A few weeks ago, a dear friend texted me to inform me that Steven Spielberg and John Williams would be appearing at a concert with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
The sheer joy and euphoria I felt was immediately doused in suspicion. I stared at the email he sent me thinking, is this real? And it was! The concert would both support music education and celebrate Williams’ 80th birthday earlier this year.
To understand how excited I was, you should know that I’ve been an avid fan of both Steven Spielberg and John Williams for two decades. I cried when Spielberg won the Best Director Oscar for Schindler’s List, and I still have VHS tapes somewhere of Williams’ performances with the Boston Pops Orchestra. I’ve attended a few concerts where his music was performed, always thinking, oh if only he were conducting it.
And finally I had the opportunity! Not willing to waste it, I purchased second row seats.
When the night of the concert finally arrived, my excitement could not be contained. We took our seats, the musicians readied their instruments (you could identify snippets of famous themes as they warmed up), and John Williams took to the stage. Without preamble, they began a musical montage called Tribute to the Film Composer with accompanying film clips for classics such as Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, The Magnificent Seven, Dr. Zhivago, and The Pink Panther.
Then, John Williams spoke for a moment, telling us how glad he was to be in Atlanta and how he had not been here since conducting the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics theme “Summon the Heroes.” As always, he appeared poised and eloquent, his soft but respected voice captivating the audience. He then led the orchestra as they played Suite from Far and Away and three selections from Harry Potter: Hedwig’s Theme, Fawkes the Phoenix, and Harry’s Wondrous World as scenes from the films played on a large screen. War Horse’s Dartmoor, 1912 followed, and the Star Wars theme concluded the first half of the show. But it was not about Lucas’ galaxy this evening—it was about all things Spielbergian.
The program indicated that after intermission would be the time when Spielberg would take to the stage, but first they performed the Jaws theme, which didn’t help my anxiety. And when John Williams introduced Steven Spielberg and he crossed the stage directly in front of me, a million emotions overcame me. I’d followed this man’s career for a good twenty years, but I loved his films long before that, not realizing he was the mastermind behind so many of my favorite stories. But when I look back over my childhood, recalling humming the Jaws theme in the swimming pool, swinging on the bars of the swingset to my own vocalizations of The Raiders March, I knew that these two men and George Lucas helped mold me and inspire me.
Spielberg and Williams have shared a 40 year collaboration that has created some of the most magical and memorable movie moments in the history of cinema. When they showed scenes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind with musical excerpts, I wanted to rush home and watch the film again.
Then, to demonstrate the impact of Williams’ music on his films, Spielberg showed the Circus Train Chase from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade first without and then with music. The difference is quite telling. Williams’ music indicates how you should feel in a given scene. Tense, happy, sad . . . his music dictates your response.
They next played The Duel from The Adventures of Tintin and showed clips from famous cinematic swordfights. Audience favorites included Luke and Vader, Westley and Inigo Montoya, and Captain Jack Sparrow. I particularly loved the montage since I’ve always been a fan of swordfights.
The most emotional piece of the evening was no doubt the theme to Schindler’s List. I got chills just typing and remembering it. Such a haunting and beautiful piece, and I often glanced over at Spielberg to see how he responded to the music. He was as enraptured as we were, focusing on John Williams the entire time.
The final selection in the program was Adventures on Earth from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, but they performed The Raiders March as the first encore and then music from their first collaboration, The Sugarland Express. During ‘Raiders,’ I noticed that Spielberg moved his mouth, silently ‘singing’ along with the familiar tune, and he also tapped his hand on his leg.
Others echoed my feelings: Thomas J. Wagner said of the evening, “It was a magical journey through decades of iconic motion picture scores shared with one of the greatest directors and greatest composers of all time. A once in a lifetime memory that I will never forget."
Audience member Dewyne Silverbridge said, "For 35 years I have watch[ed] and listened to these two great masters...and I finally saw them in person. Words truly cannot express the pure joy and elation I felt. This was surreal and a dream come true.”
And DeWayne Todd, who came from out of state to attend and also provided some of the pictures, said, “For me, the Spielberg/Williams concert was an encounter with the earliest heroes of my childhood and the arts that have touched my life so very deeply. These two men, whose works have impacted my life in incalculable ways had such an amazing [rapport] with each other on stage, it was as if they were simply old friends who just happened to create the greatest films of the last 40 years. I loved how they provided their own insights into the music and they shaped the music to the films.”
To say it was the most, if not one of the most, thrilling nights of my life would not be an understatement. I was also fortunate enough to share it with several wonderful friends, and I know we will all treasure the event for years to come.