Composer John Williams, 90, has moved away from cinema, but not music

After more than six decades of cycling, sending panicked swimmers ashore and other great close encounters, John Williams lays down the final notes for what might be his last movie.

“At the moment I’m working Indiana Jones 5 “Which Harrison Ford was a little younger than me – I think he announced it was going to be his last movie,” says Williams. “So, I thought: If Harrison can do it, maybe I can too.”

Ford, as a reminder, hasn’t said this publicly. Williams, who turned 90 in February, isn’t quite sure he’s ready for that either.

“I don’t want to be seen as emphatically canceling any activity,” Williams says with a chuckle, speaking on the phone from his Los Angeles home. “I can’t play tennis, but I would love to be able to believe that maybe one day I will.”

For now, though, there are other ways Williams wants to spend his time. a star Wars The film requires six months of work, which he notes, “at this point in life is a long commitment for me.” Instead, Williams dedicates himself to composing concert music, including a piano concerto he writes for Emmanuel Axe.

This spring, Williams and cellist Yo-Yo Ma released the album Friends gathering, recorded with New York Philharmonic, Pablo Sáinz-Villegas, and Jessica Zhou. It’s a radiant collection of cello concertos and new arrangements of dozens of Schindler’s List, Lincoln and Munich, including a “Prayer for Peace.”

Turning 90—an event the Kennedy and Tanglewood Center celebrate with birthday parties this summer—has made Williams reflect on his remaining accomplishments, ambitions, and what music has meant to him throughout his life.

“It gave me the ability to breathe, the ability to live and the understanding that there is more to a physical life,” Williams says. “Without being religious, which I am not particularly into, there is a spiritual life, an artistic life, and a world that is higher than the realities of everyday life.” Music can elevate one’s thinking to the level of poetry. We can think about how important music is to humanity. I’ve always liked to speculate that music is older than language, and that we might have been beating drums and beating reeds before we could speak. So it’s an essential part of our humanity.

“You gave me my life.”

In turn, Williams provided the soundtrack to the lives of countless others through more than 100 films, including Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, ET, Indiana Jones, Superman, Schindler’s List And the Harry Potter.

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“He lived the greater part of a century, and his music includes all the events and changes of those times,” says Ma, an old friend. “He’s one of America’s greatest voices.”

It’s an amount of achievement that’s hard to quantify. Five Academy Awards and 52 Academy Award nominations, a number that only Walt Disney has surpassed, is one measure. But even this hardly hints at the cultural power of his music. A billion people could devour Williams’ two-tone voice instantly jaws or “The Imperial March” from star Wars.

“I was told that music is played all over the world. What could be more useful than that?” says Williams. “But I have to say it sounds unreal. I can only see what’s in front of me on the piano at the moment, and do my best with it.”

Williams has a warm, down-to-earth and polite style despite his stature. He began an interview with an offer: “Let me see if I can give you anything that might be useful.” It is believed that all those indelible and perfectly created themes are less product of divine inspiration than daily hard work. Williams does most of his work sitting for hours at a time in Steinway, composing in pencil.

“It’s like cutting a stone on your desk,” he says. “My younger colleagues are much faster than I am now because they have electronic equipment, computers, synthesizers, etc.”

When Williams started (his first feature film was 1958 Dad-O), the cinematic tradition of major orchestral musical performances is beginning to wane in front of pop music. Now, many are gravitating towards the synthesized music of movies. Increasingly, Williams has the aura of a venerable old teacher who connects the distant eras of film and music.

“Recording with the New York Philharmonic, someone’s whole orchestra was amazed by this 90-year-old who hears everything, and is kind, gentle, tirelessly courteous. People just wanted to play with him,” says Ma. “They were touched by the music of this.” the man.”

This late chapter in Williams’ career is in some ways an opportunity to place his monumental legacy not only in terms of cinema but among classic legends. Williams, who led the Boston Pops from 1980 to 1993, led the works of the Berlin, Vienna, and New York Philharmonic, among others. In the world’s elite orchestras, Williams’ compositions passed into canon.

“A fundamentalist would say that the music represented in the movie is not absolute music. Well, that may be true,” says Williams. “But some of the greatest music ever written has been fiction. Certainly in opera. Film presents that opportunity – not often but sometimes. And in a musically rewarding way. Sometimes we get lucky and find one.”

Of course, Williams’ enduring partnership with Steven Spielberg helped the composer’s odds. Spielberg, who first sought out lunch with Williams in 1972 after being captivated by his score in “The Reivers,” described him as “the single most important contributor to my success as a director.”

“Without John Williams, bikes don’t really fly,” Spielberg said when the AFI honored Williams in 2016.

They remain irreversibly linked. Their offices in the Universal lot are just steps from each other. along with Indiana JonesWilliams recently recorded Spielberg’s upcoming semi-autobiographical drama about growing up in Arizona, Fablemans. The two films make 30 films together for Spielberg and Williams.

“It’s been 50 years now. Maybe we’ll start in the next 50s,” Williams says with a laugh. “Whatever our connections, whether it’s music or working with him or just being with him, I think we’ll always be together. We are great close friends who have shared many years together. It’s the kind of relationship where neither of us says no to the other at all.”

In Spielberg’s films and others, Williams cut just enough intense tunes to rival the Beatles. Spielberg once described his five-note book “The Idea of ​​Connection” by Close encounters Like a doorbell.

“It’s very difficult to find simple, simple topics that speak clearly and without confusion, and very difficult to do,” Williams says. “They really are the result of a lot of work. It’s almost like digging with a chisel. Move a single note, change the rhythmic focus or direction of the time period etc. A simple melody can be done in dozens of ways. If you find one, it looks like you’ve discovered something he wants to reveal.” .

One thing you won’t hear from Williams is a big statement about his legacy. It is much more comfortable to speak like a technician manipulating until a shiny gem falls.

“My character is such that I look at what I’ve done – I’m very happy and so proud of it – but like most of us, we always wish we might have done a better job,” he says. “We live with examples like Beethoven and Bach before us, the tremendous achievements people have in music, and we can be very humbled. But I also feel very lucky. I’ve had great opportunities, especially in films where a composer can have an audience that doesn’t It exceeds millions of people, but billions of people.”

Williams did a number of concerts planned for the rest of the year, including shows in Los Angeles, Singapore, and Lisbon. But while Williams may shy away from cinema, he remains fascinated by cinema, and the ability of sound and image, when combined, to make a breakthrough.

“I’d love to be out there in 100 years to see what people do with film, sound, spatial, audio-visual effects,” Williams says. “I think it has a huge future.” “I can feel great potential and a great future in the atmosphere of the whole experience. I would like to go back and see and hear everything.”


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