Scoring with Williams

03.10.11
Richard Kaufman
The Star (Malaysia)

By Qishin Tariq

The Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra took its audience on a flight of fancy with some of John Williams’ best-loved movie music.

THE Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) paid tribute to legendary film music com-poser John Williams last Friday, doing justice to his work in a way only a full orchestra could. The MPO was helmed that night by Richard Kauf-man, who had in the past personally worked with Williams as a violinist on several of his compositions, including the soundtrack of Jaws.

“Tonight, we celebrate one of Hollywood’s biggest stars and he’s never seen on screen,” said Kaufman, introducing the man behind the music. Even if you have never heard of John Williams, you probably have heard his music in one of the many, many movies he scored. In fact, this prolific composer is the go-to guy for Stephen Spielberg movie soundtracks in the way Danny Elfman is to Tim Burton. Williams has composed for all but two of Spielberg’s feature films.

This becomes particularly obvious when reading through the programme, which features music from Jurrasic Park, Star Wars, Jaws and ET. In a way, the night doubled as a tribute to Spielberg.

It’s rare for collaborations to con-tinue for so long, but when they do, it’s for good reason. From the music that night, it proved that Spielberg’s penchant for epic movies gave Wil-liams the perfect inspiration to create equally grandiose orchestral sets.

And what a treat that was for the concert goers that night! During the performance of the Raider’s March from Raiders Of Tthe Lost Ark, all hands were on deck, frantically matching Kaufman’s directions. Kaufman was so enthusiastic in his conducting that he would give a little hop when signalling for the music to swell.

Kaufman also doubled as a tour guide, introducing the more recent and lesser known movies, like Yes, Giorgio and The Terminal. However, just in case you were utterly lost to pop-culture, the screen in the background displayed the title of the movie before each song.

To further jog viewers’ memories, the screen would also parade pictures of the actors and producers involved. This became an unintentionally hilarious montage of Williams and Spielberg’s shifting hairlines as the evening marched on.

Two songs that stood out for me were from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and Jaws. While most of the songs were made to tell grand tales of intergalactic war and adventures through ruins, these two songs took a more tense approach, violins wailing through scenes in which kids cover their eyes.

Close Encounters was a great soundtrack. It was even nominated for an Oscar,” said Kaufman, cheeckily adding, “but it lost to a better one: Star Wars!” The whole night faced that same dilemma, as each movie fought to be heard with only around six minutes given to each score.

That was the one issue I had with the programme: it was spread out over so much of Williams’ discography, with 12 songs from 11 different movies. While I appreciate that the orchestra introduced some of his more obscure compositions, I was looking forward to that Star Wars classic, the Imperial March aka Darth Vader’s theme. Puzzlingly, two songs from Hook were featured, while only the main theme from Star Wars played.

The highlight of the show for me was the clarinet solo during Viktor’s Tale from The Terminal: the comical nature of the music reminded me of how Tom Hanks portrayed stranded tourist Viktor Navorski, who bungled his way through the odd circumstance of living out of an airport.

After receiving deafening cheers at the end of the programme, Kaufman agreed to an encore, jokingly saying “for such an audience, I have 17 more songs!” He settled on ending the night with his personal favourite, a rousing marching tune from Spielberg’s period war/comedy film 1941.