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Movie Music Encore Filled With Surprises

John Williams and the BSO Supplemented by Special Guests

By Kevin Der

Film Night at Tanglewood

John Williams, conductor

Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, special guests

Monica Mancini and Ron Raines, soloists

Boston University Tanglewood Institute chorus

Saturday, Aug. 14, 8:30pm

A large portion of the MIT community has had the chance to hear great music at Symphony Hall, likely performed by either the Boston Symphony Orchestra or the Boston Pops. However, many are unfamiliar with Tanglewood -- the summer home of the BSO -- especially as it is difficult to reach. Located in the Berkshires region of Western Massachusetts, Tanglewood is over two hours away from Boston by car. Furthermore, its summer season takes place when much of MIT’s population is away from campus. Nevertheless, Tanglewood is a fantastic musical center that deserves a visit.

Tanglewood’s grounds feature large greens, groves of tall trees, music studios and schools, and several performance halls. Among these is the Koussevitzky Music Shed, an open-air venue which features a roofed stage and seating, along with open grounds. From these lawns, patrons can view the stage while relaxing, picnic-style. This is by far the most popular attraction of Tanglewood, as thousands of people are known to pack onto the field for a concert.

This pastime likens back to the days of Johann Sebastian Bach’s family picnics, when the composer and his countless relatives would lug instruments of all kinds outside and make music all day while eating and essentially enjoying life. Tanglewood patrons emulate this admirably. It is common to see elaborately prepared meals or champagne in wine bottle holders (I’ve even once seen an enormous, pre-roasted pig being feasted upon). People will carry real furniture from their vehicles, including foldable wooden tables and upholstered chairs. Coupled with the beauty of the grounds, this setting is perfect for a concert.

On this Saturday evening, they left the music making part to John Williams, who reprised his tribute to composers Bernard Herrmann and Henry Mancini, a concert he originally performed at Symphony Hall in late May. Most of the music was repeated from that performance, but the significant addition to the program was the commentary by film directors Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg.

Scorsese, who collaborated with Herrmann on the film “Taxi Driver,” first recounted his experiences watching Alfred Hitchcock films in the theater, which Herrmann had scored. He cited Herrmann’s music as the ingredient which made him want to see those films again and again. Scorsese then recalled Herrmann’s gruff nature when the director first asked him to score “Taxi Driver,” to which Herrmann immediately replied, “I don’t do pictures about cabbies.” Apparently it was the main character’s habit of eating cereal in peach brandy that intrigued Herrmann enough to write the score. Williams conducted a medley from “Taxi Driver,” which varied from gorgeous saxophone solos to violent surges of brass and percussion.

To share words about Mancini, Steven Spielberg then took the stage to deafening applause. He first offered a short anecdote regarding Herrmann, recalling meeting the composer and telling him repeatedly how much he loved his music, to which an apparently unconvinced Herrmann said, “If you like my music so much, why do you always hire John Williams?” The entire audience, as well as Williams, erupted in laughter at this, and Spielberg then assured us, “The only composer who will ever score my films is John Williams.”

Spielberg proceeded to introduce pieces such as the themes from “Peter Gunn” and “Pink Panther,” and -- my favorite Mancini piece -- the “Finale” from “Victor/Victoria.” After announcing “Strings on Fire,” he cited Linda Toote as the piccolo soloist for the “Pennywhistle Jig,” which prompted more laughter. But Spielberg then took the microphone too early, having forgotten about the Jig, and Williams had to wave him away and whisper in his ear. Apologetic, Spielberg announced, “I accidentally stepped on Linda Toote’s cue.”

The Boston University Tanglewood Institute chorus performed “Days of Wine and Roses” and then, as an encore, “Call of the Champions,” composed by Williams for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. A further surprise was Spielberg’s announcement that a tree to commemorate Williams was to be planted on the Tanglewood grounds, with the tree actually brought on stage.

Williams received a similar honor in 1993 when his name was placed on the steps of Boston’s Hatch Shell, joining the names of other great composers including, of course, Johann Sebastian Bach.