Monday, June 18, 2018

Music Album Review: "Williams on Williams: The Classic Spielberg Scores - John Williams & the Boston Pops Orchestra'

(C) 1995, 2017 Sony Classical/Sony Masterworks

On November 14, 1995, four years after the release of The Spielberg-Williams Collaboration, Sony Classical dropped a sequel to that album by John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra. Titled Williams on Williams: The Classic Spielberg Scores – John Williams & the Boston Pops Orchestra, this one-disc recording presented 15 themes composed and conducted by the Academy Award-winning maestro for director Steven Spielberg.  

The Spielberg-Williams collaboration began in the early 1970s when the then 27-year-old director asked John Williams if he would score his first feature film, The Sugarland Express (1974). Spielberg loved Williams’ score for the 1969 film The Reivers and wanted the music for his set-in-Texas comedy-drama to have that same contemporary Western sensibility.

The two men got along well, and since 1973, Williams has composed the music for all but two of Spielberg’s films (The Color Purple and Bridge of Spies).

As John Burlingame wrote in the liner notes booklet for John Williams – Steven Spielberg: The Ultimate Collection (the 2017 Sony Classical box set which includes a reissued edition of Williams on Williams: The Classic Spielberg Scores):

Over the ninety-year history of sound film, there have been a handful of instances when a director and a composer have formed a longtime partnership that resulted in a series of classic scores, creating music that stands the test of time. Film historians cite Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Hermann, for example, or Federico Fellini and Nino Rota; others might name Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone, or Blake Edwards and Henry Mancini.

None, however, have been as long or as fruitful as the forty-three-year collaboration of Steven Spielberg and John Williams. None have encompassed such a wide range of subject matter or, more significantly, have had such an enormous impact on worldwide popular culture.
Official Sony Classical Video: Theme from Jurassic Park

The music presented in Williams on Williams: The Classic Spielberg Scores spans a 14-year-long fragment of the now 44-year-long Spielberg-Williams collaboration: from 1979’s World War II comedy 1941 to 1993’s Holocaust drama Schindler’s List, the 15 cues are from just six of the Oscar-winning duo’s films – 1941, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Hook, Jurassic Park, and Schindler’s List.

Track List:

1. Flying Theme from E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
2. Main Theme from Jurassic Park
3. Remembrances from Schindler's List (Tamara Smirnova - Violin)
4. Flight to Neverland from Hook
5.The Battle of Hollywood from 1941 (Includes the Irish folk song "The Rakes of Mallow")
6. Smee's Plan from Hook
7. The Barrel Chase from Jaws
8. My Friend, the Brachiosaurus from Jurassic Park
9. Jim's New Life from Empire of the Sun
10. The Dialogue from Close Encounters of the Third Kind
11. The Lost Boys' Ballet from Hook
12. Main Theme from Schindler's List (Tamara Smirnova - Violin)
13. The Basket Case from Raiders of the Lost Ark
14. The Face of Pan from Hook
15. The Banquet from Hook

Curiously, producer-engineer Shawn Murphy devotes one-third (five tracks) of Williams on Williams: The Classic Spielberg Scores to themes from Hook, Spielberg’s big-budget take on a grownup Peter Pan and his attempts to rescue his kids from the vengeful Captain Hook. This is the only Steven Spielberg film I’ve watched and not liked; as Roger Ebert wrote in his 1991 review, Hook is “a lugubrious retread of a once-magical idea.”

Of course, John Williams wrote a gorgeous score for Hook, including Flight to Neverland, Smee’s Plan, The Lost Boys’ Ballet, The Face of Pan, and The Banquet. They’re all nice, especially the rousing, rollicking Flight to Neverland, but honestly, I would have preferred tracks from other pre-1995 Spielberg films.
Official Sony Classical Video: 'Flying Theme from E.T.'

The Spielberg-as-Wunderkind Era is, of course, well-represented in Williams on Williams: The Classic Spielberg Scores; we get to hear one selection each from Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1941, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T.: The Extraterrestrial here. None of them are repeats from The Spielberg-Williams Collaboration; here E.T. is represented by the famous Flying theme, while Close Encounters of the Third Kind eschews the long Suite and presents us with the briefer but more famous The Dialogue (which is also known as The Conversation by CE3K soundtrack fans). 

