On Wednesday evening, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra will perform a special concert to benefit the orchestra’s education and community engagement efforts. These programs reach more than 100,000 students, educators, and community leaders throughout Georgia. The concert will be hosted by Academy Award-winning director and producer Steven Spielberg and composer John Williams, and will feature video excerpts from their films. Williams, who composed the scores for such movies as “Star Wars,” “Jaws,” “Superman,” the Indiana Jones and Harry Potter movies and many others, has been nominated for 45 Oscars, making him the most nominated person in history. So far, he’s won five. Williams will also conduct, and the concert will showcase his own music. He spoke with James L. Paulk about his career and the concert.
AJC: How did this concert come about?
Williams: For the last few years, Steven and I have contributed time and effort to raising money for pension and education funds for America’s orchestras. It’s very rewarding for both of us. We get to work with and say thank you to some of the world’s greatest musicians. I feel a brotherhood with them, and want to speak out for them. Where Atlanta is concerned, Bob Spano and I go back a long time to Boston, and I haven’t been here since the Olympics, so it’s a natural fit.
AJC: That would be the Olympic Games here in 1996, when you composed the music and conducted the ASO. What do you recall about that visit?
Williams: We worked together in Symphony Hall, and then we went to the stadium, where we recorded some of the music live. It was my first and last opportunity to work with Robert Shaw, who was our country’s most eminent choral conductor.
AJC: You and Mr. Spielberg have had a unique and astonishingly productive relationship, and you’ve worked together for almost 40 years. There is not a comparable collaboration anywhere in terms of your output together and the success you’ve had. How did you begin?
Williams: I began working with Steven in 1973, when he was very young. We got on well, and we just went from film to film. It’s amazing how time can slip away. We’ve never had a disagreement or an argument; it’s like a perfect marriage in that sense. Sometimes we don’t see each other for months, and then we pick back up and get to work. Steven is very loyal. He’s comfortable with a team he’s worked with for many years, and we’re all totally comfortable with each other. His projects offer enough contrast. There’s sufficient variety in style between something like “E.T.” and something like “Schindler’s List,” for example, to keep my interest. He is such a kind and gentle man, it’s always a pleasure to work with him.
AJC: The late Frank Lewin, composer and Yale professor, said that movie composers are the real modern successors to the opera composers of another era, in that the theater they write for is the theater of our time for most people, and that many of the same qualities make them successful. You’re our greatest film composer. What do you feel is the role of your profession today?
Williams: Technology has changed the game. Today, a movie composer can have an audience of millions around the world on one project. A composer working in film has an opportunity to reach a larger audience than any composer before, but the role of the composer is smaller. The director has the larger role, and the composer works in service to the director. And the music serves a variety of different purposes over the course of the film. The future of music is linked to its audio-visual coupling. We have a young generation who want to see in front of them a very visual and tactile element. This era is really a challenge for the professional musician.
AJC: You celebrated a birthday not long ago [Williams turned 80 in February] and you’ve not slowed down. In fact you seem to have more projects than ever. How do you manage it?
Williams: If we feel good, we want to work. I’ve been lucky about my health. And I work in a field that is like play. Rachmaninoff said: “Music is enough for anyone’s lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.” I love what I do.
AJC: Thanks for taking time for our readers, and for participating in this benefit for such a great cause.
James L. Paulk. 8:00 p.m. October 24, 2012. Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree Street, Atlanta. 404-733-5000. www.atlantasymphony.org
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