Boston, May 26 & 27, 2009 (Viola Concerto Premiere)

Boston Symphony Hall, Boston, MA
May 26 & 27, 2009
The Boston Symphony Orchestra Conducted by JOHN WILLIAMS

‘Film Night’


  • Hooray For Hollywood (Whiting-Williams)
  • March from The Adventures of Robin Hood (Korngold)
  • Suite from Jane Eyre [Lowood – To Thornfield – Reunion]
  • Flight to Neverland from Hook
  • Concerto for Viola and Orchestra
  • The Adventures of Mutt from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom Of The Crystal SkullINTERMISSION
  • Superman March
  • Selections from Far and Away [County Galway, June 1892 – The Fighting Donnellys – Joseph and Shannon – Blowin’ Off Steam (The Fight) – Finale]
  • Excerpts from Lawrence of Arabia (Jarre-Karam)
  • Raiders March
  • Yoda’s Theme from The Empire Strikes Back
  • Main Theme from Star Wars



External Reviews

Review by Mark Rayen

The concert last night was excellent!

The highlights of the program were in my experience the suite from Jane Eyre and the new Concerto for Viola. The performances were stunning and Williams conducted with such inspiration, and a sensitivity on the podium I didn’t even know he had. He was clearly enjoying himself and his conducting was about as precise and crystal clear as many of his film scores. I think many here will be pleased to hear that the concerto is composed in a romantic idiom very similar to much of his film work. It is perhaps one of his least experimental concert works to date. The outer movements are slow, emphasizing the lyrical abilities of the soloist, while the second movement is a classic Williams scherzo with a fun timpani/viola duet in the middle that also features a couple of fun timpani glissandi towards the end.

The opening movement evolves around an enchanting melody, which is in character similar to the theme from Memoirs of a Geisha but with a much broader structure as well as a sensitive developement section. Cathy Basrak, the soloist, performed this theme wonderfully and with great nobility in my opinion. The exposition of the theme also had some delightful solistic comments from the flute (most notably), horn, and oboe. My only critisism for the entire work would be the early and in my opinion intrusive tutti climax only a few minutes into the movement. The exaggerated Hollywood-like orchestration spoiled that particular section for me, and I also failed to appreciate why it was even there in the first place. This lack of patience in Williams’ approach to form is in my opinion perhaps his greatest weakness. Thankfully though, it didn’t last too long. The preparation of the cadenza was somewhat unusual in that the orchestra discretely faded out instead of building tension and dramatic expectation like we usually get to hear. Although the cadenza was difficult with intricate double stops, it seemed more a quiet meditation than virtuosic statement, something I greatly appreciated. The ending of the movement was again wonderful and truly had Symphony Hall in tears.

The final movement was also meditative, in a way similar to the final movement of Five Sacred Trees. It opened with the viola on its own and was soon joined by the harp, which for the occasion was moved right in front of the podium for better communication with the soloist and Williams. The movement later re-explored the theme from the first as well as revisiting the flute/viola combination. The audience reception resulted in a well deserved standing ovation and I believe the work to be one of Williams’ greatest accomplishments. I would rank it even higher than the Mikos Rozsa concerto for viola, for those who are familiar with that. It is one of the most lyrical and most heart-felt and sincere works he has done. Perhaps in time it will prove to be one of the greatest contributions to the modern viola repertoire. At least it left me deeply touched.

Adventures of Mutt was a joy. Williams was smiling ear to ear and it seemed obvious that he loves conducting it. The humour in that piece is just incredible, and in my opinion one of the best arrangements he has ever concieved. The last section of the program consisted mainly of the obligatory must-do film themes. Williams seemed very tired and the performances weren’t top class. The tribute to Maurice Jarre was however lovely and a worthy ending to a lovely evening!

– Mark


Review by Jason LeBlanc

So the concert was great. The acoustics of the hall where terrific, I could hear everything clearly from where I sat (left balcony). Being on the balcony, by the way, reminded me of Fenway, in that you actually face the middle of the room instead of the stage, so you have to basically sit and turn to your left the entire concert to see what’s going on. It was nice being higher up, though, and being able to see the orchestra clearly.