Official Sony Classical Video: Remembrances from 'Schindler's List'

Tamara Smirnova

First Associate Concertmaster, Boston Symphony Orchestra; Concertmaster, Boston Pops Orchestra (Photo Credit: Boston Symphony Orchestra)

Mature Spielberg gets most of the spotlight in Williams on Williams: The Classic Spielberg Scores, even though Temporarily Insane Spielberg almost eclipses him with those five tracks from Hook.  Schindler’s List, Spielberg’s first Best Picture Oscar winner, is accorded two lovely, elegiac themes, Remembrances and the well-known Theme from Schindler’s List. In this recording, Tamara Smirnova, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s current First Associate Concertmaster, performs the hauntingly beautiful violin solos that are steeped in the traditions of Eastern European Jewish folk music.

There are also two selections from Spielberg’s other film for 1993 – Jurassic Park. Here, Williams on Williams: The Classic Spielberg Scores gives listeners the iconic Main Theme from the blockbuster film based on Michael Crichton’s novel about resurrected dinosaurs in a theme park beset by Murphy’s Law. Producer Murphy also includes the quieter My Friend, the Brachiosaurus.

All in all, Williams on Williams: The Classic Spielberg Scores makes a nice addition to any music collection. Fans of Maestro Williams and the world-famous Boston Pops Orchestra will appreciate this recording, which was released two years after Williams stepped down as the ensemble’s principal conductor and handed his baton to Keith Lockhart. I have a few quibbles about so much space being devoted to music from Hook, but other than that, I heartily recommend Williams on Williams: The Classic Spielberg Scores.


Roger Ebert Review:

Music Album Review: 'A Tribute to John Williams: An 80th Birthday Celebration'

(C) 2012 Sony Classical
John, Happy birthday to the greatest of all maestros and the greatest of all friends. - Steven Spielberg, writing in the liner notes booklet, A Tribute to John Williams: An 80th Birthday Celebration

On February 28, 2012, Sony Classical released A Tribute to John Williams: An 80th Birthday Celebration, a one-CD compilation of music composed and conducted by the dean of film composers and - perhaps - one of America's most beloved composers. The 15-track album contains 14 musical pieces - movie themes, classical works, and even a television network's theme - recorded over the years with several ensembles, including the Boston Pops Orchestra, the Recording Arts Orchestra of Los Angeles, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Skywalker Symphony Orchestra, and several studio ensembles hired for various movie scores by Hollywood studios for original motion picture soundtracks. All 14 of these tracks were previously released in earlier albums by Sony Classical. 

Official Sony Classical video: 'Main Theme from Schindler' List'

The 15th track, Happy Birthday Variations, is the only previously unreleased track in this album. It wasn't composed for A Tribute to John Williams: An 80th Birthday Celebration, per the liner notes, it was originally recorded by Maestro Williams with the Recording Arts Orchestra of Los Angeles on December 9, 1999 at Sony Pictures' Culver City (California) studio, but it appears for the first time on a recording in this 2012 album. 

Happy Birthday John, Maestro, friend, collaborator, and storyteller. You brought my stories to life beyond my wildest dreams - George Lucas, writing in the liner notes booklet, A Tribute to John Williams: An 80th Birthday Celebration   

Official Sony Classical video: Happy Birthday Variations by John Williams

Track List:

  1. Sound the Bells!
  2. Out to Sea/The Shark Cage Fugue from Jaws
  3. Theme from Sabrina (Itzhak Perlman, violin)
  4. March from 1941
  5. Adventures on Earth from E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
  6. Dartmoor, 1912 from War Horse
  7. The Adventures of Mutt from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
  8. Harry's Wondrous World from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
  9. Elegy for Cello and Orchestra (Yo-Yo Ma, cello)
  10. Going to School from Memoirs of a Geisha (Yo-Yo Ma, cello)
  11. The Mission Theme (Theme for NBC Nightly News)
  12. Theme from Schindler's List (Itzhak Perlman, violin)
  13. The Adventure Continues from The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
  14. Throne Room and Finale from Star Wars
  15. Happy Birthday Variations

