Thursday, December 28, 2017

Album Review: 'Lights, Camera...Music! Six Decades of John Williams'

(C) 2017 BSO Classics

On June 23, 2017, BSO Classics, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's in-house recording label, released the CD edition of Lights, Camera...Music! Six Decades of John Williams. This 16-track album contains a selection of themes and cues from a mix of minor films (Heidi) or lesser-known projects (Goodbye, Mr. Chips) that John Williams scored in the late 1960s, as well as music from more prominent movies (The Towering Inferno, Dracula, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial) from the apogee of the composer's long, storied career. 

As many fans of Maestro Williams know, the orchestra featured in Lights, Camera...Music! is the world famous Boston Pops Orchestra, an ensemble comprised by members of the BSO that performs in the Boston area and on tours during the spring and summer months. Williams has a long history with the Pops; he was the orchestra's music director and principal conductor from 1980 till 1994; now that Keith Lockhart leads the Pops, Maestro Williams holds the title of  Laureate Conductor and enjoys a congenial relationship with his successor.

For Lights, Camera...Music!, producer Shawn Murphy (who has worked on many John Williams recordings, including the soundtrack albums for the Star Wars Prequels) and his team selected music from some of Williams' "forgotten" films. Included in the eclectic collection are:

  • The Main Title & Overture from the TV movie adaptation of Heidi, the 1968 adaptation of the classic children's story by Swiss writer Johanna Spyri. I've never seen this film, but I do know it gained notoriety when NBC, the TV network which produced Heidi, premiered it at 7 PM on Sunday, November 17, even though the Oakland Raiders-New York Jets game had not ended yet. NBC had decided to delay the start of Heidi's broadcast till the game ended, but the network's phone network at New York's Rockefeller headquarters crashed as a result of so many people calling in to ask if the game would still air or would the movie preempt it. Consequently, management could not contact the control facility in time, and Heidi aired at its originally scheduled time. This caused angry NFL fans to miss the end of the game, which Oakland won, 43-32. Football fans still call this match the "Heidi Game."
  • The Main Title to The Towering Inferno, one of several "disaster epics" produced by Irwin Allen in the 1970s and the first joint venture between two major studios (in this instance, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros.)
  • A lesser-known march from 1976's World War II battle recreation film Midway, "The Men of the Yorktown March"
  • "Night Journeys,"  a cue from John Badham's stylish but mostly forgotten Dracula, a romantic-but-still-scary take on Bram Stoker's 1897 vampire novel
  • The Reunion and Finale from Barry Levinson's 1996 legal crime drama Sleepers
  • The Revolutionary War-set The Patriot's Main Theme
  • Viktor's Theme from Steven Spielberg's 2004 comedy-drama The Terminal
  • The ethereal and romantic Theme from Sabrina, the 1995 remake of Billy Wilder's 1954 classic love story
  • The "Devil's Dance" from George Miller's 1987 comedy fantasy The Witches of Eastwick
  • "Stargazers," a seldom-recorded cue from 1982's E.T.
  •  A suite of themes from 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh score composed by Williams for the long-running franchise. It includes "March of the Resistance," "Rey's Theme," "Scherzo for X-Wings," "Jedi Steps," and "Finale." 
My Take

The Boston Pops Orchestra has a long tradition of recording albums dedicated to the music of John Williams. In fact, in the early years of Maestro Williams' tenure with the ensemble, some of the players resented having to perform music by their famous conductor; their allegedly rude behavior at rehearsals almost led to Williams' resignation at the end of the second season. Luckily, this was averted when both sides came to an understanding, and Philips/Sony Classical went on to release various Williams-only albums, most notably By Request: The Best of John Williams and the Boston Pops (1987) and the first entry in an eventual three-CD series The Spielberg-Williams Collaboration (1990).   

