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Boston Pops Dazzles With Hollywood Music Night

John Williams Conducts an Eclectic Tribute to Henry Mancini and Bernard Hermann

By Kevin Der

“Hooray for Hollywood” Film Night

Boston Pops

John Williams, conductor

Symphony Hall

May 18, 19, and 21, 8 p.m.

When I found myself at Symphony Hall on a night during finals week, I was giddy with anticipation about the concert I was about to experience. It is the opportunity of a lifetime to play audience to a man whose music is among the most beautiful in the world. In the words of Steven Spielberg, “He can take a moment and just uplift it. He can take a tear that’s just forming in your eye and he can cause it to drip.” He speaks, of course, of none other than the master of film music, John Williams.

Williams typically conducts several film music concerts annually in late May with the Boston Pops. For instance, I was able to attend a concert two years ago that celebrated his 70th birthday. This year, the concerts were mainly designed as tributes to other film composers, specifically Bernard Hermann and Henry Mancini.

My exposure to Hermann’s music has been limited, having seen very few of the films he has scored, one of which is “Citizen Kane.” The only others I’ve heard are all results of Hermann’s collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock, most notably “Psycho” and “North by Northwest.” It was a pleasure then to hear for the first time music by Hermann performed live.

The first third of the program was comprised of Hermann’s music. “The Death Hunt,” from “On Dangerous Ground,” is a foreboding, intense piece featuring horns, which are required to play rapid-fire notes from start to finish. This is one of the most difficult brass parts I’ve ever heard, and the Pops orchestra hit it. I also got to hear “The Inquirer” from “Citzen Kane” next -- a favorite of mine. The music from this film was apparently Hermann’s first film score.

This first part of the concert gave me a glimpse of Williams’ conducting style. Interestingly, I got the sense that for an action-packed piece like “The Death Hunt,” he likes to command the orchestra with the slightest movements of his baton, whereas for a slower, quieter piece, he is a much more physical and visibly involved conductor.

Music from Williams’ scores for “Harry Potter” followed, which I was most looking forward to. “Fawkes’s Theme” is one of his most beautiful themes, and it was amazing to hear it played live -- I was completely swept away by it. A woodwind arrangement of “Nimbus 2000” was well played, but, following “Fawkes,” it was rather a letdown. I also would have preferred a full orchestral version. “Harry’s Wondrous World” brought me back, and it was nothing short of spectacular.

Concertmistress Tamara Smirnova then dazzled with violin solos in a number of pieces, such as the theme from Williams’ “Far and Away” -- which I’d never heard before -- along with outstanding excerpts from “Fiddler on the Roof.” I didn’t realize the “Tango” that was to be played was actually the Tango -- you know, the famous one heard in the movie “True Lies.” (It’s actually from “Scent of a Woman.”) Lively and dance inducing, it’s now become one of my favorite violin pieces.

Most notably, Smirnova performed the theme from “Schindler’s List,” which is incredibly haunting and beautiful. While it was wonderful to hear it, I have to say that I really prefer Itzhak Perlman’s performance of this piece. Smirnova took excessive ritards, which, although they were supposed to be for expressive purposes, seemed a bit excessive and detracted from the flow in several places.

The Mancini tribute followed, putting me back into a lively mood with themes from “Pink Panther” and “Peter Gunn,” the latter of which I was hearing for the first time. The title piece from “Days of Wine and Roses” -- again completely unknown to me -- was a quiet, incredibly gorgeous piece with a hint of jazz. One of Mancini’s most beloved pieces, “Moon River” from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” was a joy to hear. I never realized how beautiful it was until I heard it used in a “Sex and the City” episode. It also is now one of my favorites.

Even though I went to this concert to see Williams and hear his music performed, a nice byproduct was hearing a number of outstanding film music pieces I never knew existed. At the end, I was tempted to shout out and beg for new music from “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” but chickened out. Apparently, rumor has it that one man once shouted to Williams at the end of a concert, “For the love of God, play Superman!” Instead, the maestro ended up treating us to the “Raider’s March” from “Indiana Jones” and the flying theme from “E.T.” Not a bad way to end a concert, or a semester, for that matter.