John Williams came out and didn’t say anything, and just launched into the first piece. It was “Hurray For Hollywood”, which was fun. Next up was the March from Adventures of Robin Hood by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, which I was not familiar with previously, but enjoyed quite a bit. I really need to get a Best of Korngold CD. After that was a suite from Jane Eyre (Lowood, To Thornfield, and Reunion), which I also enjoyed quite a big. Jane Eyre is a movie I’ve never seen an I’ve only listened to the OST once, but hearing these pieces performed live made me very interested in checking it out again.

Then came the highlight of the night for me – the next piece started and right away I was just “oh my god, is it…?” And it was! It was the Prologue from Hook! No wait, its not the Prologue… Oh, its the “Flight To Neverland” concert arrangement like on the Williams/Spielberg CD! Excellent! (I didn’t have a program yet at this point, and it wasn’t mentioned in the other thread, so I didn’t know this would be included). The performance was great, full of energy. HOOK! My favorite film score of all time!

Then there was an intermission. When he came out, Williams finally spoke for the first time (the entire first section he never said anything). He had a microphone and talked for about 2 and a half minutes. He talked about how he loved the viola, how it was a “funny little instrument” (something like that), something about it being like a violin but in a different register? Then he mentioned that he was compelled to write a concerto for it, as many musicians are when they become enamored with an instrument. And that the concerto was composed of 3 parts. He said that the second part was more of a duo between viola and timpani (“funnily enough”), and that his internal name for the second movement was “Family Argument” (or something similar), because the timpani player was actually the featured performer’s husband. Then he introduced her (Cathy Basrack), and she came out and took the stage.

As mentioned, the concerto was broken up into 3 parts. The first part was about 12 minutes long, and the quiet / slowest of the three. There was a lengthy section, actually pretty much the second half of this movement, that she performed solo with no accompaniment. It was amazing to see, and to think how much practice it must have taken her! The second movement was fast and furious, and a lot of fun! It was about 4 minutes. The juxtaposition between the viola and timpani was interesting, and the rest of the orchestra accompanied perfectly. The third movement was I believe about 10 minutes or so long, and was the best of the 3 for sure. It starts off really slow, with plucked strings being featured, but builds and builds. The middle section features a nice viola solo, with the orchestra accompanying certain “hits” every so often for a while. Then the ending is rather slow again, and reminiscent of the way the movement started. Good stuff overall.

Cathy then got flowers from a little girl in the audience, who she then took up on stage along with another girl. After she left, Williams launched right into Adventures Of Mutt, which is certainly a very fun piece of music regardless of what you think of the movie it was composed for. The performance was excellent, full of energy.

After another intermission, Williams came back out and launched right into the Superman March. Nothing much to say about it. Then it was a suite from Far and Away, which was nice. Probably the most different piece of music played all night.

Then he took to the microphone again and talked about how people always say Citizen Kane is the best film ever made, but to him it’s Lawrence of Arabia. And how he is still astonished to this day by the visuals that David Lean made for the film, the cinematography, etc, and how it was all before things were “computerized”. He talked about 70mm film and cranking it by hand and the slow process it all was. He talked about Maurice Jarre and how much great film music he wrote. Then the screen came down and played scenes from the movie while he conducted a suite of music from it. It was nice.

Then he took to the microphone again and talked about Harrison Ford, and how great of an actor he is, and how long he’s been doing it. “I was told that he does about 60% of his athletic stunts, and in the earlier pictures he’d do up to 80% of them, so in addition to being one of the great actors I’ve seen, he’s also a great athelete. Here’s Harrison Ford in a lot of various positions… actually a couple love scenes too… in Indiana Jones”. Then a montage of clips from the first 3 Indiana Jones films was shown while The Raiders March was played.

He then left one last time and came back to simply say “Here’s an old, old one about a funny little muppet” – or SOMETHING like that (sorry don’t remember exactly). And Yoda’s Theme was played (which sounded REALLY good, perhaps one of the best performances of the night). After that, he just launched into the Main Theme from Star Wars (the LP arrangement of the Main / End Titles), which drew a HUGE applause. After he left, he came back onto the stage shortly thereafter, and I thought he might do a second encore, but he just stood there for more of the standing ovation, then he had the whole orchestra take turns bowing, etc. He then did a really funny thing where he put both hands to the side of his head in a “I’m sleepy” kind of way, which drew a laugh, and he left the stage, and that was it!

Original forum post (includes pictures)