Lights, Camera...Music! keeps some conventions of previous Willliams/Boston Pops albums, such as presenting music that is timely in relation to works by the composer. In this instance, 2017 marks the 40th anniversary of the premiere of George Lucas's original Star Wars film, so naturally music from The Force Awakens is featured in no less than five tracks.

Producer Shawn Murphy and conductor Keith Lockhart also made a wise choice in selecting cues that are less familiar to casual listeners of film scores. In my many years of collecting albums of Williams' works for the movies, I've never come across cues written for Heidi (a TV movie I have not seen) or The Towering Inferno (which I saw perhaps once when it aired on ABC-TV in the late 1970s). So for me, Lights, Camera...Music! is like visiting the attic in my old house in Miami and finding a long-lost trinket I had forgotten, or not been aware of its existence. 

Lights, Camera...Music! is available directly from the BSO Shop ( in either CD or digital download, or at Amazon as a CD (with a free "AutoRip" download once the purchase is complete). The CD is a one-disc edition that comes in a digipack that includes a booklet of liner notes, information about the Boston Pops, and Maestros Williams and Lockhart.

The album has a running time of one hour and 16, and the different themes evoke a wide range of moods that range from the majestic feel of the Swiss Alps (Heidi) to the brooding horror of Victorian era vampires (Dracula) to the space-faring battles of a galaxy far, far away (Star Wars: The Force Awakens). No matter what your favorite movie music mood is, Lights, Camera...Music! Six Decades of John Williams is a worthy tribute to one of America's best-known and beloved composers. 

Recorded live at Symphony Hall on April 7-8, 2017, except* recorded May 26-28, 2016.

All music composed and orchestrated by John Williams, except track 2: music by Leslie Bricusse, adapted and arranged by John Williams.

  1. Main Title & Overture from Heidi
  2. Overture to Goodbye, Mr. Chips
  3. Main Title from The Towering Inferno
  4. The Men of the Yorktown March from Midway *
  5. Night Journeys from Dracula *
  6. Stargazers from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
  7. Devil's Dance from The Witches of Eastwick
  8. Theme from Sabrina
  9. Reunion and Finale from Sleepers
  10. Theme from The Patriot
  11. Viktor's Tale from The Terminal
  12. Suite from Star Wars: The Force Awakens: March of the Resistance *
  13. Suite from Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Rey's Theme *
  14. Suite from Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Scherzo for X-Wings *
  15. Suite from Star Wars: The Force Awakens: The Jedi Steps *
  16. Suite from Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Finale *

Talking Culture: 'The Last Jedi' bashing, angry fanboys, and the Star Wars franchise

(C) 2017 Lucasfilm Ltd. and Dolby Labs

Today's question is: 

Why do a lot of fanboys hate ‘The Last Jedi’?

I’m probably going to get a lot of flak from some of the angry fanboys that this question is about, but since I am a Star Wars fan of the 1977 Generation, I’ll give you my two credits’ worth.
Star Wars fanboy angst is not a new phenomenon. It’s probably been around since the first movie premiered 40 years ago (Oh, See Threepio is too silly!). I first became aware of it when fans who were 10, 11, or even 12 when Star Wars came out in 1977 and didn’t notice some of the kid-friendly humor in it suddenly became aware of the kid-friendly Ewoks in 1983’s Return of the Jedi…and started grousing that Lucas had invented the “teddy bears” just to sell more toys. (There were other issues that fans groused about, but Ewok-hate was the trendy topic among the angry-fanboy crowd.)
(C) 1983 Lucasfilm Ltd (LFL)

Before Jar Jar Binks, Wicket and his pals were the targets of fanboys’ ire.
Of course, back then the Internet was just something that only a relatively small fraction of Americans (mostly academics and government officials) used, so the “bashers” didn’t have a national, let alone global, soapbox on which to stand.
Special Edition posters (C) 1997 Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL) Artwork by Drew Struzan

