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Music Review: John Williams Performs “Music from the City of Angels” at Disney Hall

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John Williams is one of Los Angeles' treasures and an icon in modern movie music. His music has become so ubiquitous that there is a tendency to reduce him to the status of a mere pop composer, when in fact he is one of the greatest composers of all time. Los Angeles audiences are used to seeing the maestro perform at the Hollywood Bowl, complete with movie clips and an often-rowdy crowd of Star Wars fans decked out with lightsabers and costumes. What a distinct pleasure, by contrast, to get to see Williams up close and personal in the gorgeous and acoustically perfect Disney Hall.

The concerts on Oct. 16-18 were nearly sold out and had a very eager and more refined audience than one might find at the Bowl. Williams called the concert "Music from the City of Angels" and along with the glorious LA Philharmonic, provided us with a captivating and exquisite selection of maestro Williams' favorite film music, all written and composed in Los Angeles.

The first half of the program began with of Korngold's Suite from The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. The movie starred Bette Davis and Errol Flynn. Korngold's score featured the kind of heroic fanfares that were familiar from other Flynn movies he had composed for, but it also had some lovely lyrical passages. Second was Alex North's music from Spartacus accompanying the scene where Spartacus meets his love in the forest. Lots of horns represented the ever-present Roman threat, while some violins evoked the romance. Next came Bernard Herrmann’s score from Vertigo, complex and insistent music that recalls Wagner's blending of themes. The last presentation in the first half was the "LA Triptych" featuring music from Waxman's haunting Sunset Boulevard score, Goldsmith's moody score for Chinatown featuring a jazz trumpet, and finally the "Prelude and Finale" from Double Indemnity. This triptych represented some of the best noir music ever composed for film.

The second half of the evening was all Williams. First up was his beautiful music from Memoirs of a Geisha, played with the help of the impressive Johannes Moser on cello. Mr. Moser dazzled us with his virtuosity and his ability to make the cello sound like a Japanese instrument. Next came the quintessential example of Williams' composition for film, "Adventures on Earth" from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, which demonstrated how music and film could really complement each other. The encore was, you guessed it, Star Wars, which was greeted with cheers. All in all it was a wonderful evening of movie music at Disney Hall.

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