John Williams semi-retirement: What’s next for composer?

Williams is devoting himself to composing orchestral music, including a piano ensemble he is writing for Emanuel Ax.

NEW YORK – After more than six decades building high-flying bikes, bringing panicking swimmers ashore, and other mesmerizing close encounters, John Williams is putting the final notes on what possibly his last movie score.

“Right now, I’m working on ‘Indiana Jones 5’, which Harrison Ford – who’s quite a bit younger than me – I think announced will be his last,” Williams said. “So I thought: If Harrison can do it, maybe I can do it too.”

Ford didn’t say that publicly. And Williams, who turned 90 in February, isn’t entirely sure he’s ready either.

“I don’t want to be seen as radically excluding any activity,” giggled Williams over the phone from his home in Los Angeles. “I can’t play tennis, but I want to be able to believe that maybe one day I will.”

Right now, though, there are other ways Williams wants to spend her time. A “Star Wars” film required six months of work, which he notes, “at this point in my life is a long-term commitment for me.” Instead, Williams is devoting himself to composing ensemble music, including a piano ensemble he is writing for Emanuel Ax.

This spring, Williams and cellist Yo-Yo Ma released the album “A Gathering of Friends,” recorded with the New York Philharmonic, Pablo Sáinz-Villegas, and Jessica Zhou. It’s a wonderful collection of cello ensembles and new arrangements from tracks from “Schindler’s List,” “Lincoln” and “Munich,” including the hit “A Prayer for Peace.”

Turning 90 – an event the Kennedy Center and Tanglewood is hosting this summer with birthday concerts – has Williams reflect on his accomplishments, remaining ambitions, and what it means to be. music life for him.

“It gave me the ability to breathe, to live, and to understand that there is more to physical life,” says Williams. that is beyond the banal of everyday reality. Music can elevate one’s thinking to poetry level. We can reflect on how essential music is to humanity. I’ve always liked to speculate that music is older than language, that maybe we hit drums and blow reeds before we could speak. So it is an essential part of who we are.

“It gave me my life.”

And in turn, Williams has provided the soundtrack to the lives of countless others across more than 100 movie spots, among them “Star Wars,” “Jurassic Park,” “Jaws,” ” Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “ET,” “Indiana Jones,” “Superman,” “Schindler’s List,” and “Harry Potter. “

“He lived through a better century, and his music embraces all the events and changes of that period,” said Ma, a longtime friend. years said. “He’s one of America’s great vocalists.”

That’s an amount of achievement that’s hard to quantify. Five Oscars and 52 Academy Award nominations, a number only bestowed by Walt Disney, is a measure. But even that hardly shows the cultural power of his music. A billion people can instantly hum Williams’ two-note ostinato from “Jaws” or “The Imperial March” from “Star Wars.”

“I say that music is played all over the world. What could be more useful than that? ‘ Williams said. “But I have to say it doesn’t seem real. I can only see what’s in front of me on the piano right now and try my best with that. “

Williams has a warm, unpretentious demeanor despite his stature. He started an interview by suggesting, “Let me see if I can give you anything that might be helpful.” He believes that all those indelible, perfectly constructed themes are the product of divine inspiration rather than daily hard work. Williams does most of her work while sitting for hours at her Steinway, composing in pencil.

“It’s like cutting a stone on your desk,” he says. “My young colleagues are much faster than me because they have electronics, computers and synthesizers, etc.”

When Williams started (his first feature film score was 1958’s “Daddy-O”), the cinematic tradition of orchestral big scores was beginning to lose out to pop soundtracks. Now, many people are focusing on synth music for movies. Increasingly, Williams has the air of a venerable old master who bridges distant film and musical eras.

“Recording with the New York Philharmonic, the whole orchestra to one person was amazed by this gentleman at the age of 90, who heard everything, so kind, gentle, polite. People just want to play for him,” Ma said. “They were blown away by this man’s musical ability.”

This final chapter in Williams’ career is in some way an opportunity to place his mammoth legacy not only in relation to cinema but also among classical myths. Williams, who led the Boston Pops from 1980 to 1993, has conducted tunes of Berlin, Vienna and New York, among others. In the world’s elite orchestras, Williams’ compositions have become typical.

“A purist might say that the music shown in the film is not absolute music. Well, that might be true,” Williams said. “But some of the best music ever written is narrative. Definitely in opera. Movies provide that opportunity – not often but sometimes it does. And in a musically rewarding way. Sometimes we get lucky and we find a ”.

Of course, Williams’ long association with Steven Spielberg put the composer at a disadvantage. Spielberg, who first reached out for lunch with Williams in 1972 after being intrigued by his scores on “The Reivers,” called him “the most important contributor to my success with as a filmmaker.”

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

They remain irrevocably linked. Their offices on Universal are just steps away from each other. Along with “Indiana Jones,” Williams recently scored Spielberg’s upcoming semi-autobiographical film about growing up in Arizona, “The Fabelmans.” These two films make up 30 films together for Spielberg and Williams.

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

In Spielberg’s films and others, Williams produced enough perfectly condensed tunes to rival The Beatles. Spielberg once described his five notes of “Communication” in “Close Encounters” as “the doorbell”.

“Small topics that are simple, articulate, and not confusing are going to be hard to find and very hard to do,” says Williams. “They are really the result of a lot of work. It’s almost like chiseling. Move a note, change the emphasis according to the rhythm or direction of an interval, etc. A simple melody can be performed in dozens of ways. If you find that one, it looks like you’ve discovered something that wants to be exposed. “

One thing you won’t hear from Williams is a big statement about his own legacy. He’s much more comfortable talking like a tinkering technician until a glittering jewel falls off.

“My own personality is that I look at what I have done – I am quite pleased and proud of a lot of it – but like most of us, we always wish we could have done better,” he said. speak. “We are living with examples like Beethoven and Bach before us, the great achievements that people have achieved in music, and it can be very humbling. But I also feel very lucky. I’ve had great opportunities, especially in the film industry where a composer can have an audience of not millions but billions of people. “

Williams has several concerts scheduled for the rest of the year, including shows in Los Angeles, Singapore and Lisbon. But while Williams may have moved away from cinema, he was still fascinated by cinema, and the visual and audio capabilities, when combined, would be a hit.

“I want to be around in 100 years to see what people are doing with film and sound, spatial effects, sound and visuals. It has a huge future,” Williams said. “I could feel the great possibilities and the great future in the atmosphere of the whole experience. I want to go back to see and hear it all. “ John Williams semi-retirement: What’s next for composer?

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