By the time Star Wars - Episode I: The Phantom Menace rolled out, though, the Internet was a powerful Force in the culture and in our daily lives. Forums and BBS’s gave fans of all stripes that global soapbox on which to stand. So when The Phantom Menace premiered on May 19, 1999 and showed the world George Lucas’s story about a nine-year-old slave boy named Anakin Skywalker and his first encounters with the people who would shape his destiny - for good or ill - the disenchanted angry voices now had venues where they could figuratively (and if they use video or audio clips, literally) shout their vitriol-laced George Lucas ruined Star Wars and raped my childhood spiel.
The Lucas-bashing had actually started two years earlier, when the creator of Star Wars and producer Rick McCallum released the Star Wars Trilogy - Special Edition for the franchise’s 20th Anniversary.
I didn’t have Internet access in 1997, so I was relatively oblivious to the backlash about the editorial changes made by Lucas and the digital artists to the original trilogy.
Oh, sure. Some of my friends, especially those who were just a little younger than I am, were vexed by the changes, especially the “Greedo-shoots-first” bit in A New Hope, the removal of “Lapti Nek” in favor of a new CGI-heavy ‘Jedi Rocks” in Return of the Jedi, a similar substitution of “Ewok Celebration” (the “yub nub” song) by a new John Williams composition called “Victory Celebration,” and a somewhat clumsy reinsertion of the deleted Jabba-Han Solo confrontation in Mos Eisley’s Docking Bay 94 in A New Hope.
My position at the time (which still stands) was, Some of those changes were not well done or even necessary from my point of view. Nevertheless, Lucas is the creator of the Star Wars franchise. It’s his baby, and if he feels he needs to change things that he doesn’t like, it’s not my place to tell him otherwise.
The angry fanboy constituency that coined the infelicitous phrase “George Lucas raped my childhood” had a fit.
Like I said, I was spared most of the anti-Special Edition fury in 1997, but as anyone who hangs out in any social media Star Wars group can tell you, the angry fanboy grousing over the changes made to the Original Trilogy is still going strong 20 years later. Every time 20th Century Fox and/or Buena Vista Home Entertainment drop a new home media reissue of Lucas’s original six films or the new Disney/Lucasfilm offerings, you’ll see questions/comments/rants along these lines:
When will Disney (or Fox, or Lucasfilm) release the original, non-Special Edition versions of the Original Trilogy?
Get the Harmy’s De-Specialized editions of the Original Trilogy!
George Lucas RUINED Star Wars with his Prequel Trilogy!
Disney RUINED Star Wars with the Sequel Trilogy!
Now, the angry fanboys are going to use the “Lucas fell in love with CGI and overused it” and the “Lucas created the original trilogy with a team that curbed his wildest excesses, but when he made the prequels, he was surrounded by ‘yes-men’ and ruined the series with his excesses” arguments. They’ll bring up the “Jar Jar Binks was a character created for kids, and Star Wars has always been for adults” argument.
They will even say that Lucas (and now Disney) don’t know anything about telling a story or even care about telling a story. It’s all about making money.
In my opinion, as well as that of others on Quora, the “haters” that bash everything that is not the Original (pre-1997) Trilogy are motivated by several factors:
  1. Star Wars was a huge part of their childhood, especially if they saw it before they reached puberty. They seek the same emotional experiences they had as children in the late 1970s and early 1980s. When they can’t achieve that, they get upset
  2. Long time fans also had long periods of time when there were no new movies or even Expanded Universe (EU) stories, so they imagined different scenarios for a post-Return of the Jedi galaxy, as well as their own takes on a nebulous Prequel Trilogy
  3. The EU provided fans a licensed (but non-canonical) look at a post-Battle of Endor New Republic and its protracted conflict with the remnants of Emperor Palpatine’s Galactic Empire. Fans wanted that EU to be the basis for the Sequel Trilogy
Also, it’s also true that there is a trend, prevalent in the Internet-connected culture, that makes it tres chic to bash popular movies, even if the movies that get “critiqued” earn rave reviews from professional film critics and industry insiders.
But, yeah, in a nutshell, most of The Last Jedi bashing comes from “fans” who didn’t get the story they wanted.

