Stockbridge — Film Night at Tanglewood on August 19 featured, as usual, John Williams conducting the Boston Pops Orchestra in an assortment of excerpts from his most celebrated movie scores. That’s what his fans expect. It’s a Tanglewood tradition. But this year his fans got something extra. Something that made BSO history.
Past music directors of the Boston Symphony Orchestra haven’t shown much interest in film music (at least, not enough to devote whole programs to it or to actually appear at one of the Film Night concerts). That’s why it was surprising to learn, several months ago, that BSO music director Andris Nelsons would share the podium with John Williams at Tanglewood’s 2017 Film Night.
A BSO music director conducting the Boston Pops on a Tanglewood Film Night would be highly irregular. And yet, there he was, on the Shed stage, conducting movie music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Alex North, Bernard Herrmann, and, of course, John Williams. Nelsons conducted two pieces live to picture, which means he had to master the same computer technology that Keith Lockhart and John Williams rely on whenever they need to keep an orchestra in sync with a moving picture. Nelsons made the entire exercise look easy. (But we know it was nothing of the sort.)
When John Williams took the stage after Intermission, his fans greeted him the way they always do: with a prolonged and raucous standing ovation. But now the Shed fell silent, and Williams launched into an excerpt from “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Skull.” Selections from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” and “Far and Away” followed. For 18,000 John Williams fans, it was pure joy.
Finally came the most anticipated moment of the evening, the unmasking of the mysterious “special guest trumpet soloist” that the BSO had promised would play on Williams’ “With Malice Toward None” from his score to “Lincoln.” A former trumpeter for the Latvian National Opera, Andris Nelsons seemed like a good (if improbable) pick to perform the “Lincoln” solo. But, after all these years, would his trumpet chops still be up?
The crowd cheered wildly when Andris Nelsons walked onto the stage carrying his trumpet. Once the audience had settled down, Maestro Williams struck up the band and gave Maestro Nelsons the signal to begin. What happened next was, musically speaking, not out of the ordinary: Trumpeter Nelsons did a fine job. But to see the music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra performing as a soloist under the baton of a Boston Pops conductor? That was unprecedented in the orchestra’s entire performance history.
Below is a video of the Andris Nelsons trumpet performance:
Last on the program were three live-to-picture selections from the “Harry Potter” movies. The film montage that Susan Dangel and Dick Bartlett created is wonderfully entertaining by itself (thanks to all the people who actually made the film.) But when you have the Boston Pops Orchestra performing the score, their montage becomes truly spectacular, functioning as a kind of super-trailer for the whole series of Potter films.
When one happens to be John Williams, one does not simply walk off the Shed stage at the end of Film Night (or any other night) and go home. A legion of fans demanded encores, and the beloved maestro was well prepared to deliver them, finally closing the show for real with — what else? — “The Imperial March” from “The Empire Strikes Back.” One of the secrets to John Williams’ success is that he enjoys pleasing an audience.
On promotional web pages and brochures, the BSO sometimes insists that a certain program is “not to be missed.” The truth is that, in many cases, it actually shouldn’t be. And there’s no better example than Tanglewood’s 2017 Film Night.