Tanglewood 2: John Williams 90th Birthday Celebration!

Last weekend, we made our second pilgrimage to Tanglewood—to attend the BSO’s sold-out celebration concert for my favorite composer John Williams’s 90th birthday year. It was magnificent. Guest performers included Yo-Yo Ma on cello, Branford Marsalis on sax, Jessica Zhou on harp, James Taylor with his voice, and surprise guest Itzhak Perlman on violin.

John Williams greets old friends (Boston.com)Boston.com

Most of the music was by Williams, most of it not the well-known film scores. One film excerpt that they did play was new to me, from Catch Me If You Can. It was mesmerizing, with Marsalis on sax and other guest performers on vibraphone and double bass. The surprise performance of the evening was the haunting theme from Schindler’s List, with Itzhak Perlman in a wheelchair reprising his performance of the original film recording.

Yo-Yo Ma and James Taylor celebrate John Williams (Boston.com)Boston.com

We camped out in the lawn area with a picnic dinner this time—great sound, following the orchestra on big video screens. (With our binoculars, we couldn’t see much of the orchestra directly over all the heads, but the binocs were useful in bringing the video images closer.)

Williams sat in the front row of the audience, taking it in. There were stirring tributes from directors and musicians he has worked with through the years, including Yo-Yo Ma, and ending with a video tribute from Steven Spielberg. The concluding number was the finale to Star Wars, and after all we had heard, that unexpectedly brought me instantly to tears. Truly, truly beautiful; I cried through the whole thing. Williams came to the stage afterward, and the assembled 18,000 people sang Happy 90th Birthday to him. (That brought Allysen to tears.) Finally, he was handed the baton for an encore, and he conducted the Boston Symphony in the theme to Raiders of the Lost Ark. Not a dry eye in the house, or on the lawn. It was a truly magnificent time.

My one regret is that he is close to retirement. I must accept now that there will never be a film adaptation of one of my books with a score by John Williams. There are worse fates, but that is a dream I now willingly let go.

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  1. Jim Ortner
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    I’m a huge John Williams fan and have almost all of the CD’s that have ever been put out. I also collect his music scores. We were able to see John Williams conduct the Phoenix Symphony with Steven Spielberg about 8-9 years ago. That was a magical night! I play in a flute ensemble conducted by the 2nd flutist of the symphony. She said he was an excellent conductor and was very easy to follow. It was a highlight of her career.

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