John Williams in Tokyo. Saito Kinen Orchestra. © 2024 Universal Music LLC


Cinematic Imagery

GERALD FENECH warmly recommends film music by John Williams, played by the Saito Kinen Orchestra

'... so much to have fun with.'


Today John Williams (born 1932) is considered as the most prolific and widely honoured living composer of film music and the most Oscar-nominated person alive. He was born in New York but moved to Los Angeles with his family when he was sixteen, where he studied composition with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. After service in the Air Force, Williams returned to New York to attend Juilliard where he studied piano with Rosina Lhevinne. He also worked as a jazz pianist in both clubs and on recordings. Williams eventually moved back to Los Angeles where he began his career in film studios, working with such composers as Bernard Herrmann, Alfred Newman and Franz Waxman. In 1960 he went on to write music for many TV programmes, winning two Emmy Awards.

Beginning with his first screen credit for Because They're Young, Williams' career as a composer of film scores gathered steady momentum. In 1974 Steven Spielberg, moved by Williams' score for The Reivers, turned to the composer for the music of Sugarland Express, and this was the beginning of one of the greatest film composer/director partnerships ever.

His first Oscar was for his adaptation of the music for the screen version of Fiddler on the Roof. In 1976 he garnered his second for Jaws and in 1978 he won the coveted prize once again for Star Wars. Oscars were also awarded for E T and the haunting Schindler's List soundtrack.

Listen — John Williams: Theme (Schindler's List)
(6557256 track 5, 0:01-0:56) ℗ 2024 Universal Music LLC :

Williams has composed the music and served as music director for more than seventy-five films and, at the age of ninety-two, his flare for composition is still alive as ever. Indeed, Williams has received fifty four Academy Award nominations, winning on five occasions. In addition to all this film music, the composer has written many concert pieces, including two symphonies and four concertos for bassoon, cello, flute and violin respectively. Added to these, one finds a further three for trumpet, clarinet and tuba, making Williams one of the most prolific composers alive to have enriched the concerto genre with some truly attractive pieces that, sadly, have been sorely neglected for far too long.

It is now thirty years since John Williams last visited Japan. Now he has returned for a special concert with the world-famous Saito Kinen Orchestra in renditions of his beloved film scores and reuniting with his long-time friend, world-renowned Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa, who sadly passed away six months after this concert, aged eighty-eight.

Listen — John Williams: Tributes! (for Seiji)
(6557256 track 12, 2:37-3:37) ℗ 2024 Universal Music LLC :

Captured live on record at Suntory Hall last year, this album released by DGG follows Williams' other acclaimed concert albums, The Berlin Concert and John Williams in Vienna, which topped charts all around the globe. The programme, which could not be more appropriate for the occasion, includes music for the Harry Potter films, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler's List, Star Wars IV, V and VIII, and Superman.

Listen — John Williams: Superman March (Superman)
(6557256 track 1, 0:02-1:02) ℗ 2024 Universal Music LLC :

There is also a bonus track, Tributes! (for Seiji), composed by Williams himself and conducted by Stéphane Denève for good measure.

I must admit that my acquaintance with this music only concerns a few popular tunes, but this issue had me thinking again. Indeed, to my surprise, I discovered so much to have fun with. Drama, excitement, suspense, sentimentality and humour are all part of Williams' sound-world, and for the umpteenth time, this collection leaves no-one in doubt as to the amazing abilities that this composer has in regards to musical tone-painting. Sixty-two minutes of cinematic imagery in life-like sound and informative annotations. Warmly recommended.

Copyright © 28 May 2024 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta





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