SOUNDINGS (2003) – Program Notes & Spielberg Introduction



In writing Soundings, I’ve tended to think of it as an experimental piece for Walt Disney Concert Hall in which a collection of colorful sonorities could be sampled in the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s new environment. The piece is in o­ne extended movement and is divided into five sections.

In the first section, “The Hall Awakens,” I decided to begin with four measures of silence in order to, symbolically at least, capture the Hall in its quiescence. The flutes then break the silence by murmuring softly in their lowest register. Horns and brass sonorities follow, and an unaccompanied section of unison strings allows us to test the Hall’s friendliness to that magnificent group.

This is followed by “The Hall Glistens,” in which a full battery of percussion and fully scored shimmering effects suggest glittering flashes of light that might emerge as the sun is reflected off of Frank Gehry’s great exterior “sails.”

Earlier, as I admired the Hall and studied its interior, I wondered what it might be like if the building’s brilliant exterior surfaces could be sounded and the Hall actually “sang” to us. These thoughts suggested the third section, “The Hall Responds,” in which the Hall itself becomes a partner in the music making. The orchestra sounds a vibrant low D, and the Hall reverberates and responds. Three other great sails are sounded as the orchestra, led by the solo flute, sends messages which are returned to us from various locations in the Hall.

In the fourth section, “The Hall Sings,” the four great sail notes – D, E, C#, and B – reach their maturation and freely move about the Hall as the orchestra supports them. They eventually ascend and vanish above us as these vibrating units of sound return to take their fixed molecular place in the building structure? at least, in our imaginations.

The piece closes with the fifth section, “The Hall Rejoices,” and here the orchestra celebrates with its full voice.

The motivic material for this finale comes from the suggestion of Los Angeles Philharmonic President and Chief Executive Officer Deborah Borda that I write a sequence for carillon bells that would be sounded in the lobby to announce the end of intermission. To accomplish this I’ve suggested the five “call” notes F#-D#-F#-G#-F# and a six-note group – G-G-F#-A-D-B – that gently remind us that it’s time to conclude our conversations and return to our seats. These sequences of notes form the basis of the finale and the piece closes with the Hall itself “chiming in” at the celebratory conclusion.

I feel honored to have been asked to write a work for o­ne of the inaugural concerts in the Walt Disney Concert Hall and a more inspiring subject for music can’t be imagined.

– John Williams

Full transcript of Steven Spielberg’s introduction to the World Premiere Performance of John Williams’ SOUNDINGS on October 25, 2003:

“Good evening and welcome. So far, music has done all the talking in Walt Disney Concert Hall, so I feel that my voice o­n this stage is just a momentary intrusion o­n what this space will stand for in the weeks and years and decades to come.

Walt Disney’s family knew what they were doing when they lead the efforts of countless creators and contributors to honor Walt’s memory with such a magical, musical kingdom for both the people of Los Angeles and the entire world.

Walt would really love this place. He was an artistic adventurer. He adored classical music it and used it in new ways to reach a wide audience. He linked urban planning to the cultural experience, and when he wanted to accomplish something, he never gave it up.

One of his favorite songs describes Walt’s essence as well as the incredible achievement of bringing Walt Disney Concert Hall to life: “When You Wish Upon a Star Your Dreams Come True”.

Now those same words can be used to describe the creator us this unparalleled space, Frank Gehry. Walt Disney and Frank Gehry–Walt and Frank are the perfect combination: an artistic match made in heaven. Both visionaries have devoted their lives to exploring the frontiers of imagination and more than anyone else, Walt Disney brought children and grown-ups together, and in the same way, Frank Gehry will bring people closer to music than ever before here in Los Angeles.

Now, the best way to commemorate a new home for music is with new music, and for this occasion, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has commissioned a local composer/conductor who by the way I think has considerable potential to create a new work.

At first he thought it would be pretty simple. He agreed to compose a melody for the lobby chimes–he did, for the lobby chimes that will call music lovers into every concert from now o­n. But soon, he got caught up in the spirit of this musical environment, just as everybody else has, but unlike just about everybody else, he set out to prove that Walt Disney Concert Hall is itself a musical instrument–not just acoustically but metaphorically. So this evening, Walt Disney Concert Hall, built of steel and wood, intellect and emotion, will sing to you.

Ladies and gentlemen, the world premiere performance of “Soundings”, composed and conducted by John Williams. Maestro.”

Williams then took to the stage, shook Steven Spielberg’s hand and embraced him in a hug. With that, “Soundings” started softly, subtlety with the hesitant fluttering of flutes that would grow into a magical rush of the orchestra as the concert hall “woke up” as Williams had envisioned.