Book Review: 'A Bell for Adano'

In 1981, shortly after my maternal grandmother died, my Mom traveled to Bogota, Colombia to help her brother and sister clear out my grandparents’ apartment and divide some heirlooms among themselves.

My aunt Martha and uncle Octavio ended up taking way more than two thirds of the apartment’s contents; they lived in Bogota and had definitely more kids than Mom, so it just made logistical sense for my mother to only claim two pieces of Grandma’s antique furniture for herself, some family pictures and a ring for my older sister and a few books – in English – from my grandfather’s library for me.

Though two of the books were paperback editions of tomes published before 1977 (the year of my grandfather’s death), one of them was a small and thin hardcover with no dust jacket.  It looked – as many of my grandfather’s books did – well-cared for and had that indescribable but pleasant “old book” smell, and on the spine it said A Bell for Adano – John Hersey.  (It is, as it happens, a wartime edition; it was printed in January 1945 and includes a note from the publisher informing readers that the book is smaller than prewar hardcovers due to rationing of paper and other materials.)

Although I had not yet read Hersey’s Hiroshima – his famous 1946 non-fiction account of the atomic bombing of that Japanese city – I knew who he was because I had read an excerpt of his book Into the Valley: a Skirmish of the Marines (1943) in an American Heritage book about World War II; Hersey, then a young war correspondent for Time magazine, had covered part of the 1942-43 campaign on the island of Guadalcanal, and Into the Valley described a minor battle between a company of Marines and a Japanese unit in vivid - if sparingly written - detail.

Like many war correspondents, Hersey reported from various theaters of operations, including the Mediterranean.  His experiences during the July 1943 invasion of Sicily and its aftermath inspired Hersey to write his first novel, A Bell for Adano, which was originally published in 1944 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction the following year.

Even though it begins on July 10, 1943 with a vivid description of the arrival of a small infantry unit at the fictional town of Adano, Sicily, A Bell for Adano is not a “men in combat” story.  Rather, Hersey’s focus is on the more mundane aspects of the military governance of former enemy territories such as Italy, and Major Victor Joppolo, his central character, is Adano’s de facto Army-appointed mayor and not a “gung-ho” infantry commander. 

Hersey makes his intentions crystal clear in his foreword:

Major Victor Joppolo, U.S.A., was a good man. You will see that.  It is the whole reason why I wrote this story.

He was the Amgot officer of a small Italian town called Adano.  He was more or less the American mayor after our invasion. 

After a brief – and drily humorous – explanation of what the Allied Military Government Occupied Territory did and his opinion that “(t)here were probably not any really bad men in Amgot, but there were some stupid ones,” Hersey writes:

That is why I think it is important for you to know about Major Joppolo.  He was a good man, though weak in certain attractive, human ways, and what he did and was not able to do in Adano represented in miniature what America can and cannot do in Europe.  Since he happened to be a good man, his works represented the best of the possibilities.

America is the international country. Major Joppolo was an Italian-American going to work in Italy.  Our Army has Yugoslavs and Frenchmen and Austrians and Czechs and Norwegians in it, and everywhere our Army goes in Europe, a man can turn to the private beside him and say: “Hey, Mac, what is this furriner saying?  How much does he want for that bunch of grapes?” And Mac will be able to translate.

The book, which was inspired by several real places, persons and events which Hersey covered during the invasion of Sicily in the summer of ’43, takes place mostly in Adano, a fictional stand-in for the town of Licata, a fishing port which also has a robust sulphur mining industry.  It opens with the arrival of Major Joppolo and his senior enlisted man, Military Police Sergeant Borth in Adano, which was undefended by German and Italian forces but has nevertheless suffered some collateral damage from the pre-invasion bombardment:

At the corner of the third alley running off the Via of October Twenty-eighth, the two men came on a dead Italian woman. She had been dressed in black. Her right leg was blown off and the flies for some reason preferred the sticky pool of blood and dust to her stump.