Dear John, It has been a great pleasure and an honor to play your wonderful music. You are the best. I am lucky to have you as a friend. Happy 80th birthday and many happy and healthy returns. - Itzhak Perlman, writing in the liner notes booklet, A Tribute to John Williams: An 80th Birthday Celebration 

My Take

I have been a fan of John Williams' music since 1977, when I first watched Star Wars in a darkened theater surrounded by eager, happy viewers on a South Florida autumn afternoon. I had, of course, already seen a few films - and even TV shows - scored by the maestro (Midway, The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake, The Towering Inferno), but before I was 14, movie scores were not something that I consciously paid much attention to. But after Star Wars, I kept my eyes - and ears - peeled for the "Music By..." credit either in a movie's main titles or the end credits to see who had done the score. 

(And here I must confess....I wasn't keen on seeing 1978's Superman: The Movie until I saw John Williams' name on the television commercial. Before that, I wasn't sure if I wanted to watch Richard Donner's now-classic take on the Man of Steel. But it was the presence of Williams' score that sold me on a film whose tagline was "You'll believe a man can fly.")

As you can well imagine, I have quite a few albums and box sets of music composed and conducted by John Williams. Most of them, naturally, are original soundtracks from such films as Schindler's List, Raiders of the Lost Ark, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Superman, Close Encounters of the Third Kind,  and, of course, many albums of music from all eight of the existing Star Wars "main saga" movies. 

My music collection also includes many CDs of the recordings Maestro Williams made during his 13-year gig as principal conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra (1980-1993), including those produced by his current label, Sony Classical.

As a result, I was already familiar with over half the tracks contained in A Tribute to John Williams: An 80th Celebration. I recognized selections from Cinema Serenade, The Spielberg-Williams Collaboration, John Williams Conducts John Williams: The Star Wars Trilogy, and even selections from Boston Pops Orchestra albums released in the 1980s by Philips, including By Request: The Best of John Williams. 

Happily, A Tribute to John Williams: An 80th Birthday Celebration contains several tracks I had not heard on any album when I bought it in 2016. These included Sound the Bells! and Maestro Williams' concert piece Elegy for Cello and Orchestra, performed beautifully here by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Recording Arts Orchestra of Los Angeles. 

Official Sony Classical video: 'March from 1941'

Of course, several tracks on A Tribute to John Williams: An 80th Birthday Celebration are among my favorite compositions of all time; I've included links to four of them in this review. Each composition has a distinct mood and style, but they all point to Maestro Williams' versatility and his remarkable talent for telling stories through music alone. 

A Tribute to John Williams: An 80th Celebration is a fine salute to an artist who I believe is a true American genius. For six decades, Williams' contributions to film and classical music have captured the imaginations of millions of moviegoers and concert audiences. His symphonic scores, a rarity in the late 1960s and early 1970s - when Williams made the transition from a young contract player/orchestrator named "Johnny" to the more mature Oscar-winning composer-conductor known as "John" or "Maestro Williams" - revived the genre and inspired a new generation of film composers such as James Horner, Hans Zimmer, Howard Shore, Michael Kamen, and Michael Giacchino, to add their musical voices to his own.

Even better, A Tribute to John Williams: An 80th Birthday Celebration was not a valedictorian album. Far from it! Since Sony Classical dropped the album on February 28, 2012 (March 5, 2012 in Great Britain and the European Union), Williams has written scores for Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, The BFG, The Post, and Ready Player One. 

In addition, the Grand Jedi Master of music from a galaxy far, far away has composed and conducted the music for Star Wars - Episode VII: The Force Awakens and Star Wars - Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. He has also announced that he will retire from the Star Wars franchise upon the completion of 2019's Star Wars - Episode IX.   

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Book Review: 'Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story'

Map Credit: Wikipedia

In 1979, Simon and Schuster published Peter Wyden’s Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story, a hard-hitting and critical examination of one of the Central Intelligence Agency’s biggest blunders – the failed attempt to topple Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s regime with an invasion force of 1,500 U.S.-trained Cuban exiles that landed at Playa Giron, a beach on the Bay of Pigs, located on the southern coast of Cuba. 

(C) 1980 Touchstone Books/Simon and Schuster.

Planned during the last year of the Eisenhower Administration but never officially approved by the lame-duck President Eisenhower, Operation Zapata was not intended to defeat Castro’s forces at Playa Giron with such a small force. Instead, the Brigada de Asalto 2506 (Assault Brigade 2506) was originally assigned to land at Trinidad, 170 miles to the southeast of Havana.

