United Kingdom John Williams at the Oscars: Tommy Pearson (presenter), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Robert Baxter (conductor). Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 24.3.2023. (SRT)
John Williams – Music from Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Superman, Jaws, Hook, E.T., War Horse, Born on the Fourth of July, Saving Private Ryan, Far and Away, Catch Me If You Can, The Adventures of Tintin
Staggeringly, John Williams is still being nominated for Academy Awards at the age of 91. He is well known to be the person with the second highest number of Oscar nominations (after Walt Disney), but since his nomination for Stephen Spielberg’s The Fabelmanns, he has also become the oldest ever nominee for a major Oscar.
That is as good a reason as any for a concert that celebrates his music. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra mounts a John Williams concert most years, and it is true that certain staple favourites crop up nearly every time. However, every concert hammers home what a master Williams is of his craft. The warmth of the cello sound that he requires for Jurassic Park, or even for Yoda’s theme in Star Wars, is reminiscent of Brahms, and the glittery sheen on the top of the brass is guaranteed to induce a sugar-rush of adrenaline in all but the most cynical of listeners. Furthermore, he can turn in a neat pastiche when he wants to. His music for War Horse is reminiscent of the English pastoral style of Vaughan Williams, he writes some mean Celtic folk music for Far and Away, and he even makes shrewd use of a neo-baroque walking bass in Harry Potter.
The RSNO play his music so often that, by now, they could probably do it in their sleep. Instead of that, however, they lavish on it the care and professionalism that they would bring to a Romantic symphony. The heft of the sound they summon up for the big hits like Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark is terrific, but the solos are superb too, like Katherine Bryan’s limpid flute in War Horse, Christopher Hart’s dark-edged trumpet in Born on the Fourth of July, or the jazz trio of saxophone, double bass and vibraphone in Catch Me If You Can.
Robert Baxter did a sterling job as conductor, not least because audience expectations tie his hands when it comes to selecting the tempi and shape for each piece. Presenter Tommy Pearson pitched it just right, too, in terms of introductions to the music and, after the interval, bantering with audience members who had sent in their tweets. Perhaps the best thing of all was that plenty of those tweets came from people, including children who were coming to hear the RSNO for the first time. I am sure lots of them will be back.