Entertainment

Composer John Williams, 90, is moving away from film but not from music

After more than six decades of skyrocketing bicycles, sending panicked swimmers ashore, and other riveting close encounters, John Williams is writing the final notes on what may be his final score.

“Right now I’m working on it Indiana Jones 5 I think Harrison Ford — who’s quite a bit younger than me — announced it would be his last film,” says Williams. “So I thought, if Harrison can do it, maybe I can too.”

Ford, for the record, didn’t say that publicly. And Williams, who turned 90 in February, isn’t entirely sure he’s ready either.

“I don’t want to be seen as categorically eliminating all activity,” Williams says with a chuckle, speaking on the phone from his Los Angeles home. “I can’t play tennis, but I like being able to believe that maybe one day I will.”

For now, though, there are other ways Williams wants to spend his time. A war of stars Film requires six months of work, which he notes, “At this point in life is a long commitment for me.” Instead, Williams devoted himself to composing concert music, including a piano concerto he wrote for Emanuel Ax.

That spring, Williams and cellist Yo-Yo Ma released the album A meeting of friends, recorded with the New York Philharmonic, Pablo Sáinz-Villegas and Jessica Zhou. It is a radiant collection of cello concertos and new arrangements from the scores of Schindler’s List, Lincoln and Munchen, including the sublime A Prayer for Peace.

Turning 90 — an event the Kennedy Center and Tanglewood are celebrating with birthday concerts this summer — has prompted Williams to reflect on his accomplishments, his remaining ambitions, and what music has meant to him throughout his life.

“It gave me the ability to breathe, the ability to live and to understand that there is more to physical life,” says Williams. “Without being religious, which I’m not particularly, there is a spiritual life, an artistic life, a realm that is above the mundane of everyday realities. Music can raise thinking to the level of poetry. We can reflect on how necessary music was to humankind. I always like to speculate that music predates language, that we probably banged drums and blew on reeds before we could speak. So it’s an essential part of our humanity.

“It gave me my life.”

And in turn, through more than 100 film scores, Williams has provided the soundtrack to the lives of countless others, including Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Jaws, Encounters of the Third Kind, ET, Indiana Jones, Superman, Schindler’s List and Harry Potter.

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“He’s lived through almost a century, and his music encompasses all the events and changes of that time,” says Ma, a longtime friend. “He’s one of the great American voices.”

It’s an achievement that’s difficult to quantify. Five Oscars and 52 Oscar nominations, a number surpassed only by Walt Disney, is a measurement. But even that hardly hints at the cultural power of his music. A billion people could be able to hum Williams’ two-note ostinato instantly Jaw or “The Emperor’s March”. war of stars.

“I was told that the music is played all over the world. What could be more rewarding than that?” says Williams. “But I have to say it seems unreal. All I can do at that moment is see what’s in front of me on the piano and do my best with it.”

Williams has a warm, humble, and polite manner despite his stature. He began an interview by offering, “Let me see if I can give you anything that might be useful.” All of those indelible, perfectly constructed themes are his opinions less the result of divine inspiration and more of daily hard work. Williams spends hours doing most of the work on his Steinway and composes in pencil.

“It’s like cutting a rock at your desk,” he says. “My younger colleagues are a lot faster than me because they have electronics and computers and synthesizers and stuff like that.”

When Williams started (his first feature film score was in 1958 papa-O) began to lose the cinematic tradition of large, orchestral scores to pop soundtracks. Now many are leaning towards synthesized film music. Williams increasingly has the aura of a revered old master bridging distant epochs of film and music.

“Recording with the New York Philharmonic, the entire orchestra to one person was impressed by this gentleman, now 90 years old, who hears everything, is unfailingly kind, gentle and polite. People just wanted to play for him,” says Ma. “They were blown away by the musicianship of this man.”

In a way, this late chapter in William’s career is a chance to place his vast legacy not only in the context of cinema, but also among classic legends. Williams, who conducted the Boston Pops from 1980 to 1993, conducted the Berlin, Vienna and New York Philharmonics, among others. Williams’ compositions have entered the canon of the world’s elite orchestras.

“A purist may say that the music depicted in the film is not absolute music. Well, that may be true,” says Williams. “But some of the greatest music ever written was narrative. Certainly at the opera. Film offers this possibility – not often, but occasionally it does. And in a musically rewarding way. Occasionally we get lucky and find one.”

Of course, William’s enduring partnership with Steven Spielberg has added to the composer’s chances. Spielberg, who first sought out lunch with Williams in 1972 after being intrigued by his score for The Reivers, has called it “the single most important contributor to my success as a filmmaker.”

“Without John Williams, motorcycles don’t really fly,” Spielberg said when the AFI honored Williams in 2016.

You remain irrevocably connected. Their offices on Universal’s property are just steps away from each other. Along with Indiana JonesWilliams recently scored Spielberg’s upcoming semi-autobiographical drama about growing up in Arizona, The Fabelmans. The two films make it to 30 films for Spielberg and Williams combined.

“That was 50 years ago now. Maybe we’ll start with the next 50,” says Williams, laughing. “Whatever our connections will be, whether it’s music or working with him or just being with him, I think we’ll always be together. We are great close friends who have spent many years together. It’s the kind of relationship neither of us would ever say no to the other.”

In Spielberg’s films and others, Williams has carved out enough perfectly compressed melodies to rival The Beatles. Spielberg once described his five tones as a “communication motive”. close encounters as a “doorbell”.

“Simple little themes that speak clearly and without obfuscation are very hard to find and very hard to execute,” says Williams. “They really are the result of a lot of work. It’s almost like chiseling. Move a note, change a rhythmic accent or the direction of an interval, and so on. A simple melody can be made in dozens of ways. When you find something like this, it seems like you’ve discovered something that needs to be uncovered.”

One thing you won’t hear from Williams is a great explanation of his own heritage. He’s much more comfortable talking like a technician tinkering until a shiny gem falls out.

“My own personality is that I look at what I’ve done – I’m very happy and proud of a lot of it – but like most of us, we always wish we could have done better,” he says. “We live with examples like Beethoven and Bach before us, monumental achievements that people have made in music, and we can feel very humbled. But I also feel very lucky. I’ve had wonderful opportunities, especially in film where a composer can have an audience of not millions of people, but billions of people.”

Williams has a series of concerts planned for the remainder of the year, including performances in Los Angeles, Singapore and Lisbon. But as Williams retires from film, he remains enchanted by cinema and the ability of sound and image when combined to take off.

“I would like to be there in 100 years time to see what people are doing with film and sound and spatial, acoustic and visual effects. It has a tremendous future, I think,” says Williams. “I can feel great possibilities and great futures in the atmosphere of the whole experience. I would love to come back and see and hear everything.”

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Follow AP film writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at:

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/john-williams-harrison-ford-b2107737.html Composer John Williams, 90, is moving away from film but not from music

JOE HERNANDEZ

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