There, the five small battalions would seize the port and airfield, carve out a beachhead, and once a perimeter was secured, a government-in-exile – recruited by the CIA’s Howard Hunt – would be flown in to declare itself as the legal leadership of the Republic of Cuba. Once this was accomplished, per CIA Deputy Director for Plans (DDP) Richard M. Bissell Jr.’s concept, this council of Cuban politicians from across a wide spectrum of exile groups would presumably ask the U.S. to send American military forces, including U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and a Marine amphibious force, to liberate the small island nation from the Castro regime, which was looking less democratic and more Communist with each passing month. 

But as Wyden explains in Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story, President Eisenhower never officially signed off on Operation Zapata, even though he had authorized CIA Director Allen Dulles and DDP Bissell to plan it. Ike was reluctant to go beyond that, partly because he knew the invasion would not take place until a new President – hopefully Richard Nixon, his Vice President – was in the Oval Office, and partly because most of Latin America still resented the U.S. for the CIA’s successful efforts to topple Guatemala’s democratically-elected President, Jacobo Arbenz, in 1954. (Arbenz was not a Communist dictator, but his efforts to pass a land reform law that would transfer huge tracts of land owned by Guatemala’s wealthy ruling class and American multinational firms enraged the influential United Fruit Company, which labeled Arbenz as a Communist “stooge,” thus making him a target for Allen and the CIA.)

Eisenhower, whose reputation as a President who had managed to avoid large scale military interventions and wars overseas was on the line, was happy to hand over the thorny issue of Cuba and Operation Zapata to his successor – the young and untested former junior Senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy, who defeated Nixon by excoriating Ike’s allegedly impotent foreign and defense policies during the iciest years of the Cold War.

In Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story, Wyden was the first author to explain how and why Operation Zapata became, in the words of a later chronicler of the Bay of Pigs invasion, a “brilliant disaster.”
For the first time, eyewitnesses tell the complete inside story of the CIA’s mismanaged and private war to overthrow Fidel Castro. Based on painstaking research and personal interviews with combatants on both sides – including Fidel Castro and Richard Bissell, former CIA Deputy Director – Bay of Pigs uncovers previously secret information and re-creates the events that led up to the confrontation.
Revealed here for the first time: 

·         How United States destroyers, with their hull numbers painted out, led the Cuban invasion. On the last day of the battle, two of them were shelled 2,000 yards off Cuban shores – an event that almost triggered World War III.

·         How CIA officers – after discarding all personal identification and effects – flew combat missions over Cuba in planes marked with faked insignias of Castro’s forces.

·         How the CIA lied to President Kennedy, claiming that the invasion was worth the gamble, when logistics experts of the Joint Chiefs of Staff considered victory “marginal without resistance, but impossible with it.” – Publisher’s back cover blurb, Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story
My Take
As a long-time resident of South Florida, I lived under the shadow of Operation Zapata’s failure almost all my life. In Miami’s Cuban-American community, especially among members of el exilio antiguo, there is still a strong resentment toward the late President Kennedy over what many Cubans perceive to be a betrayal of the worst kind. This is one of the reasons why many exiliados and their now-adult children and grandchildren tend to vote Republican, even though the invasion took place over 50 years ago.
As most accounts of the Bay of the Pigs invasion – including Wyden’s book and the later The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro, and America's Doomed Invasion of Cuba's Bay of Pigs by Jim Rasenberger – point out, it was Kennedy – eager to show his credentials as a Cold Warrior – who approved Operation Zapata at the start of his Administration.
In addition, it was Kennedy who, following the advice of Secretary of State Dean Rusk and other Cabinet members, ordered DDP Bissell to change the landing site from Trinidad to Playa Giron. JFK was – rightly, in my opinion – keen on making sure that Operation Zapata had a lower profile and didn’t look like a small-scale version of the D-Day landings in Normandy, which were still in relatively recent memory. As Wyden and other chroniclers of Operation Zapata point out, it was ridiculous to assume that a major amphibious landing on Cuba, complete with air and naval support, would be seen by a leery Latin America and the rest of the world, as not being an American endeavor.
As Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story explains so clearly, Kennedy was caught between two conflicting priorities; he was attracted to the CIA’s notion that the operation would get rid of Castro and his left-leaning comrades, but he also wanted to avoid whataboutism criticism from the Soviet Union. In other words, the Russians would reply to criticism about their own brand of repressive intervention in Eastern Europe and elsewhere with the classic rejoinder “Really? You are lecturing us about how we dealt with the Hungarian revolt of 1956? Well, what about your invasion of small, defenseless Cuba?” 

