Review: John Williams and Stéphane Denève Conduct the Saito Kinen Orchestra in Tokyo, Sep. 5, 2023 (Includes Photos & Videos)

September 5, 2023, Suntory Hall, Tokyo, JAPAN
Saito Kinen Orchestra conducted by JOHN WILLIAMS and Stéphane Denève


Conducted by Stéphane Denève

  • Sound the Bells!
  • Tributes! (for Seiji)
  • Suite from Far & Away
  • Suite from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
    Three Million Light Years from Home
    Flying Theme


Conducted by John Williams

  • Superman March
  • Three Selections from Harry Potter
    Hedwig’s Theme
    Fawkes the Phoenix
    Harry’s Wondrous World
  • Theme from Schindler’s List
  • Three Selections from Star Wars
    The Rebellion is Reborn
    Princess Leia’s Theme
    Throne Room & Finale


  • Yoda’s Theme from The Empire Strikes Back
  • The Raiders March from Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • The Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back



Review by AOP (original post)

Having been extremely fortunate to see John Williams conduct live in concert three times in the last year (once in LA, once in Milan, and now in Tokyo), l’d have to say that last night’s concert was my favorite.

As this was JW’s first visit to Japan in 30 years, excitement levels and expectations were understandably high. This was evident as soon as I arrived at Suntory Hall on a brutally humid Tuesday evening in Tokyo. You could feel the anticipation in the air, and you could see, in each and everyone’s faces, that they knew they were here to experience something special and truly historic. People certainly dressed up for the occasion (myself included!), so it wasn’t unusual to see people in kimonos and tuxedos despite the blistering hot summer weather.

As the auditorium lights dimmed to signify the beginning of the concert, the conductor for the first half, Stéphane Denève, walked out onto the stage to rapturous applause. He started off with an amusing joke – his interpreter (who was a cellist in the orchestra), opened in English with “Ladies and Gentlemen,” to which Denève translated into Japanese! After the laughter died down, Denève switched to English (with his charming French accent!) and explained the program for the night as well as some brief thoughts on Seiji Ozawa and John Williams.

“Sound the Bells!” kicked off the concert with its rousing array of brass melodies and sounds. From where I was sitting behind the orchestra, I could clearly see the tubular chimes which sounded crystal clear. I honestly never warmed up to this piece until I heard it live last night.

This was followed by “Tributes! (for Seiji),” a piece written by Williams for Ozawa. This was a long and less melodic piece than JW’s more popular works, but it was great hearing this rare piece live. It’s unfortunate that Ozawa was not on stage to enjoy the music.

A suite from “Far and Away” came next with its jaunty Irish sounds and spirit. It was an excellent piece that well received the audience.

Then came E.T., the music many people had been waiting for. Starting with the piccolo solo in “Three million light years from home,” the audience was immediately spellbound by this masterwork of composition. It was then that I heard a familiar but unexpected sound… the pipe organ! I then turned to the huge pipe organ not far from me and I saw a young organist play the mysterious opening lines to this incredible piece. I most certainly had the feels (as young people would say!), and was left fixed on the pipe organ parts for the remainder of the piece.

Stunning is the only word that can be used to describe the night’s performance of “Stargazers.” What an incredibly moving, incredibly perfect piece. The delicate harp, the sweet caress of the strings, the yearning flute… it was gorgeously dream-like. The audience was dead quiet during the entire piece – in fact, it felt like we were all holding our breath, hanging on to every phrase and every gesture from the orchestra, not wanting to spoil the mood, the magic. When the final notes played in to silence, the audience remained quiet for what seemed like minutes, but was in reality only a few seconds. We then collectively wiped a tear (or two), cleared our throats, and got ready for the next assault on our emotions.

The “Flying theme” is probably, next to the Star Wars theme, one of the most well-known JW pieces among Japanese fans. And boy, did it not disappoint under the commanding baton of Denève! This piece just soared under the Saito Kinen Orchestra and had the audience in raptures during the finale. And that ended the sensational first half of the concert.

The feeling of anticipation had by now reached fever point with the knowledge JW would soon be gracing the stage.

As the lights once again dimmed and the audience quietened down, the volume immediately jumped to 11 as John Williams, the undisputed GOAT of film music, stepped onto the stage to the adulation and applause of over 2,000 star-truck fans. We were all on our feet cheering, professing our love for the man and his music, and hungry to hear his first piece at the podium. Before that, JW quickly talked about how honoured he was to be there, how Japan had changed in the last 30 years, and how much love and respect he had for his dear friend, Seiji Ozawa. He then explained that the Japanese translation of the word “Superman” was “Seiji Ozawa,” which drew thunderous approval from the audience.

And thus began the second half with the iconic march from Superman. Expertly performed with passion, it set the tone for the rest of the night.

The Harry Potter suite came next, and I suspect many had come to hear this with JW at the podium. The suite was beautifully performed and didn’t sound too different from previous concert performances.

Without any introductory words from JW, the familiar strains of Schindler’s List began to fill the auditorium and we were treated to a precise and impassioned violin solo. From where I was sitting behind the orchestra, it was somewhat difficult to absorb the full sound and feel of the solo, but luckily it was well-captured in DGs video recording on Stage+.

It was now time for select pieces from Star Wars to shine. I honestly would have preferred “March of the Resistance” or “The Asteroid Field,” but we were treated to a fine performance of “The Rebellion is Reborn.” This was followed by “Princess Leia’s Theme” which was one of the highlights of the evening for me. The flautist absolutely nailed his solos which were gorgeously complimented by the French horn parts. I get goosebumps just thinking about it!

The final piece for the main program was the “Finale & Throne Room,” which was performed with such gusto and passion that it permeated an infectious energy and drive.

This was followed by JW’s second standing ovation for the night before he signaled “one more” to the audience for his first encore, which was “Yoda’s theme.” “The Raiders March” came next with the night ending with “The Imperial March.” Except JW didn’t call it that – he just turned to the audience and said, “Darth Vader,” to which the audience went nuts!

As soon as that ended, everyone in the audience got on their feet and gave JW the most enthusiastic standing ovation that I have ever seen… and I’ve been to a lot of film music concerts! Surely, we were clapping away for close to 15 minutes – first for Williams, then the Saito Kinen Orchestra. What was clearly apparent was the audience’s mutual love for John Williams and his music, and our deep appreciation to the Saito Kinen Orchestra for bringing his timeless music to life. My hands were truly numb by the end of night, but I just didn’t want it to end…

Going home that night and processing what I had just seen, heard, and experienced, only solidified my belief that John Williams is the GOAT of film music – I doubt anybody could argue with that.


(Source: Universal Music Japan)

(Source: Facebook)



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See also:

Deutsche Grammophon to Release ‘John Williams in Tokyo’ (Digital Release, CD & Blu-ray)