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New World Symphony Celebrates Iconic Composer Behind Music For Harry Potter, Jaws And Star Wars

Todd R. Hires
Courtesy of New World Symphony
The New World Symphony is holding its 31st Anniversary Gala, "A Celebration of John Williams."

Legendary film score composer John Williams' music will be celebrated at the New World Symphony’s SoundScape Park on Saturday, and he will conduct the performance himself.

The New World Symphony is paying tribute to Williams’ more than five-decade career in the industry as part of their 31st Anniversary Gala, "A Celebration of John Williams." Williams has served as music director for more than 100 films and is most known for his film scores for Jaws, Jurassic Park, E.T., Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Indiana Jones.

Howard Herring, President and CEO of the New World Symphony, spoke to Luis Hernandez on Sundial about the significance of music in film and what audiences can expect this weekend. The show is free and open to the public. 

WLRN: How did you choose the music for the performance?

HERRING: The list is endless and of course when we began to do our homework we were surprised by the incredible offerings that John Williams brings forward. Close Encounters of a Third Kind, Harry Potter and Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. and Star Wars, those are the movies that continue to resonate. They were enormously powerful when they premiered and now in some cases decades later still as powerful as they were then. In some cases maybe more powerful than they were when they first came into our understanding. It was the power of the cultural reference and we decided based on that that we would go for these pieces.

Credit New World Symphony
The New World Center will hold a three film series -- each scored by John Williams.

How did you set it up? I want to get a sense of what you want us, the audience, to experience.

Most people go to the movies and don't listen to the music. I do because I'm a musician and musicians are hyper aware of the elaborating that's amplifying the emotion or carrying the story forward. The way we will bring this music forward on Saturday night does allow you to contemplate the music to understand and appreciate the genius of John Williams the way we all do. We will use short clips -- five, six seven minutes of these movies and then the orchestra will play as the movie rolls as the as the images appear. You will have a new understanding of the importance to the music as it relates to the visual by the music. What we want people to do is to in some ways just sit back and let this powerful storytelling hit them right between the eyes. But we also want them to have one more dimension to the experience which is, 'oh my goodness, I didn't realize this music was so powerful.'

What have you heard from some of the [students who will be performing] about this opportunity to play this music [conducted by John Williams]?

This music is a cultural reference for them because John Williams doesn't do that much live conducting. They were first of all just amazed that they were going to get a chance to do this, to meet him and to play his music with him conducting the orchestra. So it will be a touch point for the rest of their artistic lives. They will be able to say that they got to play music under the direction of John Williams. They also get to enjoy this music for symphonic sophistication and beauty. Again this music sometimes passes out of sight, but they're going to get to present this music full on and have the chance to do something I don't think any of them ever would be able to do. They're pretty excited and for all the right reasons.

Listen to a Sundial curated playlist of the team's favorite pieces by John Williams. 

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Chris knew he wanted to work in public radio beginning in middle school, as WHYY played in his car rides to and from school in New Jersey. He’s freelanced for All Things Considered and was a desk associate for CBS Radio News in New York City. Most recently, he was producing for Capital Public Radio’s Insight booking guests, conducting research and leading special projects at Sacramento’s NPR affiliate.