 As Commander-in-Chief of America’s armed forces and the individual who asked the CIA to alter the already flawed Operation Zapata, Kennedy bears – and accepted – the ultimate responsibility for the fiasco at the Bay of Pigs. JFK was ambitious, overly zealous in his desire to show the world that he meant to confront Communism no matter where it reared its ugly head in the world, and that he was tougher than his 1960 Presidential election rival, Richard Nixon, would have been.
And to his credit, Kennedy was his own harshest critic. After the failure of Operation Zapata, he turned to his aides and asked, “How could I have been so stupid?”
Yet, Kennedy was not the only American official who deserves to be chastised for the disaster at the Bay of Pigs. Dick Bissell, the gifted Ivy Leaguer who years earlier had masterminded the CIA’s U-2 spy plane program, conceived, supervised, and ultimately sold Operation Zapata to a President that Bissell knew would be a relatively easy “customer.”
As Wyden observes in Bay of Pigs, Bissell was so sure that the invasion plan was going to work that he never saw the inherent flaws in it. Even when the President ordered the CIA to scale the landings down and change the target area from Trinidad – which was located near a mountain range where the invaders could hide if the landings failed – to the Bay of Pigs, Bissell remained confident that his plan would work in spite of criticisms from the experts at the Pentagon.
Though many books have been written about the Bay of Pigs disaster and its far-reaching consequences – including the Cuban Missile Crisis and Kennedy’s decision to send more advisers to South Vietnam – since 1979, Wyden’s book is still relevant and informative.
The author, who died in 1998 at the age of 74, was an experienced reporter who contributed many articles to publications such as Newsweek magazine and the Saturday Evening Post. He researched the Bay of Pigs invasion for many years and interviewed many of the participants, including veterans of the Brigada de Asalto 2506 (among them, Jose Basulto, who would later make headlines as the leader of Brothers to the Rescue), Grayston Lynch, a CIA officer who would later write his own scathing account of the operation, Dick Bissell, and even Fidel Castro. The Cuban dictator spoke to Wyden for two hours and even drew two maps of his forces’ moves during the battle for Playa Giron.
As Lyman Kirkpatrick, the CIA’s inspector general who wrote the official report on Operation Zapata, wrote in his review for the back cover, Wyden’s Bay of Pigs is “definitive and invaluable…Leaves no doubt as to what happened and why.”

Friday, June 15, 2018

Music Album Review: 'The Very Best of the Boston Pops: John Williams & The Boston Pops Orchestra'

Illustration by Sergio Baradat. Art design by Umi Kenyon. (C) 1991 Philips Classics Productions
On May 21, 1991, Philips Classics Productions released The Very Best of the Boston Pops: John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra. This album is a nine-track compilation that features a mix of themes from Hollywood classics, a television series, and several Broadway musicals. It also serves as a valedictory, of sorts, to the label's long association with Maestro Williams and the Boston Pops; Philips Classics Production was by now a division of PolyGram Records, which was itself owned by Philips NV, the Dutch electronics company responsible - with Sony- for the invention of the CD. 

As you can imagine, this Williams-Boston Pops Orchestra is an ode to showbusiness. Its eclectic mix of composers includes Alexander Courage, George Gershwin, Marvin Hamlisch, John Kander, Duke Ellington, Richard Rodgers, and - naturally, Maestro Williams himself. From Star Trek to Oklahoma! and the Great White Way, this one-hour program presents music from various eras of American cultural history. 

Here's an official Universal Music Group YouTube presentation from The Very Best of the Boston Pops.

