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Williams leads BSO in performance of favorites

Boston Symphony Orchestra

John Williams, guest conductor.

"Salute to Hollywood" program; featuring works by Williams, Mancini, and Gershwin.

Symphony Hall, Boston.

Friday, May 12 at 8 p.m.

By Kai Tao

The arrival of spring signals the beginning of another familiar Boston institution; the opening of the Pops season. The stiff wooden seats that normally fill the floor of Symphony Hall are replaced with tables and chairs, more representative of a dinner party at home than a formal night of culture. Perhaps the reason behind the Pops' success is the bridge it creates between the music of the classical generation and the modern show tunes that grace our music collections. This year marks the first time since 1980 that John Williams has not conducted the opening concert, having recently retired to concentrate on his compositions for film. However, last Friday's "Salute to Hollywood" program was conducted by none other than the maestro himself.

Almost everyone, at one time or another, has heard one of Williams' film scores, ranging from the frightening sounds of Jaws to the familiar Star Wars theme. Imagine the pleasure of hearing Williams himself conduct a series of Hollywood melodies consisting of both his own movie themes as well as those of Alan Menken and Henry Mancini. Williams opened his tribute to the films of Steven Spielberg, with the buoyant Raiders of the Lost Ark theme, an adventurous piece that resonated deeply with the audience. The trumpet call for action brought back memories of Indiana Jones successfully navigating treacherous obstacles.

The mysterious Close Encounters of the Third Kind followed, with the intriguing sounds of uncertainty ending with the five notes that represent the first form of alien and human communication. The Spielberg tribute concluded with William's own suite from Hook, comprising of "Flight to Neverland," "Smee's Plan," and the "Banquet." It is John Williams' genius that allows such scores to delicately blend with each film's story to accentuate either a sense of adventure, mystery, or simple silliness.

The intermission that followed reflected the lighthearted mood of the audience, as attendants scuffled about to fill orders of drinks and desserts, and parents rushed to take care of impatient children. The sound of roaring trumpets and steady drum beats brought everyone to their seats as the orchestra performed "Rakoczy's March," a military tune named after a Hungarian hero. Then, a young Max Levinson walked onto the gleaming stage to his piano, ready to perform Liszt's Piano Concerto No.1 in E-flat. Anyone who has ever been forced to practice classical piano as a child knows about the technical difficulty it takes to even pretend to play a Liszt piece - after all, Liszt was the Elton John of his time, dazzling audiences with his keyboard wizardry.

Mr. Levinson, who is only 23, ably held his own, as he begun his solo, letting his fingers do the talking. With a supportive orchestra, Levinson managed to convey the majesty of Liszt's work, alternating from the slow lull-like movements to the resounding finale.

After a second intermission, the orchestra swung into high gear as it began belting out one hit tune after another, beginning with Williams' "Hooray for Hollywood." The upbeatness and clear joy that rang through Symphony Hall, continued with selections from Disney's Beauty and the Beast. The mood then changed, with a tribute to Mancini's works, featuring the theme to The Pink Panther, where the trumpet provided a rousing fanfare to complement the creaping quietness of the piano, and "Moon River".

The formal program was then completed with "The Flying Theme" from E.T.. John Williams then promptly the audience and the Pops in a televised sing-along of "Happy Birthday" to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Boston Public Library's McKim Building in Copley Square.

Of course no performance would be complete without an encore. The Pops certainly did not disappoint, playing "S'Wonderful" by Gershwin and "76 Trombones" from The Music Man.

Williams received a well-deserved standing ovation, as a group of students screamed "We love you John!" The orchestra will clearly miss his services, but it will be in good hands with his successor, Keith Lockhart, who will lead the Pops for the rest of the season.