It was no surprise that the Seattle Symphony's John Williams Conducts Williams concert sold out approximately two hours after tickets went on sale, but it was quite the surprise when Williams, the greatest American cinematic composer of our time, called Steven Spielberg to the stage following intermission.
After a moment of collective disbelief, everyone in the packed house rose to their feet and flipped out as the author of their childhoods walked across the stage, waved to the orchestra, and stood before the mic. An appearance by Spielberg wasn't in the evening's program, and so this was all very cool and happening.
That moment when John Williams surprises you by announcing that his friend, Steven Spielberg, will narrate the rest of the concert! :astonished: pic.twitter.com/OQxsD5xvYJ
— Seattle Symphony (@seattlesymphony) September 28, 2017
During the first half of the concert, Williams projected a sense of gratitude and real pleasure. He said he was glad to be back in Seattle again and mentioned his long history with this city and its orchestra, which he claimed was the first to play any of his music onstage. That was news to me. Something else I did not know: Williams said he wrote a romantic theme for Luke and Leia because he, like everyone else on the planet, thought they were boyfriend-girlfriend. He was just as flabbergasted as anyone else when director George Lucas told him they were siblings, and was sorry his music contributed to everyone's suspicions.
When Spielberg joined Williams onstage, it was, frankly, very cute. They were nerds nerding out about the relationship between music and the moving image, and their joy appeared authentic despite the promotional aspects of the performance. (A new Indiana Jones movie is due out in 2019.) But even those aspects were fucking great. At one point, Spielberg gave a shot-for-shot commentary on a chase scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but without any music playing behind it. When teenage Indy crashed through the roof of a train car and then landed in a box full of snakes, Spielberg turned to the audience and said, "That's where the snake thing comes from." Then they ran the tape again, except this time with Williams conducting a live score. The music, of course, made all the difference, and the process reminded everyone how much emotional weight is carried by a film's weepy violins and proud French Horns.
For the rest of the evening, Spielberg sat facing Williams in the center of the orchestra as he conducted bits from War Horse, The Adventures of Tintin, and Schindler’s List. Cordula Merks's violin solo on that latter piece of music had people in tears, and the orchestra in general was in rare form. The energy of the crowd was coursing through the performers, lending fire to their flights of virtuosity.
I've seen a number of audience members preform their appreciation at symphonies before, but people seemed to be having some once-in-a-lifetime experiences at this thing. A pony-tailed nerd who might as well have been wearing a lanyard braced himself against his chair and adjusted his glasses when a rush of trumpets filled the air for "Scherzo for X-Wings from The Force Awakens." An elderly woman sitting directly in front of me cupped her cheek and gave her husband a knowing look when Williams struck up the orchestra for the E.T. theme.
Seeing the elderly react like children to this music messed up my sense of time. From my perspective, the music of Star Wars has always existed. Raiders of the Lost Ark has always existed. I didn't even really know a person made it. As Spielberg said last night, Williams's music always sounded to me as if it "fell from the stars themselves." I was dumbstruck trying to imagine a time when people were walking around talking to each other and falling in and out of love all without that *bum bum-bum BUM* phrase from the Indiana Jones theme swirling around in their minds.
Watching Spielberg pat his knee in time to those swashbuckling opening bars, and observing his admiration for the soloists as they showed off, was truly something to behold. Even after a 45-year partnership, he and Williams didn't appear to be bored with one another. Their respect felt mutual, as if their distinct but related cinematic pursuits allowed each man to maintain some level of mystery and wonder about the other man's talents. That mystery and wonder was certainly still preserved among the audience members, even among those who claimed never to have seen some of the films before.