Track List:

  1. Star Trek - The Television Show

  2. Girl Crazy: Selections from Girl Crazy: I Got Rhythm - Embraceable You - Bidin' My Time - But Not for Me - I Got Rhythm

  3. New York, New York: New York, New York - Main Theme

  4. A Salute to Fred Astaire: Top Hat, White Tie And Tails - The Carioca - Dancing In The Dark - I Won't Dance - The Continental

  5. A Chorus Line: Overture To A Chorus Line

  6. Sophisticated Ladies - A Tribute to Duke Ellington:  Sophisticated Lady - Take the 'A' Train - Mood Indigo - It Don't Mean a Thing

  7. Love Theme From Superman

  8. Pops Salutes The Oscars: When You Wish Upon a Star - Swingin' On a Star - Moon River - Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head - Theme From the Way We Were - The Shadow of Your Smile

  9. Richard Rodgers Waltzes: Lover - Falling in Love with Love - Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin' - It's a Grand Night for Singing

My Take

Like many Philips compilation recordings of Maestro Williams' collaborative efforts with the Boston Pops Orchestra, The Very Best of the Boston Pops features tracks produced by two different producers; here, John McClure was responsible for creating tracks 1-6 and 8, while George Korngold, who produced several John Williams-centric albums for Varese Sarabande, created tracks 7 and 9. 

In addition, several of these tracks are present in other records made by Philips; Alexander Courage's famous Star Trek theme is also heard in 1983's Out of this World, while John Kander's New York, York was featured in 1982's Aisle Seat. Moreover, several tracks from this album later appear in A Celebration: John Williams & The Boston Pops Orchestra, a Decca recording made in 2004 and reissued in 2012 to mark Maestro Williams' 80th birthday.

Still, The Very Best of the Boston Pops is a fun album to listen to. Its mix of movie themes, pop standards - most of which started out as show tunes - and jazz from the Big Band era will brighten your day and keep your toes tapping.  I especially like the medley of music from classic movies in Pops Salutes the Oscars. With a duration of 10 minutes and 46 seconds, this arrangement by Morton Stevens features songs from various decades, starting with 1940's When You Wish Upon a Star and ending with The Shadow of Your Smile, which is perhaps the only good thing to come out of 1967's The Sandpiper. In between those two bookends, there are other movie songs, including Henry Mancini's Moon River. 

If you like light classical music or show tunes, you can't go wrong with The Very Best of the Boston Pops. 

Music Album Review: 'A Celebration: John Williams & the Boston Pops Orchestra'

(C) 2012 Decca Records

On February 21, 2012, Decca Records released A Celebration: John Williams & the Boston Pops Orchestra, a 2-CD compilation album with over two hours’ worth of film themes, show tunes, easy listening compositions, and light classical works. Originally produced in 2004 by the same British label, A Celebration was re-issued in honor of Maestro Williams’ 80th birthday.

To mark the eightieth birthday of the renowned composer and conductor John Williams, Decca celebrates his time as principal conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra. In this quintessentially American programme. Williams’ unrivaled contribution to film music is showcased through performances of his most memorable themes and other Hollywood favourites, complemented by a second disc of Broadway numbers and timeless songs. – Producer’s blurb, A Celebration: John Williams & the Boston Pops Orchestra

Produced by Raymond McGill, A Celebration presents 30 orchestral works, divided evenly among two compact discs. Disc One is devoted to film music – seven compositions by Williams, the rest by other well-known composers from Europe and the U.S., including Henry Mancini, Max Steiner, Vangelis, and Manos Hadjidakis. Derived primarily from a plethora of albums recorded for the Philips label in the 1980s and early 1990s, the first disc features some of the most iconic movie music in the repertoire, including the Star Wars main theme, the march from Superman, and – from the Golden Age of Hollywood – Tara’s Theme from Gone with the Wind. 

