But what makes Williams one of the ultimate legends of this cinematic art form is not his endless and well-earned awards and accolades—it’s his ability to connect with the audiences as a musical storyteller and activate their universal emotions without language barriers. And that unique gift of his was cause for celebration on Tuesday night in New York at New York Philharmonic’s Spring Gala organized in his honor.
Commemorating their 51 years of friendship and work as director and composer, Steven Spielberg attended the moving soiree for Williams, presenting selects from their renowned collaborations. “Let me start by saying: when the universe was formed, there was something called Big Bang,” said Spielberg. “Another Big Bang occurred in technology when William Kennedy Dickson invented the first movie camera in 1892, working in the offices of Thomas Edison.” He continued, “In those days, all you could see were flickering images and a piano by the silent movie screen. Piano players often improvised accompanying the storyline and cue in when to laugh, when to cry, and even scream.” To Spielberg, it was during that “arranged marriage” between images and music that the audiences fell in love with the movies. “And how far we have come,” he concluded. “How lucky we are to have the great maestro of film music John Williams, performing in front of our movie screens for nearly seven decades!”
Under the baton of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO) music director Ken-David Masur (son of the late great Kurt Masur, making his New York Philharmonic debut), the orchestra started with the “Superman March” from “Superman” (1978), alongside a short film montage dedicated to the life and career of Williams. “This is an orchestra that meant so much to me and my family,” said Masur, adding that he met Williams for the first time in the very building where he was now conducting. “He’s become a colleague. His life is a gift to us all with over 100 scores.”
Masur and the NY Phil then continued with excerpts from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977) as the orchestra’s chromatic strings gloriously swelled until they resolved into those magical five notes that have become synonymous with Spielberg’s minor-key sci-fi-drama. After “Scherzo for Motorcycle” from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989), a particularly inspired choice followed with the screening and live accompaniment of 2017’s Oscar-winning animated short, “Dear Basketball,” written by the late Kobe Bryant as a love letter to the sport he mastered but was to retire from. Before launching the orchestra into “Throne Room and Finale” from “Star Wars: A New Hope” (1977), “You won your legion of fans all over the world because you could create this extraordinary feat of writing over 20 hours of music,” Masur remarked about Williams’ invaluable contributions to the “Star Wars” saga. “It’s hard to choose [one piece], but perhaps we should go to the very beginning.”