“Awful,” the Major said, for although the blood was still not yet dry, nevertheless there was already a beginning of a sweet but vomitous odor. “It’s a hell of a note,” he said, “that we had to do that to our friends.”

“Friends,” said Borth, “that’s a laugh.”

“It wasn’t them, not the ones like her,’ the Major said. “They weren’t our enemies. My mother’s mother must have been like her.  It wasn’t the poor ones like her, it was the bunch up there where we are going, those crooks in the City Hall.” 

“Be careful,” Borth said, and his face showed that he was teasing the Major again.  “You’re going to have your office in the City Hall. Be careful that you don’t get to be a crook too.”

“Lay off,” the Major said.

Borth said, “I don’t trust your conscience, sir, I’m appointing myself assistant conscience.”

“Lay off,” the Major said, and there was that echo.

The novel describes various incidents – some hilariously funny and some touchingly poignant – which take place during Major Joppolo’s stint as Amgot administrator of Adano, but its main story is centered on Joppolo’s efforts to find a replacement for the town’s 700-year-old bell, which was melted down by Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime to make gun barrels.

As Hersey says in his foreword, Joppolo’s determination to undo the harm done to Adano by Mussolini and his black-shirted goons is a metaphor for America’s stated foreign policy during the Second World War.  A descendant of Italian immigrants, Joppolo wants to be the bridge between the people of war-torn Europe and the liberating forces from the New World.  He strives to be fair and just as Adano’s Amgot administrator, and his cultural heritage proves to be helpful whether he’s dealing with former Fascists such as town usher Zito Giovanni or his translator, Guiseppe Ribaudo, who proudly states that he’s from Cleveland, Ohio but was kicked out of the U.S. in 1940 because he was an illegal immigrant.

A Bell for Adano also chronicles Joppolo’s sometimes contentious dealings with the U.S, Army, especially the rocky relationship between the Major and General Marvin, the Patton-like commander of the 49th Infantry Division. 

Like the real-life commander (at the time) of the U.S. Seventh Army, Marvin is a brash, brusque and vain officer whose arrogance is only eclipsed by his spitefulness. After an incident involving a mule cart which was blocking Marvin’s armored car at a bridge near Adano, the Major’s humanitarian treatment of the Italians collides against the General’s “my way or the highway” command style.

My Take: Though A Bell for Adano is written in a light, almost comedic tone, Hersey tackles some very serious themes, such as the introduction of American-style democracy into a country which has been under a dictator’s rule for almost 21 years, the ties that bind the Old World with the New, the important role of non-combat Army personnel in administrating a war-torn continent and – whether his 1944 readers liked it or not – the concept that Allied victory in World War II  would determine that American isolationism in foreign policy was obsolete and incompatible with the postwar future.

The book’s central theme echoes Henry Luce’s famous Life magazine essay titled “The American Century,” in which the co-founder of the Time-Life publishing company (for which Hersey was a reporter at the time) stated that the 1940s marked the beginning of the nation’s destiny as a world power, not to conquer the world in the same brutal fashion as Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy and Tojo’s Japan were trying to do, but to serve as a shining example of democracy and human liberty.

But where Luce’s idealistic “The American Century” sounds somewhat too jingoistic, naïve and somewhat arrogant, A Bell for Adano contrasts American altruism (as personified by the kind if somewhat imperfect Major Joppolo) with all-too-human weaknesses such as vanity, stupidity and the corrupting effect of authoritative power (as fleshed out by Gen. Marvin).  In the book, Hersey clearly tells the readers that though Americans are by no means perfect and will make mistakes, they can make a – hopefully positive – difference in Europe and the rest of the postwar world.

Until there is a seeming stability in Europe, our armies and our after-armies will have to stay in Europe.  Each American who stays may very well be extremely dependent on a Joppolo, not only for language, but for wisdom and justice and the other things we think we have to offer Europeans.