CD 1: John Williams & The Boston Pops Orchestra - A Celebration

John Williams (1932 - )

Star Wars
1. Main Title 5:39
2. Princess Leia's Theme
3. Flying Theme
4. March 
5. Love Theme 
Raiders of the Lost Ark
6. March
7. Main Theme [Chariots of Fire]
Max Steiner (1888 - 1971)
8. Tara's Theme (Gone with the Wind)
A Summer Place
Arr. Lee Holderidge
9. Love Theme
Henry Mancini (1924 - 1994)
The Pink Panther
10. Main Theme
Manos Hadjidakis (1925 - 1994)
Never on Sunday
11. Arr. Richard Hayman
Hugh Martin (1914 - ), Ralph Blane (1914 - 1995)
12. The Trolley Song [from Meet Me in St. Louis]
Arthur Freed (1894 - 1973), Nacio Herb Brown (1896 - 1964)
13. Singin' in the Rain
Leigh Harline (1907 - 1969) et al
14. Arr. Morton Stevens
Pops Salutes the Oscars (includes songs from Pinocchio, Swinging on a Star, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Way We Were, and The Sandpiper)
John Williams (1932 - )

15. Close Encounters of the Third Kind - Suite

CD 2: John Williams & The Boston Pops Orchestra - A Celebration

Leonard Bernstein (1918 - 1990)

1. Overture from Candide

John Kander (1927 - ), Fred Ebb (1932 - 2004)

2. New York New York

Stephen Sondheim (1930 - )

A Little Night Music

Orch. Tunick
3. Night Waltz ... Send in the Clowns

Andrew Lloyd Webber (1948 - )
4. Memory (Arr. Eric Knight)

Irving Berlin (1888 - 1989)

Annie Get Your Gun

5. There's No Business like Show Business

Frederick Loewe (1904 - 1988)


Arr. Ralph Burns

6. I'm So Glad I'm Not Young Anymore and other songs

Eric Coates (1886 - 1957)

7. By the Sleepy Lagoon

Glenn Miller (1904 - 1944)

8. Moonlight Serenade

Duke Ellington (1899 - 1974), Billy Strayhorn (1915 - 1967)

9. Satin Doll

Joseph C. Garland (1903 - 1977)

10. In the Mood

Louis Prima (1911 - 1978)

11. Sing, Sing, Sing

Marvin Hamlisch (1944 - 2012)

A Chorus Line

Arr. Marvin Hamlisch

12. Overture

Meredith Willson (1902 - 1984)

The Music Man

13. Seventy-Six Trombones

Alex North (1910 - 1991)

14. Unchained Melody

Leonard Bernstein (1918 - 1990)

On the Town

15. New York, New York

The Boston Pops Orchestra, John Williams

My Take

On February 8, 2012, John Towner Williams celebrated his eightieth birthday. Naturally, since Maestro Williams is one of the most popular and influential active composers in various genres – most notably film scores, but also contemporary classical music, post-romanticism, and Williams’ early love, jazz, there were many 80th Birthday tribute recordings made that year – including A Celebration.

This 2-CD set commemorates, as the producers’ blurb states, Maestro Williams’ tenure as the Boston Pops Orchestra’s principal conductor. Chosen to replace the late and beloved Arthur Fiedler – who led the Pops from 1930 till his death on July 10, 1979 at the age of 84 – Williams led “America’s favorite orchestra” from 1980 to 1993 and has been its Laureate Conductor since 1994. Together, the Boston Pops and Williams recorded a successful series of albums – first with Philips, then with Sony Classical.

Most of the music on A Celebration was released originally on many of the Philips albums, so if you are a devoted Boston Pops Orchestra fan you probably are already familiar with the material presented here. (I recognize tracks from 1982’s Aisle Seat, 1987’s By Request: The Best of John Williams and the Boston Pops, and 1991’s The Very Best of the Boston Pops, where Pops Salutes the Oscars [track 14] was originally featured.)

Still, this 147-minutes long album is a wonderful sampler of film themes, Broadway tunes, and orchestral versions of popular songs such as Unchained Melody. There are even two Big Band-era compositions – Moonlight Serenade and In the Mood – both of which were big hits for the Glenn Miller Orchestra.

As for Williams…the five-time Oscar winner (and second-place holder for most Academy Award nominations after Walt Disney – 51 as of this writing!) and multiple Grammy Award holder (24 so far) is still busy composing and conducting. Since A Celebration was dropped six years ago, Maestro Williams has written scores for his long-time friend Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, War Horse, The Adventures of Tin Tin, The BFG, The Post, and Ready Player One.

In addition, Williams has contributed scores to the saga which many of his fan identify him the most – Star Wars. Since 2015, he has written the music for Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens and Star Wars – Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. He has announced that he will write the score for 2019’s Star Wars – Episode IX, after which he will retire from the franchise.