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At the Tanglewood Film Night Saturday, August 22, David Newman leads the Boston Pops in the score by Franz Waxman from 'Sunset Boulevard,' with Gloria Swanson as aging silent film star Norma Desmond.

REVIEW: Tanglewood Film Night without John Williams?

By Tuesday, Aug 25, 2015 Arts & Entertainment

Lenox — The summer of 2015 marked the first time in 35 years that John Williams, having withdrawn this year on account of a back injury, failed to appear at Tanglewood. So, what’s film night without John Williams? It’s a thoroughly entertaining show, even when the Pops’ Conductor Laureate is absent from the podium. For one thing, Williams wasn’t entirely absent, because the Pops’ film nights always include a generous helping of his best-known film music. For another, Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart and film composer David Newman both know how to keep an orchestra synchronized with a moving picture (no easy task!), and Lockhart happens to love conducting Williams. Besides, who knows better than Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops how to put on a show like this? For the most part, everything came off without a hitch, and throughout the evening, the crowd expressed their pleasure in no uncertain terms (loudly).

Though John Williams was not present in person, his music certainly was, Here, a scene from 'Jaws.'

Though John Williams was not present in person, his music certainly was, Here, a scene from ‘Jaws.’

In the program’s first half, David Newman conducted a salute to Paramount Pictures, featuring music from films including “Forrest Gump,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “Sabrina,” and “The Godfather.” Newman comes from the famous Newman Dynasty of film composers, and with nearly 100 films to his credit, he certainly knows his way around a scoring stage. So he’s comfortable dealing with things like click tracks, streamers, and punches, which are the high-tech nuts and bolts of synchronization in a Hollywood scoring session. In addition, Newman knows how to charm a Tanglewood audience with historically relevant comments given from the stage. Not surprisingly, he has plenty of fascinating Newman family stories to tell, stories that go back to the very earliest days of the sound film.

Newman also conducted pieces by Bernard Herrmann (“North by Northwest”), Nino Rota (“The Godfather”), as well as the evening’s hands-down favorite, music from “Star Trek Into Darkness,” composed by Michael Giacchino. A perfect balance between orchestra, dialog, and sound effects — not to mention a flawless performance by the orchestra — sent the Tanglewood crowd into the stratosphere (although the balance between instruments within the orchestra proved a bit trickier to manage.)

The theme from 'Star Trek: Into Darkness,' by was a big crowd pleaser.

The theme from ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness,’ by Michael Giacchino was a big crowd pleaser.

Keith Lockhart took the podium for the second half of the show, conducting material originally assigned to Williams’ baton. Thus, the evening’s most anticipated fun began: Music from “Jurassic Park,” “Jaws,” “Star Wars,” and, most notably, “Schindler’s List” now took the Shed stage by force.

But it gets even better: When you have Gil Shaham playing the solo violin part for the “Schindler’s List” theme, you’re getting the very best of the very best, a performance easily on par with the score’s original violin performance by Itzhak Perlman.

It’s no secret that Gil Shaham produces an extraordinary tone from his instrument. Every note is pure and sweet (not to mention precise). Yes, it helps that his instrument was made by Antonio Stradivari. But, in truth, that explains very little. It’s still a bit uncanny. The full explanation comes only from Shaham’s technique.

Violinist Gil Shaham, with Keith Lockhart conducting, played the theme from 'Schindler's List.'

Violinist Gil Shaham, with Keith Lockhart conducting, played the violin solo from ‘Schindler’s List.’

Variety Magazine reports that live-to-picture performances are growing more common among major orchestras worldwide: “After years of looking down their collective noses at film music as unworthy of performance alongside, say, Beethoven or Wagner, orchestras from the Chicago Symphony to the New York Philharmonic are jumping on the bandwagon, playing classic film scores ‘live to picture’ in growing numbers.” Indeed, the BSO has been on top of this trend for years, and it’s well known that some of its largest audiences have been primarily movie-music fans. This crowd tends to be younger than the audience for, say, a Mahler symphony, but with the release of “Star Wars” now 40 years behind us, a lot of the “kids” showing up to these concerts have just as much grey hair as the “classical” crowd.

It’s no surprise that live-to-picture programs would be popular at the Hollywood Bowl. Their pops program manager, Brian Grohl says, “It’s gone from an occasional novelty to being a vital part of the concert-going experience”

So what’s next? Video game music at Symphony Hall? Sure! In fact, it’s already been done (click here to see) and will no doubt happen again. (Next time, how about a program of Michael Giacchino’s game music?)

Watching a large orchestra play a great movie score “live to picture” is one of the most extraordinary spectacles a music fan can hope to witness. In its own way, it’s as exhilarating as Strauss, as emotionally stirring as Wagner (whom many consider the father of the modern movie score), as monumental as Mahler.

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