The movie magic created by legendary film composer John Williams’ in his historic debut with the celebrated Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is captured in a brand new album, John Williams in Vienna, writes Nick Benson.
Regarded by many as the greatest film composer of all time, John Williams has captured a landmark moment in his career in his latest album – his conducting debut with the world-famous Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, which he describes as “the honour of a lifetime”.
Entitled John Williams in Vienna, the recording captures movie magic, featuring spine-tingling renditions of Williams’ beloved works – from Star Warsand Jawsto E.T. and Indiana Jones.
The recording took place in January 2020 – just weeks before Williams’ 88th birthday – at two concerts in the stunning Golden Hall of the Vienna Musikverein. These were also the first performances he had ever conducted in continental Europe.
Before a single note had been played, Williams received a standing ovation. The acclaimed American composer’s movie soundtracks are among the best-loved of all time and have earned countless prestigious awards, including five Oscars, five Emmys, four Golden Globes, seven BAFTAs and 25 Grammys. As he thanked the audience for their welcome, he told them that the invitation to work with the Vienna Philharmonic was “one of the greatest honours of my life”.
Williams conducted a variety of pieces from his remarkable 60-year career, including Imperial March from Star Wars, The Flight To Neverland from Hook, the suite from Jawsand excerpts from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.
Williams and the orchestra were joined on stage for much of the first half by internationally-acclaimed violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. For conductor and violinist, this was a marvellous opportunity to continue an artistic partnership formed last year for Deutsche Grammophon’s album Across the Stars, featuring many new versions of the composer’s music for violin and orchestra. Mutter captivated the Vienna audience with a series of the virtuosic adaptations written specially for her by Williams.
Mutter also took great pleasure in watching the orchestra bring its inimitable rich sound to some of Williams’ most iconic film themes. “Seeing these seasoned professionals and young members of the orchestra alike joining in such joy in music they have not played often. It’s just wonderful!”
Daniel Froschauer, chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic, was keen to express the orchestra’s great enthusiasm about the unique opportunity of performing these wonderful compositions under the baton of their creator: “It was a deeply fulfilling artistic exchange.”
Williams admitted he’d been unsure how the orchestra would adapt to playing his music. “I couldn’t have been more happily surprised,” he said after their concerts. “I have to compliment the orchestra on their great virtuosity and fantastic ability to perform all styles of music.”
Another happy surprise had come during rehearsals, when the orchestra’s brass players asked him if they could add the Imperial March from Star Wars to the programme. Their sensational performance underlined the rapport and affection between orchestra and composer. “It was honestly one of the best presentations of that March I’ve ever heard,” Williams reflected afterwards. “They played it as though they owned it and I felt very grateful to them for giving me a chance to play it at the end of our programme.”
John Williams in Vienna by John Williams & Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is available internationally via the Deutsche Grammophon label on digital and physical formats, including Blu-ray, CD, vinyl and eVideo, in both stereo and Dolby Atmos surround mixes.