Strong Force at Hollywood Bowl with John Williams, Kobe Bryant

By Truman C. Wang

Every summer at the Bowl, movie lovers are treated to a concert of their favorite classics by John Williams, conducted by the man himself.   At age 84, the prolific composer/conductor shows no sign of slowing down and is still churning out new film scores with the facility and sophistication like Puccini churning out popular arias (his newest opus for “Star Wars” will debut in December).  As a conductor of his own music, maestro Williams preferred economy over drama, opting for the music to speak for itself. 

Last Saturday night’s concert started off with a collection of popular classics by Korngold (“Robin Hood”, 1938), Jarre (“Doctor Zhivago”, 1965), Newman (“Wuthering Heights”, 1939 – arguably the greatest year for Hollywood), as well as a forgotten gem “Dracula” (1979) saved only by John Williams’ eerily shimmering score.  The accompanied film montage clips for “Zhivago” and Judy Garland’s “A Star is Born” were masterfully done and added greatly to the musical enjoyment.  The conductor was David Newman, who gave a hauntingly beautiful reading of his father’s music for “Wuthering Heights”.  L.A. Phil’s assistant concertmaster Bing Wang played the Cathy theme winningly.

As enjoyable as the first half of the concert was, the force was definitely stronger in the second half, when John Williams walked out to the stage to enthusiastic waving of lightsabers and shouts from the audience, many of whom in full Star Wars regalia.  What followed was a hit parade of film scores and candid introductions by maestro Williams.  The L.A. Phil played them with all the passion and precision as they would play the classical masterworks.  The jocular Adventures of Mutt from "Indiana Jones" sounded like the Strauss tone poem Till Eulenspiegel.    The “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” was probably Williams’ most symphonic and harmonically ambitious work, featuring an intricate five-tone motif and French Impressionistic colors.  It deserves to be played regularly on the concert stage. 

A ‘very special guest’ stole some thunder from the star composer/conductor.  L.A. Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant emerged from his retirement to narrate his poem “Dear Basketball” to an animated film and music by Williams.   It was a quietly tender moment in a sea of ‘Force’-ful excitement.   An excellent narrator, perhaps Mr. Bryant should consider using his celebrity to help popularize the classical arts.

Three selections each from Harry Potter and Star Wars ended this crowd-pleasing concert and one of the finest nights at the Hollywood Bowl.

Thank you maestro Williams.  Until next summer!

Truman C. Wang is Editor-in-Chief of Classical Voice, whose articles have appeared in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Pasadena Star-News, other Southern California publications, as well as the Hawaiian Chinese Daily.