Though 21st Century readers – particularly Europeans who disagree with the notion that  U.S . foreign policy is altruistic in any fashion – may find A Bell for Adano’s “big theme” as hopelessly naïve and full of self-delusion, it is a novel full of optimism and hope and human foibles.  It’s funny and bawdy (for a book written in 1944, that is), and at times it can be heart-wrenchingly sad.  

It’s also a war story without too much violence; the emphasis of A Bell for Adano is, after all, on what Hersey calls “our after-armies” and their efforts to restore stability to an occupied country.  Yet, there are small Spielberg-like vignettes of war: the arrival of U.S troops in Adano – with tense and scared GIs scrambling for cover in the local cemetery – would easily have fit into Saving Private Ryan even though no shots are fired, and Hersey shows us that dead Italian woman in that Adano alley to remind readers that houses are wrecked and people get killed in  wartime.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Album Review: 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack'

On December 18, 2015, Lucasfilm Ltd. and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures released Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh live-action film in the long-running series created by George Lucas and the first of three films that comprise the Sequel Trilogy.

This first Star Wars movie since 2005's Star Wars - Episode III: Revenge of the Sith stars Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, and Oscar Isaac, The Force Awakens is set 30 years after the events depicted in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. The film was a huge success at the box office (earning $2.068 billion world-wide, which makes The Force Awakens the third biggest earner in movie history) and introduced a new set of heroes (the Resistance) and villains (the First Order) locked in the conflict between good and evil in a galaxy far, far away.

On the same day that The Force Awakens premiered in wide theatrical release, Walt Disney Records also dropped Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack in a one-CD digipack and digital download. Featuring music composed by John Williams and conducted by Williams, William Ross, and Gustavo Dudamel, the album presents several new themes composed for director J.J. Abrams' first foray into Star Wars lore, as well as some of the familiar ones used in Lucas's original movies. 

(C) 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. and Walt Disney Records

The album has a running time of 1:17:08, which is considerably shorter than the film's two hours and 15 minutes total runtime. Like most Star Wars soundtracks (except for the RCA Victor/Sony Classical 2-CD albums for A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi), Star Wars: The Force Awakens is more of a "best of" collection of selected themes and action cues than it is a comprehensive presentation of Maestro Williams' complete score for Star Wars - Episode VII: The Force Awakens. 

Still, even a 23-track collection of The Force Awakens' greatest hits makes for a good listening experience, even for those of us John Williams fans who are "spoiled" by the deluxe treatment given to the Original Trilogy's scores in the past.

Because most of the tracks are presented out of sequence in relation to the film, I'm not going to review each of the 23 cues in great detail. I will, however, share my thoughts about the new major themes that Williams introduces in The Force Awakens, as well as some remarks about how they fit into Star Wars' musical canon and some interesting behind-the-scenes stuff that casual listeners may not know about this album.

Star Wars, of course, is a continuing story saga inspired by the action-adventure serials of the 1930s and '40s. Thus, The Force Awakens begins with Williams' iconic Star Wars Main Title theme. This segues at about the 2:30 mark into The Attack on the Jakku Village, a cue dominated by brass and percussion-heavy battle music that incorporates a new ominous theme for Kylo Ren, the First Order's version (in more ways than one) of Darth Vader. 

Williams introduces The Force Awakens' new protagonist, Rey, musically in The Scavenger, the first track which includes the leitmotif for the character played by Daisy Ridley. It's delicate-yet-resilient sensibility perfectly matches Rey's onscreen persona in the same way that Williams' Star Wars theme reflects the heroic, noble character of the Original Trilogy's central figure, Luke Skywalker.

Williams interpolates the motif into several other action cues (Rey Meets BB-8, That Girl With the Staff). He also, wearing his album producer's hat, presents it on the album in a concert edition as Rey's Theme (which you can hear on the YouTube audio-only clip at the top of the page). 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is set after the Rebel Alliance's victory over the Empire, so most of its heroes belong to the Resistance, an armed force led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) that is trying to save the galaxy from the First Order, an entity led by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and die-hard adherents to the former Empire's totalitarian regime.

