playing around in your head as you recall your movie clips.

John Williams truly is larger than life.  And this week, he was in Boston leading the Pops to Celebrate their 125th anniversary.  And guess what the Pops were performing?  John Williams’ movie music!

Hooray for Hollywood.  Hooray for John Williams.  Hooray for the Boston Pops for bringing us this great evening of magic!

As John Williams stepped on to the stage, cameras, which are typically a Symphony Hall no-no, were flashing like crazy!  And I’m not just talking little pocket cameras!  People had big cameras, big lenses. Not me.  I had my little pocket camera, and I joined in and took a couple of shots too.  Hey…it WAS John Williams!

John_Williams_Boston_Pops_125thThe audience was so energized.  We saw film excerpts as some of the music was played.  John Williams spoke about the late Christopher Reeve and his intense interest in Superman’s music.  And the orchestra… Ooh, the orchestra.  Can I just say that they played like butta?  Not my normal choice of words, but it’s true.  They just sounded so smooth, so perfect.

We heard music from some of John Williams’ great soundtracks, and the audience could not have been more appreciative.  There were smiles galore, and it just felt like there was magic in the air.  It kind of felt a little like Hogwarts must feel like during a grand celebration in the hall.  Hey, I’m humming that theme now!

I feel very fortunate to have seen John Williams lead his home orchestra in the works that he, himself, penned.  The music was played the way he intended, note for note.  And it was glorious.

The Boston Symphony and Boston Pops sure know how to celebrate.  And this week, it gets even better.  As the Pops celebrates Stars and Stripes: American Heroes, Boston has the great privilege to be a part of a newly-commissioned work to celebrate the lives of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Edward Kennedy.

Pops Conductor Keith Lockhart recently told me that they had previously wanted to celebrate the lives of John and Bobby, with Senator Edward Kennedy narrating.  But with the passing of Senator Kennedy, the work was commissioned to commemorate the lives of the brothers.

Pops125The Dream Lives On: A Portrait of the Kennedy Brothers will receive a special presentation on Tuesday and Wednesday as Symphony Hall welcomes acclaimed actors Robert DeNiro, Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman who will represent John, Bobby and Ted, respectively.  Other actors and guests for the week include singer/songwriter Arlo Guthrie, actor Cherry Jones, vocalists Renese King and Patti Austin, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and actor/vocalist Brian Stokes Mitchell, who I am hoping will be performing The Impossible Dream as a tribute to the Kennedy’s.

And all this for as little as $20.  Who says it’s not affordable?  You can’t even go to the movies for that price!  Tickets are still available for most performances, but some nights are sold out and some have very few seats left.  This is a performance you don’t want to miss, and perhaps you’ll have your own magical moment of inspiration.

Contact the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops for tickets.

Robert_DeNiro_Boston_Pops_125th Ed_Harris_Boston_Pops_125th Morgan_Freeman_Boston_Pops_125th

Actor photos and Boston Pops logo courtesy of

4 Responses to John Williams Brings Magic to Symphony Hall in Celebration of The Boston Pops’ 125th Anniversary
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