Williams has composed a rousing motif, March of the Resistance, a brilliantly brassy and bold theme that underscores the derring-do of ace X-wing pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), the cocky young man sent by Leia to search for her missing brother, Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). You can hear the March of the Resistance in the YouTube audio-only clip provided above.)

Other new themes that will recur in Star Wars: The Last Jedi are Snoke's Theme and the motif for Ach-To Island, the site of the legendary first Jedi Temple seen at the end of the movie.

Since the Sequel Ttilogy follows after the events of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, Williams weaves some of the Original Trilogy's familiar themes into the musical tapestry of Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. These include snippets of Han Solo and the Princess and Princess Leia's Theme. And because Williams used them in the previous six Star Wars scores, the Rebel Fanfare, the Star Wars main theme, and The Force theme are sprinkled here and there throughout the film and presented boldly in Jedi Steps and  Finale. (Audio-only clip below)

Though the presentation of the score and the overall style and sound are essentially the same as in Willliams' previous soundtrack albums, Star Wars: The Force Awakens differs from its forebears in at least two major areas.

First, note that the album cover credit says Music by John Williams.

"What," I hear you saying, Dear Reader, "does that matter?"

In previous soundtrack albums, the credit has always read Music Composed and Conducted by John Williams. Now, it's just Music by John Williams.

Why? Because although Maestro Williams did all of the composing, he didn't do all of the conducting.

See, the Jedi Master of Star Wars music was 83 when he worked on the score of The Force Awakens, and, as it happens, he had health issues that interfered with his ability to go to the recording studio and do the conducting. As a result, William Ross (a noted film composer and conductor in his own right) led most of the recording sessions. Williams did conduct the rest, with the notable exceptions of the Main Title and the Finale.

Those two iconic tracks were recorded under the baton of Williams' good friend Gustavo Dudamel, the Venezuelan conductor who is music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Dudamel has long admired Maestro Williams' vast catalog of film scores and classical composition; for his part, Maestro Williams has had a long-standing connection with that ensemble since the days when it was led by Zubin Mehta.

Second, note that the credits no longer read Performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.   

Since 1977, John Williams has teamed up with the London Symphony Orchestra and its associated choir for many of his signature scores, including the first six Star Wars films. Naturally, in order to record with the LSO at Abbey Road Studios one must travel to London and stay there for several days until the recording sessions are complete. 

Apparently, this was the original concept, but Williams' health issues prevented him from flying from Los Angeles to England (a long and tiring flight for the average adult, even more so for a man in his 80s). This necessitated the use of a local orchestra, as well as the services of Maestros Ross and Dudamel. 

For fans of the Williams/LSO team, this was a bit of a disappointment, but the orchestra that performs the music for Star Wars: The Force Awakens consists of talented and dedicated musicians who perform just as well as any of the elite orchestras that Williams has worked with in the past. 

All in all, even though I wish Walt Disney Records would release a more comprehensive 2-CD set with Williams' complete score, Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is an enjoyable recording. It is a masterful blend of old themes and new compositions that have, in the two years since its release, become part of Star Wars' musical canon. Truly, it's the stuff that dreams are made of.  

Track List

1. Main Title and The Attack on the Jakku Village
2. The Scavenger
3. I Can Fly Anything
4. Rey Meets BB-8
5. Follow Me
6. Rey’s Theme
7. The Falcon
8. That Girl with the Staff
9. The Rathtars!
10. Finn’s Confession
11. Maz’s Counsel
12. The Starkiller
13. Kylo Ren Arrives at the Battle
14. The Abduction
15. Han and Leia
16. March of the Resistance
17. Snoke
18. On the Inside
19. Torn Apart
20. The Ways of the Force
21. Scherzo for X-Wings
22. Farewell and  The Trip
23. The Jedi Steps and Finale